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Observations of an Expat: Uncharted Waters

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Observations of an Expat: Uncharted Waters
Image courtesy: USA Today

Twelve New York jurors set the Good Ship USA adrift on uncharted waters in a troubled political sea.

By Tom Arms

Twelve New York jurors set the Good Ship USA adrift on uncharted waters in a troubled political sea.

They had no choice. They were chosen from nearly 200 Manhattanites and forced to listen to weeks of complex and at times lurid testimony while fully aware that the entire world awaited their decision.

And after carefully weighing all the evidence they delivered their verdict: Guilty in the first degree on all 34 felony charges. Now the real trial begins—the political trial with the verdict coming—as Trump has said—on November the fifth.

Because of the totally unprecedented nature of this election it is impossible to predict the voters’ verdict and the impact of the New York trial. Socialist Eugene V. Debs ran for president from a prison cell in1920, but never before has a convicted felon been the candidate of a major political party and not since 1860 has America been so politically polarized.

Eric Trump Jr declared after the trial that May 30 will go down in history as the day that Donald Trump won the 2024 election. Antony Scaramucci, former Trump Communications Director, said it will be noted as the day he lost it.

download (1)Trump has consistently portrayed himself as the hero of the anti-establishment movement

The country appears hopelessly divided. On one side of the political equation is those who argue that May 30th was an historic moment in which the US showed the world that no one is above the law. And on the other, that an American president is prepared to use the law to attempt to destroy their political opponent.

Going into the final day of the trial, the opinion polls put Joe Biden and Donald Trump neck and neck. An NPR/PBS poll conducted a week before the verdict reported that two-thirds of those polled said a guilty verdict would have no impact on how they voted in November. Three quarters said that a not guilty verdict would have no impact on the ballot.

Exit polls taken in Republican primaries in selected states indicated that between 15 and 30 percent of those who supported Trump in the primaries would “consider” not voting him if he ran as a convicted felon.

But all those polls were taken before the verdict of guilty was delivered by 12 grim-visaged jurors on all 34 felony charges. It was after a visibly angry Trump denounced the judge as “corrupt” and “conflicted” and the trial as a “politically motivated attack by the Biden Administration.”

It was before Tech entrepreneur Shaun Maguire—who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016—donated $300,000 to the Trump campaign in the trial’s aftermath because “I believe the justice system is being weaponised against him (Donald Trump).”

Trump has consistently portrayed himself as the hero of the anti-establishment movement. And no institution is more closely associated with the American establishment then the legal establishment. On the other side, Trump is viewed as a wannabe autocrat prepared who is above the law and dismissive of the constitution.

The bones of how Donald Trump will use the New York verdict are clear. Trump will point to it as proof that he stands between the American public and a tyrannical establishment prepared to twist the law to achieve its political ends. That has been his playbook to date and, so far, it has been reasonably successful.

The one certainty from the trial is that it has further polarized American politics

President Biden’s strategy appears more low-key and inclined to let the verdict speak for itself. Up until the end of the trial, the president’s only reference to Trump’s troubles was a thinly veiled barb about “Stormy weather.” He was silent immediately after the verdict and Ian Sams, spokesperson for the White House Counsel’s Office, would only say: “We respect the rule of law and have no additional comment.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, however, said that President Biden would find it difficult not to reference the verdict when Trump and Biden meet for their first presidential debate on 27 June.

The one certainty from the trial is that it has further polarized American politics and this will likely lead to the realization of what is at stake in November and renewed energy among committed supporters on both sides.

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Three decades of ANC rule in South Africa look set to end. The final votes from Wednesday’s election have yet to be counted and are expected to be announced on Sunday. But the general consensus is that the party that ended apartheid will garner about 45 percent of the vote. Which means it is coalition time.

The downfall of the ANC vote is evidence of the well-worn political truism that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. In 2004 the African National Congress won 70 percent of the vote. It dropped to 57 percent in 2019 and is projected to drop between 10 and 15 points in this election.

The reason for the collapse of the ANC vote is corruption, poor governance and economic mismanagement leading to a flight of capital and an unemployment rate of 37 percent.

Corruption reached its peak under the presidency of Jacob Zuma whose misuse of government funds led to his ousting in 2018. In 2020 he was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment for contempt of court. He served only three, but he is still barred from serving in parliament.

