Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
June 12, 2023
After former President Donald J. Trump was indicted last week and federally charged with 37 accounts, many in the US cheered and declared that “our system works,” “no one is above the law!” But, let us be honest, does the “US system” really work?
We can be pretty sure that the US system worked because the US as a young nation is already the world largest economy and the strongest nation after WWII. However, the US is facing significant challenges at home and around the world. At least, our system does not work as it used to and we have to deal with it immediately. Otherwise, the US risks sinking from the global leader position fast.
We must look at the Trump phenomenon carefully, he was elected to be the President of the US in 2016 with a majority vote. So, the US system worked then. However, President Trump was unprecedentedly impeached twice. Then Trump lost his re-election bid in 2020, but he openly claimed that his victory was stolen from him, and he should be the US president now. So, according to Trump and his supporters the US system did not work anymore.
Trump’s supporters were so against the result of 2020 election that on January 6th, 2021, they stormed the US Congress with the intention of stopping the Senate confirming Joe Biden as the winner of the Presidency.
It was a violent and dark day in the US, many of the participants were arrested and sentenced to jail. The case is still active, some participants are waiting for their judgement. Shadow of the Jan6 will last for a long while! Do the US system work?
Now Trump is running for the Presidency again, for the third time. It is perfectly legal in the US, even if he were to be found guilty and imprisoned. Can we happily say our system works? More troublesome is that there seems no suggestion on should we consider improving our “system!” It appears that “we” are not going to change and “our system” does not need any improvement!
On the other hand, Trump now is GOP’s front runner Presidential candidate, leading his challengers with a BIG margin of popularity. As of now, every time, Trump got indicted by the court, his popularity increased. One way to look at this trend is that Trump supporters do NOT think the US system work at all: Trump must be innocent from all the charges. Further, the public opinion polls show that Trump and Biden, as of now, are equally supported at about 31%. It means that, if the general election were held now, indicted Trump has a fair chance to be re-elected! Then according to Trump, “our system” would allow him to pardon himself once he re-enters the White House!
The next US general election, according to “our system,” is slated on November 5, 2024, which is about 17 months away. We can be assured that all candidates will kick off campaign earnestly from now on because there are statewide primaries, debates, party conventions along the way.
But according to “our system”, Trump’s federal case after he will be officially arraigned tomorrow, the court and Trump’s legal team will take about one-year to be ready for the trial. So, the real date that Trump faces the judgment of the court would be around June 2024. Of course, there would be legal maneuvers by Trump and the Government, but Trump most likely will gain benefit from any news in this case. There is no way to predict, according to our system, how long Trump’s trial will last before any verdict is reached. Both Trump and/or the Government could appeal the verdict. There is no doubt that this case will reach the SCOTUS. But “our system” does not have any time limit for the independent judiciary branch. We also should note that Trump is implicated in the January 6, 2021, violent attack of the Congress. He could be charged again with even more serious federal charges! What the public opinion could be against or for Trump?
But the clock ticks, independent of politics, the November 5, 2024, voting date is all but set. There are two scenarios, both are difficult:
- The judgement of the court comes before the “judgement” by the ballots or the court of public opinion. The implication is how to gauge the court judgement affect public opinion?
- The court judgement comes after the election on November 5, 2024. The implication is that if Trump were elected again as the President of the US, how the government judge a President who now heads the government or how to execute the conviction judgement?
The US faces tough domestic and global challenges in the coming days, mainly because “our system.” We must focus on domestic challenges first because this general election season will be as painful as an in vivo “autopsy” of our society without anesthesia. Hopefully, we will go through this tough election cycle with a clear head and find some reasonable compromises and move forward as a united nation.
“Our system” will need some thoughtful adjustments so that our nation will remain to be competitive.