Trump’s trials and tribulations in 2019

The US president will face a number of legal and legislative challenges that will make his job a lot harder.

Trump Reuters photo
US President Donald Trump observes a demonstration with US Army 10th Mountain Division troops, a helicopter and artillery as he visits Fort Drum, New York, August 13 [File: Carlos Barria/Reuters]

2019 is not looking good for US President Donald Trump.

He will be challenged in court and in Congress and his presidency, along with his 2020 bid, will suffer as a result. 

Trump’s multiplying lawsuits

If you like binge-watching legal, crime, and conspiracy shows on TV, stay tuned to your favourite news channel in the new year. The trials of Trump will top them all.

The investigations and lawsuits target campaign violations, tax fraud, self-dealing, commercial fraud, violations of the emoluments clauses forbidding foreign gifts, conspiracies, and obstruction of justice, with more to be revealed.

They come from multiple directions: Robert Mueller, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, the attorney general of the State of New York, possibly the New York State Department of Finance and Taxation, the attorney generals of Maryland and Washington, DC, consumers who bought into enterprises promoted by the Trump family, a porn star and a Playboy model, protesters in Iowa who were assaulted after Trump yelled “knock the crap out of [disrupters],” and from one of the men facing criminal charges from the attack because he relied on Trump following that up with “I promise you I will pay for the legal fees”.

In the last two years, the Republican majority has prevented any real investigations of Trump in Congress. In January, however, they’ll be reduced to an impotent minority that can only whine and moan. Adam Schiff, who will head the Intelligence Committee, recently said, “All the arguments the Justice Department made about Michael Cohen – that the rich and powerful shouldn’t play by a different set of rules as average people … applies with equal force to the president of the United States.” That makes the attitude of the incoming majority very clear.

There are legal actions against the Trump Organization, the Trump Foundation, against Donald Trump, personally, three of his children – Donald Jr, Eric and Ivanka – and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. 

Trump will do his best to hide behind the theory that a sitting president cannot be indicted. That will be challenged. It will go to the Supreme Court, possibly more than once. As he already knows, his cronies and associates have no such protection. Mueller, and everyone else, is moving up the chain.

The three heirs and the son-in-law will almost certainly be indicted. The conventional wisdom is that Trump will use his pardon powers to protect them and that he will also, at that point, have a breakdown. However, it would be far more in character for him to put his own survival first and pressure them not to “flip” and not to “rat”, and hang them out to dry.

There will be cries for impeachment. Impeachment by the House is the equivalent of an indictment. The trial takes place in the Senate and requires a two-thirds majority to remove the offender. At the moment, it seems impossible any Republicans would break rank, let alone the 19 that would be necessary even if all 47 Democrats stood solidly to convict.

That’s the drama. It will make compelling television, indeed. What of substance?

The Obamacare challenge

Democrats will fight to protect Obamacare.

Trump, individually, and the party, collectively, swore to not merely remove it, but to replace it. The replacement – they swore – would be better and cheaper and less governmental. That was, and remains, a promise that can’t be kept.

The only way to provide better outcomes at less cost is to make it more governmental. To say otherwise is to deny the evidence of all the healthcare systems around the rest of the world as well as private vs public (Medicare and Medicaid) systems domestically. Furthermore, at least some of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed under the Obama administration have become very popular, most notably the requirement that insurers cover people regardless of prior conditions.

During the mid-terms a host of Republicans swore they had supported that protection – even when they had done all they could to gut it – and they would continue to do so – without saying how, since there is no way short of supporting the ACA or a system that’s even more “socialistic” than Medicare for All.

Many Republicans will continue to attack Obamacare rhetorically. But the number of red-state government trying to block it and diminish will decrease, if only because the number of states under Republican control is declining.

Democrats in the House will try to improve and expand it. In 2016, Senator Bernie Sanders moved “Medicare for All” from a fringe concept to a legitimate subject for debate. Several contenders for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination will take the same position. Congressional Democrats will introduce bills that go in that direction.

At some point, one of those people will explain that increasing public health systems is not increasing costs, it is moving costs. Since Americans spend about $10,000 per capita on mostly private insurance, and spending in comparable advanced countries with national health is about half that, moving the spending should actually reduce the burden.

Republican control of the Senate and the presidency will keep those ideas from being implemented in the next two years, but the rhetoric from an increasing number of “credentialed” people will pave the way for a true national health system to become a reality.

Immigration: The only trump card left

Trump will continue to push for “The Wall”, but he won’t get it. There’s nothing he can offer in return that would make the Democrats accept it. Everyone is so convinced that it’s dead, that using private money raised by crowdfunding has been promoted online and floated on Fox News. It wouldn’t be legal and wouldn’t overcome the host of legal lawsuits that already complicate putting up a wall. And it’s a far cry from having Mexico pay for it.

Trump will continue to campaign against immigrants as if the Zombie Apocalypse is coming from Central America. It’s what he started with as he descended that famous escalator surrounded by a hired throng. It’s what he always goes to whenever other things fail. He’ll attack birthright citizenship. But it’s in the constitution.

He will continue to promote the culture of cruelty – separating families and letting children die – as a disincentive. What a gift that will be to congressional committees controlled by Democrats and all those wannabe presidential candidates. He may deploy more troops, but there are legal limits to what they can do; elements of the military don’t like it, and the far right, which so desperately fears the power of the federal government, may even turn against it.

Is it possible that Trump will launch a Wag the Dog military event in order to be a heroic “war president”, as President George W Bush did? The intelligence community and the military – “the deep state” – will slow him down, as they were probably prepared to do with Richard Nixon. The legislature may resist him. There’s already a movement in the Senate to take war powers away from him.

Where will Trump go with foreign policy generally? Ask Vladimir Putin.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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