Voices: Talk about a lucky general! Trump has come to Keir Starmer’s rescue

Keir Starmer, having faced criticism over his party’s handling of Diane Abbott, will be relieved that attention is now on the other side of the Atlantic (Getty Images)
Keir Starmer, having faced criticism over his party’s handling of Diane Abbott, will be relieved that attention is now on the other side of the Atlantic (Getty Images)

Napoleon used to enquire of his potential generals: “Has he luck?”

Keir Starmer, soon himself to be promoted, if the polls are to be believed, certainly seems to be enjoying good fortune in abundance.

First, the prime minister presented him with the surprise gift of a general election when Labour has a 20 percentage point lead in the opinion polls. Then Angela Rayner finds herself exonerated by the Greater Manchester Police, and there’s not a thing her enemies can do about it.

Now, General Sir Keir Starmer’s difficulties with one of his high-profile troops, Diane Abbott, have been overshadowed by the verdicts in the Donald Trump hush-money case. The British general election may be flawed in all sorts of ways, but no one has yet challenged the legitimacy of what is happening, and the leader of the opposition is looking relaxed.

Less so is Trump, the unofficial leader of the opposition in the US. Trump continues to taint democracy as he has for the past decade in pursuit of an office he never expected to win, never deserved to win, then disgraced, and now seeks again as his best bet to evade justice. For a change, he has been unlucky this time in cheating the system.

In the end it was not even close. There was no hung jury and no chance of a retrial. His threats didn’t intimidate the court. He was found guilty on all 34 charges. A clean sweep, and it didn’t even take them that long.

In the aftermath, Trump, so used to getting his own way, was as unhinged as ever. Repetitive, rambling, seething… but he is right about one thing. This is indeed a dark moment for America, and for the whole world. These are dark, sinister times because Trump is not, as he claims, fighting for the American constitution – he has declared war on it.

The very idea – now the reality – that a convicted felon could be the Republican nominee for president of the United States would once have been the stuff of fantasy fiction or satire. Appeals notwithstanding, Trump is facing the eventual possibility of serving time for his crimes. That means, fantastically, that there’s an outside chance that he’ll be running the country from jail.

There’s nothing in the constitution of the United States about that, because the founding fathers didn’t envisage that the commander in chief would one day find themself the subject of an incarceratory sentence. The assumption would be that a man who found himself in that position would withdraw from public life. Not Trump, of course. This kind of moral maverick was not foreseen.

Divisive isn’t really an adequate word to describe the effect this conviction will have on American society, already fractured from long years of polarisation, in which the major mover has been Trump and the Maga movement. Speaker Mike Johnson, who has shown signs of statesmanship in recent weeks, has come straight out with a suitably Trumpian message of provocation, attacking the judicial system and suggesting conspiracy: “The weaponisation of our justice system has been a hallmark of the Biden administration, and the decision today is further evidence that Democrats will stop at nothing to silence dissent and crush their political opponents.”

Johnson takes his cue from the Felon-in-Chief himself. In his shorter-than-usual courtroom rant, Trump used the same sort of inflammatory language he did on January 6 (still the subject of proceedings), about fighting: “This was a rigged decision right from day one. With a conflicted judge who should have never been allowed to try this case. Never. And we will fight for our Constitution. This is long from over.”

Trump appeals to the American voters to validate him democratically on election day in November, but there is also the whiff of incitement in his remarks. He is in a lot of trouble, and behind the bluster and bravado he knows it. He calculates, as he has for some time, that his best chance of survival is to get back into the White House, with the entire machinery of the federal state at his disposal.

Can he win? The polls suggest that he has less chance if he is a convicted felon, but he’s a master at weaponising his misdemeanours and, as we’ve seen before, memories can be short where Trump is concerned. His “base” remains fanatical, and dangerously so.

If Trump does become president again, America will be lumbered with a man dogged by constant trials and legal wrangling. He will be desperate. He will be totally incapable of dealing with Putin, Chinese expansionism, Palestine-Israel, maybe recession or a fresh pandemic. He will spend all his time trying to cheat justice.

More than even in his “fire and fury” first term, he will be deranged by the pressures of office. The next Trump administration will not be able to function without attempting to acquire dictatorial powers to suppress the judiciary. When Richard Nixon was confronted with such a fate in 1974, he quit. Trump by contrast wants to use the office of the presidency to escape justice, whatever damage is inflicted on the nation.

If America does choose to return this irrational, unstable, megalomaniacal felon to the Oval Office at a time when the world is threatened by global-scale conflicts then it will be lucky to survive. A Trump dictatorship, as imagined in a recent dystopian thriller, is no longer unimaginable; nor is something like civil war.

Trump was always unfit to lead even in good times; now he could destroy us all. The stakes are so much higher than the freedom and reputation of Donald J Trump. Thanks to him, these are dark times for America, and dangerous ones for the whole world.