No matter who wins on the night of November 3, politics in the United States will for many years to come be impacted by the real legacy of President Donald Trump. His four years in office have already reshaped America in a way that few presidents can claim to have done in at least the past 40 years. Even if he loses his uniquely chaotic bid for re-election, Trump (knowingly or unknowingly, it doesn’t matter really) has managed to alter the course of America’s modern history in favour of old-school conservatism.
President Trump is not known to be a deep thinker. At least he never claimed to be. He has always boasted that he was a ‘brilliant dealmaker’, a shrewd businessman. He has never claimed to be a political ideologue nor has he espoused a clear political school of thought. Yes, he is a populist. A demagogue? Absolutely. But he is not a genuine conservative. He is definitely no Ronald Reagan.
Donald Trump is a Republican because it helped him achieve his lifelong pursuit of being the most powerful man on the planet. He is motivated by ego. He could very well have been a Democrat if that meant getting him to the White House. But Hillary Clinton was running as Democrat in 2016, so he chose to be a Republican.
I remember an August 2016 conversation with a senior Republican strategist, an original member of the ‘neocons’ group of right-wing intellectuals who have had a great deal of influence on US foreign policy during the George W. Bush years in office. I asked him if he thought Trump would win. With a confident smile, I thought it was a bit patronising, he said no. he went on: “He is a divisive personality with no principles. He is already dividing the Republican party. I don’t think he represents what the party is about. He is in fact a threat to the Republican party. I don’t think he will win.”
Nevertheless, four years later, Trump achieved what the conservative elite, the right establishment, were unable to do for the past 70 years — tightening their grip on the country. He might as well has achieved this historic transformation without even realising it. He surely enjoyed it though as the conservative media, such as Fox and Breitbart, Republican strategies and old money — for four years — fed into his egoistic hunger for leadership, fame, and prestige. He was their hit man. An efficient one.
And if his choice for the vacant Supreme Court seat, conservative federal judge Amy Coney Barrett, is fast-tracked into confirmation by the Republican-controlled Senate before election day, the job is done. After that, Joe Biden can win all he wants. It doesn’t matter anymore. And if Trump wins, against all the apparent odds, it is even better.
Seventy years ago, America began a profound transformation towards a more liberal society. That possibly started in 1953 when Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed former California Governor Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court which has been the main conduit for political, economic, and mainly social, change in America, especially during the tumultuous 1960s.
The 1954 Brown vs Board of Education is often cited as the true legacy of Warren and his court, which ruled that state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools are unconstitutional, thereby giving the green light to whole lot of state and federal rules that curtailed racial inequality and boosted the civil rights movement. In 1973, in Roe vs Wade, the Supreme Court ruled that abortion is a constitutional right for women. For the past 50 years, the decision has been the target for conservatives who have been trying to reverse it.
Warren’s court is no longer there to fend off the right-wing onslaught. Warren, who retired in 1969, didn’t think of the court as a means to resolve conflicts. He believed that the Supreme Court was there to protect the soul of America. For him, the constitutional law, with its wide-ranging freedoms, was not just text; it was a way of life that must be protected from the transgression of populist politicians who don’t mind utilising anti-freedom demagoguery to get elected.
President Trump has already appointed two conservative justices — Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh a year later to sit beside the already three conservatives there — Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas, who is the most conservative member of the court. With Barret’s confirmation, which looks like a sure thing, America will have a new 6-3 conservative majority Supreme Court, a margin bigger than Warren’s 5-4 court, which helped transform America into the one we know until now. With such a decisive majority, there will be no need for compromise. The court will be set to take crucial decisions that would realise the goals, even dreams, of the conservative establishment.
There are various issues at stake, and in danger of reversal if the Republicans feel like, such as abortion, immigration, health care, economic regulation, gun control, electoral gerrymandering, voting and civil rights, and the role of religion in public life. These are critical issues that, if reversed by the newly restructured court, will be almost impossible to rectify by any Democratic led administration or even Congress as most of the current justices are relatively young and appointed for life. They will be serving on the apex bench for at least two to three decades.
This is the real legacy of Donald Trump. Americans will naturally move on in few years and may forget his leadership style and endless shenanigans like they did with other presidents. But they will have to live for many long years to come with the true impact of his presidency as their country moves profoundly to the right.