Zuma’s successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, made some progress towards resolving the corruption problem, but it was too little too late> Unemployment—especially among the urban youth—remains troublingly high. Zuma, in the meantime has emerged as leader of a new KwaZulu Natal-based political party, Umkhonto we Size (MK) or Spear of the Nation.

MK has surprised political pundits by beating the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to take third place in the polls. Both the EFF and MK have adopted radical agendas which include the expropriation of white-owned land and widespread nationalization. MK also wants to return more political power to the traditional trial chieftains.

MK took votes away from both the ANC and EFF. Another winner from this week’s was the Democratic Alliance (DA) who appear to have won the confidence the white South African voter. A fifth party is the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) is—like MK– also based in Natal. The most likely coalition is between the IFP, Democratic Alliance and ANC.

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Europe’s far-right parties appear set to sweep the boards in European Parliament elections held on 6-9 June.

Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy are on the rise. Marine Le Pen is current favourite to win the 2027 and her National Rally party is currently at 30 percent in the opinion polls. Viktor Orban’s Fidesz has a stranglehold on Hungary and Geert Wilder’s Party for Freedom won elections in the Netherlands. Far-right parties, in Spain, Belgium, Slovakia, Sweden and Austria are growing or having a stake in government.

There is, however, a chink, in the far-right armour: Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland (Afd) has swung too far to the right even for Europe’s far-right. Recently, there top candidate for the European Parliament, Maximilian Krah, said that members of the wartime SS were not automatically “criminals.” Krah is also being investigated by the police for accepting payments from China and Russia. His problems followed a secret meeting in a hotel outside Berlin where senior officials in the AfD discussed the mass deportation of non-ethnic Germans, including German citizens.

This was too much even for the European Parliament’s far-right Identity Democracy Group which this week expelled the AfD from its ranks. Marine Le Pen said that it was “urgent to establish a cordon sanitaire” between the AfD and Europe’s other far-right parties.

The expulsion of the AfD came only two weeks after a meeting of far-right parties to unofficially launch their campaign for the European Parliament elections. The meeting resulted in a strongly worded statement against illegal migration, the European Commission’s climate policy and support for Israel’s war in Gaza.

The meeting outside Madrid was hosted by Spain’s Vox party. Its president, Santiago Abascal, called for unity. “In the face of globalism,” he said, “we must respond with a global alliance of patriots in defense of common sense, economic prosperity, security and freedom because we share the threat that leads us to solidarity.”

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America has this week finally agreed to allow Ukraine to use its weapons to attack targets inside Russia.

Mind you, not all Russian targets, Ukraine is still barred from using America’s Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) for long-range strikes. But it can now “hit back at Russian forces hitting them or preparing to hi them.”

The impetus for the American policy change is the threat posted to Kharkiv—Ukraine’s second largest city—by the Russian offensive and the decision of NATO’s European members to ignore Washington’s objections and lift restrictions on using their weapons to hit Russian targets.

President Volodomyr Zelensky has since April been pressing for permission to attack Russian airfields where aircraft and drones are based for attacks on civilian targets and Ukraine’s energy infrastructure as well as well as threatening Kharkiv. Ukrainian sources say that up to 3,000 Russian glider bombs a month are being dropped on Ukrainian targets.

The first go-ahead came from Britain when Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron visited Kyiv on 3 May. Then on Monday NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly issued Declaration 489 which called on allies “to support Ukraine in its international right to defend itself by lifting some restrictions on the use of weapons provided by NATO allies to strike legitimate targets in Russia.”

With the declaration in place, French President Emmanuel Macron ended a three-day visit with German Chancellor Olof Scholz by lifting restrictions on French weapons. He said: “Ukrainian soil is being attacked from bases in Russia. So how do we explain to the Ukrainians that we are going to have to protect these towns…if we tell them you are not allowed to hit the point from which the missiles are fired.”

Macron also said France would soon be sending French troops to Ukraine to instruct Ukrainians in how to best use French weapons.

German Chancellor Olof Scholz also said that Germany was lifting restrictions on the use of most of its weapons, although he stressed that the Ukrainians would still not be allowed to use the Taurus missile systems with their 316-mile range.

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Tom Arms Journalist Sindh CourierTom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and the author of “America Made in Britain” and “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War.” You can subscribe to his blog at observationsofanexpat.substack.com

Read: Observations of an Expat: Love, Hate and the International Criminal Court

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