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Trump’s Conviction, American Collapse, Plus, the Election and What People Want From It

Trump’s Conviction, American Collapse, Plus, the Election and What People Want From It

I’m Umair Haque, and this is The Issue: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported publication. Our job is to give you the freshest, deepest, no-holds-barred insight about the issues that matter most.

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There I was, napping blissfully on the sofa, Snowy resting his little funny chin on my ankle. Coltrane playing the background. Heaven, I tell you. And suddenly, my phone began to ping…and ping…and…ping. Grumpily, I shook off my slumber, and turned over with a groan, and looked at…friend after friend from around the world telling me the same thing: Trump, convicted.

It’s a watershed moment. But we’ve had so many of those in recent years, so let me try and put this in perspective for you.

About a decade ago, I began writing about a thing I called “American collapse.” My peers, at that time, were sort of pundits and columnists and aspiring politicians and so forth. And they were aghast. Was this…guy…had he lost his mind? But the statistics, I felt, sent me a message I had to share. Wherever I looked, however I looked—from median incomes, to class structure, to social bonds, and plenty more—it all pointed to sociopolitical collapse.

They interpreted that as me meaning Mad Max. But that’s not what I meant at all. I meant the real thing: the sudden rise of demagoguery, political upheaval, fanatical movements, conspiratorialism, institutional breakdown. I wonder what they think about it all now.

So imagine it was a decade ago. There you are, in 2014, happily sipping a latte that doesn’t cost ten bucks yet. And I say to you, hey, a decade from now, Donald Trump will be running for President…again…after attempting a coup…and he’ll be the front-runner…but also a convicted felon.

You’d probably either a) slap me b) laugh at me c) call an ambulance and or the police.

And yet here we are. So all that’s what I meant by American collapse. And in that sense, I think, and it pains me to say it, my prediction’s come true.

A convicted felon’s the front-runner for the White House.

So what happens now?

Will Trump’s Conviction Move the Needle?

The question you probably want the answer to: but will it move the needle? Let me give you my answer up front: nobody much knows yet. It could, or.

But I want you to think about that subtly with me, which liberals and the Dems aren’t doing yet. They’re pointing to polls saying that people’s rating or voting intentions for Trump go down once he’s convicted. Those should be taken with a grain of salt, and then a spoonful of salt. First the grain—they were done before all this happened, and people can be more than fickle about this sort of thing: here, we’re in sort of uncharted territory not just politically, but also for social research. Voting intentions tend to be “stable,” but…voting unintentions…because the would-be President’s a convicted felon now? Needless to say…never happened before. 

So we just don’t know.

But even if people are less likely to vote for Trump because he’s now a convicted felon—let’s come to the spoonful, not just the grain, of salt. Remember a little thing called the Secret Hate Vote that I often caution about? We’ve seen it over and over it recent years—from Brexit to Trump’s first election to the European far right and beyond. It just means that people “shroud” or “mask” their intentions from pollsters, because, well, voting for authoritarians appears to be sort of a shameful thing. And so what happens is a surprise on polling day, a bias for them. That effect ranges from anywhere to maybe north of 5-7%, easily.

So even if being a convicted felon hurts Trump’s chances, as it might well, it’s counterbalanced, most likely, by the Secret Hate Vote, or the “shrouded preferences,” to use a bit of jargon, of people who’ll vote for him but say they won’t. And maybe there’s even a sort of “second order” of “shrouded preferences” at work here: people who say they won’t vote for Trump because he’s a convicted felon, but aren’t quite telling the truth, or decide to, anyways, on polling day.

Hence, I’d caution that the situation is nowhere near as simple as Dems are making it out to be. Furthermore, as we all know, Trump’s going to use all this to…

The Martyrdom of Donald Trump

Trump’s going to use all this to portray himself a martyr. A victim. The Hugest One. Of what, and of whom? The corrupt establishment. Which is made of this conspiracy of liberals who drink the blood of kids, and all kind of other crackpot notions, at the outer fringes.

How effective will that be? It’s a subtle question, and I don’t think you should consider it some kind of simplistic way. Martyrdom is an extremely powerful method of brand-building, sadly, or constructing a cult, to put it another way, and in times like these….

What People Want From This Election

That brings me to the central problem in all this. The question looming largest in this election is the economy. And the dilemma facing undecided voters is this: should they put a convicted felon in office, just because they trust him to deliver a better economy? 

On its face, that’s absurd, because the conviction is for fraud. I mean, you have to be pretty trusting to put a convicted fraudster in office to repair the economy.

But people aren’t thinking straight, and they don’t, in times like these. They might well just do it, because times are really, really tough out there, and I can’t emphasize that enough. People think this is the worst economy ever, period, worse than the Great Depression, and the question isn’t the wonky sort of “are they right, or are these just their feelings, ha-ha” thing pundits do—they’re clearly in a whole lot of pain

And pain clouds clear thinking.

The Dems, meanwhile, like I say, have made this altogether too easy for Trump. It’s a testament to how poor their strategy’s been that a convicted fraudster is the front-runner for the Presidency, or at least still in a “tight race,” because people trust him more on the economy. Kind of beggars belief. You know my advice to Dems by now. Come clean. Admit the economy’s in dire shape, beyond the aggregate level stats. Relate to people. Help them trust you again.

All this is sort of crazy, bewildering, and upside-down. A convicted fraudster, trusted more on the issue that matters most, which happens to be the economy, because the party in power just won’t admit, come hell or high water, that things are rough out there, and people are struggling mightily. 

It’s just a picture of chaos, really.

And demagoguery thrives on chaos. 

So I’d hardly count Trump out just yet. All he really has to do is fill the vacuum left by the Dems. Go out there, talk about how bad the economy is for the average person, how neglected and afraid they feel—and it’s possible, or maybe even probable, that the conviction doesn’t matter that much to people who just want a stable, decent life again.

All that’s why I’m hesitant to think that Trump’s conviction will “save democracy” all by itself. And I’d caution that’s a point of view that doesn’t lean deep enough into people’s state of mind and sentiments, in these troubled times.

The Meaning of Convicting a Former President

All of that brings me to what I guess is the larger import of this conviction. It sends a message, at least, that the rule of law is intact, on a lower level, even if the Supreme Court’s gutted it at the highest one. And that’s an important message to send, because it says, of course, that nobody’s above the law. All of which is crucial to preserve the basic functions of a democracy.

And that message isn’t just sent to Trump. It’s sent around the world, and across the nation. It’s sent, for example, to the Justice Department, which is still, at this startlingly late date, dragging its heels, on its case, which is for far more serious crimes. What’s going on over there? Nobody much knows, but this conviction sends the message that if we can do it, hey, what’s holding you guys up.

Furthermore, of course, it was a jury of twelve citizens who chose to convict Trump. That’s a powerful signal, too, about not just the health of a democracy, but of the state of civil society. Sure, it was a Manhattan jury, but of course, that’s the place of business involved here. When a jury of average people votes—can vote—to convict a former President, that’s an incredibly powerful signal about a society’s willingness to try and keep a democracy, and hang together, the robustness of its institutions.

So those are all good things, if, at least, you value democracy. 

Still, I don’t know how much this changes, in the end. I’d say having a convicted felon in a tight race for the very Presidency he tried to overthrow, to lead the democracy he’s vowed to end—that’s exactly what I meant, and more surreal and bizarre than I imagined even back then.

How will it all end? We don’t know. We don’t know if American collapse will go all the way. My tea leaves which are about macro trends aren’t good. But history is about choices. It’s about breaking its own very rules, and rewriting those trends. Perhaps America can do that, all over again.

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