Former president Donald Trump left a tricky and complicated legacy to President Joe Biden. Bridging the differences in American society, however, remains the most challenging task facing the White House over the next four years.
It all got complicated when the House of Representatives voted in favor of the decision to accuse Trump of inciting his supporters to riot at the Capitol on January 6. A deep societal and partisan rift is all too clear.
It’s not just on American streets, where some 74 million voters voted for Trump’s second term. The Republican Party also suffered from disunity. Ten Republicans in the House sided with the Democrats in voting in favor of Trump’s impeachment.
By a vote of 232-197, Trump became the first US president in history to be impeached twice during his term. Dissent is now shaping the American landscape for the foreseeable future. A social divide thus exists throughout the country, as well as within the Republican Party. Some Republicans accuse the Democrats of taking over the situation at the risk of fueling division with a political vendetta against Trump.
Other Republicans have agreed with Liz Cheney, the third most prominent House Republican, who said, “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the US of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
It seems, in fact, that Republican leaders approve of the Democrats’ effort to condemn Trump, since it helps to rid the party of him with little political loss. The interests of the Republican majority are changing, especially since Trump contested the polls, costing them two Senate seats in Georgia.
As a result, the Republicans lost their majority in the House and the Democrats gained full control of Congress. Fearing for their political future, some Republican legislators have distanced themselves from Trump’s path. It seems unlikely, however, that the Senate would convict Trump, given the political implications this would have for the party’s future.
That said, the fallout from what is happening on the American political scene is far from reassuring. Unprecedented security alerts were part of the extraordinary measures accompanying the transition of power and the swearing in of President Biden.
US security agencies and institutions warned of violent, possibly armed, demonstrations in Washington and other US capital cities just prior to Biden’s inauguration. The rift did not end with Trump’s official disappearance from the US political scene at the end of his term.
FOR SOME, Trump’s absence from power may be more dangerous than his presence in the White House. Trumpism, representing more than 70 million US voters as well as a large segment of the members of Congress, will not just die out. It will not be an outsider on the American political and partisan landscape.
As an aside, 139 Republican legislators voted against ratifying the 2020 presidential election result, no less problematic than Trump’s refusal to concede it.
Moreover, Trump, should he not be called to account, will not withdraw from politics, but will be able to focus on leading his supporters through alternative political and media platforms. Voices are also being raised to warn that Democratic leaders are rushing into a kind of political witch-hunt against Trump and his Republican supporters.
These warnings are mostly about the reactions of the top House Democrat, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who labeled Trump a “clear and present danger.” Some GOP leaders then called on their Democratic opponents to pull back from questioning Trump in order to preserve national unity.
“Impeaching the president in such a short time frame would be a mistake,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, adding, “That doesn’t mean the president’s free from fault. The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.”
This is a clear Republican accusation against Trump. However, partisanship and the quest to maintain the party’s cohesion and interests remain strong for the majority of members. President Trump’s possible interrogation in the Senate would add to the challenges, if not the hardships, of the new US president.
Biden has to deal with a divided nation and a Republican Party split between Trumpists and the anti-Trump camp. President Biden must now take up the task quickly and effectively to bridge the gap and foster unity. Americans need to be brought closer together in the early hours of his term rather than going after account settlement, which would only deepen the wounds of American society.
Many warn Democrats against doubling down on humiliation and retaliation against Trump, rather than allowing what happened to go down in history as a chapter that will surely judge him, whether for good or ill.
The author is UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate.