The case against Trump's big lie
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody, Ian Bremmer here. A Quick Take to start off your week, and I wanted to talk about the January 6th committee with its televised hearings starting last Thursday and proceeding throughout the week and showing just how incredibly divided and dysfunctional the American political system is.
It's very clear from the initial proceedings that former President Trump was indeed, is indeed responsible for pushing a lie around the big steal, the elections going against him, that he tried to use every lever of power available to him, legal and extralegal, in office to overturn. And when that did not happen, was central to the demonstrations that occurred on the 6th of January. And when they turned out to be violent and had the potential to be much more brutally dangerous to the Senate, to the House of Representatives, to Vice President Pence, rather than call for them to be over, he put fuel on the flames. So I think, from my perspective, it's very clear that Trump has accountability there.
It's also very clear to me that the impact of the January 6th committee politically in the United States will be next to zero, that the process is broken and is functionally partisan in a way that both of the impeachments of Trump, unprecedented two impeachments of President Trump, and of course, no convictions, have also become politically broken and polarized.
Now, when I say partisan, I want to be clear that there are liberals and conservatives, the entire political spectrum is represented in the committee. Liz Cheney is taking the lead in a lot of the public presentation, and she's a committed conservative who votes with the Republican Party, some 90% of the time. So, I mean, from a policy and an ideological perspective, you're covering the map, but of course that's not what drives partisanship in the United States today, it's more about orientation to President Trump, and this is a deeply partisan anti-Trump group. There is not an effort to defend Trump. There are no Republican participants that are trying to present a, "what he did wasn't that bad. It wasn't really about him. There were real things to worry about, to be concerned..." No, no, none of that is going forward, in part because it's a difficult argument to make, but in part, because the leadership of the Republican party sees that there is no political advantage to them and they care more about that than they do about the stability of American political institutions. And so that's what's really driving the outcome here.
And again, it's important for me, at least as someone who considers myself not to have much of an ideological lens. I mean, I'm sort of overall a centrist. I'm probably much more liberal on social issues. I'm more conservative on economic issues. But the specific issue matters. The American political spectrum is itself very narrow. I tend to have a more global perspective on some issues than a lot of people in the American political framework do. But most importantly, I mean, I think that my antipathy to Trump as a human being has nothing to do with him being a Republican. I mean, I was just as opposed to him as a human being when he was a Democrat. He doesn't have any ideological attachment to a political party. They're just vessels for him to exploit his narcissism. And he's now a Republican. He was a Democrat. He was equally unfit for political office with either affiliation, but this is a big problem for the United States, obviously. We are fortunate in that Trump's most important quality in the way he really differs from other political leaders is his incompetence.
Yes, he's authoritarian in the sense that he doesn't believe in democracy, but he didn't actually try to systematically undermine checks and balances that limited the president's power when he was president. I mean, remember he was president in the middle of a pandemic. Anyone that really was an authoritarian would use that to declare a state of emergency and try to gain an enormous amount of power as president. He wasn't interested in that. He didn't want to work. Instead he said, "No, it's all about the governors. It's all about the mayors. Those guys are in charge. I'm not in charge. I don't want to do that." And in fact, the one person that was most aligned towards building an authoritarian US and undermining checks and balances was his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who was the first senior official he fired when he became president. So it's obvious that his authoritarianism is kind of more of a flirtation than it is something that he's particularly committed to.
And his corruption is he wants to make a lot of money, but it wasn't structural or strategic corruption. It wasn't like let's use and exploit the position of the presidency to make hundreds of billions of dollars. It was more just continuing to find ways to skim a little here and skim a little there. The rules of taxation don't really apply to him, and "I just got a bunch of gifts from foreign governments and I'll keep them as opposed to giving them back even though that's the rule, because the rules don't apply to me. And Ivanka gets some licenses to sell shoes and purses in China, while she also has a political position in the White House, and I don't care if that's a conflict of interest. I'm just going to avoid and ignore it." I mean, yes, there's corruption, but this is not the kind of systemic and structural corruption that you see in a country like Russia or a country like China, or frankly, even many mid-level mid-tier emerging markets, Turkey, for example. No, this was small stuff.
No, the thing that Trump truly excelled at compared to any other former president is the level of incompetence. And that meant despite the fact that he was president and desperately wanted to continue to be president, he had very little willingness to build a strategy to align people around him that could support and implement that strategy to structurally undermine the institutions of the United States. And that ultimately is one of the reasons why January 6th, as ugly as it was, was not particularly effective and was more of a clown show than it was a real threat to the integrity of US elections going forward.
Now, I still believe that this is a huge problem for the US politically because the country is so divided. The fact that you have the Democrats and a couple of Republicans who can't stand Trump, working as hard as they can to make this the cause for the 2024 election, and meanwhile, Fox News doesn't even cover it. And Tucker Carlson doesn't run commercials because he doesn't want people channel surfing and flipping over. Meanwhile, the average American only cares if their priors were already committed to the cause of anti-Trump. Inflation matters a lot more to most Americans than the result of the January 6th committee.
And I've seen this, I've gotten so many comments from intelligent viewers and listeners of my show and of my posts on social media saying, "Why should I care about this spectacle in Congress, as opposed to the gas price, which I feel every day, which costs me out of my paycheck? And this notion of democracy, and the US doesn't have political leaders that I trust and they're all out for themselves anyway. They're just going to screw me. And if the US doesn't stand for anything but its rich and powerful people, why should I pay attention to yet more of that show?" And the very fact that President Biden today is that lower approval levels than President Trump was at this point in his presidency is a very, very stark reminder of just how dysfunctional, divided and broken the American representative political system today is.
Now there's upside, and the upside is that through all of this, I don't see Fox actively trying to defend Trump. They're just not focusing on the issue at all. And I do believe that there is a growing likelihood that both Biden and Trump face significant primary challenges in the 2024 election. And ultimately, that perhaps is the biggest silver lining because that would be profoundly good for the United States, frankly, to get rid of a Biden that would be 86 by the end of his second term if he were to run again and win, and Trump who is obviously unfit for the presidency of the United States.
I mean, if there were successful Democratic and Republican primary challenges to both of them, we would be in a much better position as a country. But for right now where we are left is a January 6th committee that obviously reflects accountability and responsibility for crimes in office of President Trump that will once again be ignored because the political system is being driven only by what's in the interest of one party versus the other party. And at the same time, we have, whether it's the Supreme Court that's behind, it feels like it's a fortress right now behind all of these fences, whether my friend, Chris Coons, who says that we're facing a season of political violence. The Southern Poverty Law Center that just came out with a nationwide survey that has almost a majority, some 35, 40% of Americans, slightly more Republicans, slightly less Democrats, but unprecedentedly high for both saying that they would support revolutionary movements even if they call for political violence if they align with their interests.
This is a very dangerous time for the Americans not to care about rule of law, not to care about fundamental precepts of what makes legitimate political institutions, to tune that out and say, "No, that's not what I'm going to spend my time focusing on." In part because we've let these institutions erode for 30, 40 years now, and it hasn't affected the average Americans very much, but of course that's true until it isn't anymore. So, I mean, I've been spending a lot more time focusing on Russia/Ukraine, because it has massive impact on the global economy and because it's a war in Europe, and because it's also a topic I know very well. But on the back of the January 6th committee and everything we've seen the last week and also being in DC a bit last week, I thought I'd spent a little bit of time talking about that with you today.
I hope everyone's well, I'll talk to you soon.For more of Ian Bremmer's weekly analyses, subscribe to his GZERO World newsletter at ianbremmer.bulletin.com