Trump’s Conviction Papers Over Much Bigger Crimes that He (and Every Other Recent US President) Have Committed While in Office

Photograph Source: SWinxy – CC BY 4.0

As practically everyone on planet Earth must now know, Donald Trump has become the first former US president to be convicted of felonies after leaving office. The response to the outcome of the trial from Democrats and Republicans has been predictably binary. Democrats have been reveling in the outcome and seem to think that the trial’s conclusion has delivered a final blow to Trump’s credibility and, in turn, his chances of winning the upcoming election. Trump’s supporters, on the other hand, are largely condemning the trial as politically motivated “lawfare” waged by the “radical left” in order to derail Trump’s chances of winning the upcoming election, which might end up galvanizing his base.

For those of us on the independent left, however, focusing on whether Trump is guilty in this case or whether the trial was politically motivated misses a much bigger point. Either way, the crimes he has been convicted of are small fry compared to the crimes of state that he committed while in office. And these crimes are, at most, only marginally worse than those committed by every US president in living memory, irrespective of which of the two major parties they have belonged to. And the fact that he, all his recent predecessors and, indeed, his successor to the White House, have committed these crimes in an atmosphere of complete impunity is the real issue that the public should be focusing on.

Of course, documenting the crimes of state committed by Trump and all of his predecessors in the White House would take up volumes. But surveying just his most recent four predecessors shows a consistent record of creating chaos, destruction and lawlessness across the world for the sole purpose of advancing Washington’s geostrategic and economic interests.

Foreign policy: Illegal wars, self-interested interventions, and support for destabilizing coups

In terms of foreign policy, Trump’s crimes of state include launching a coup attempt in Venezuela that drastically destabilized the country and exacerbated an economic crisis that itself had been caused in large part by Washington-imposed sanctions. During Trump’s time in office, Washington also increased sanctions against Nicaragua, added new sanctions to the economic blockade against Cuba, and reimposed sanctions on Iran by unilaterally withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (known colloquially as the ‘Iran Nuclear Deal’). These unilateral sanctions are illegal under international law and have overwhelmingly had the effect of harming these countries’ civilian populations.

But Trump’s predecessors were hardly much better. His immediate predecessor, Barack Obama, for example, failed to end the war in Afghanistan and increased Bush’s drone assassination program by a factor of ten. The Obama administration also played a hand in the illegal coup against the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, and intervened in Libya, which turned the once-stable North African nation into a medieval throwback with slave markets operating out in the open.

Readers will hardly need to be reminded of George W. Bush’s own foreign policy antics. In addition to launching the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration also played a hand in the 2001 coup attempt against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and hypocritically imposed sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program – in spite of scant evidence that Iran seeks nuclear weapons and even though Israel, the US’s major ally in the Middle East, already holds such weapons in violation of non-proliferation treaties.

As for Bill Clinton, his administration bombed a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan and launched a disastrous intervention in the Balkans. George H. W. Bush, meanwhile, invaded Panama, launched the First Gulf War, and began expanding NATO ominously close to Russia’s borders – a process that ultimately became a major factor in the outbreak of hostilities between Russia and Ukraine in 2022.

Israel: Only marginally worse servility to the US’s Middle East proxy state

With respect to the conflict in Palestine, Trump did take US toadying to the Zionist state to previously unseen heights, in particular with his administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and legitimization of Israel’s illegal annexation of the Golan Heights. But again, previous administrations were hardly much better.

Obama, for instance, failed to issue any punitive measure against Israel during the three major massacres that it committed in Gaza during his time in office (Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and 2009, Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, and Operation Protective Edge in 2014). On the contrary, throughout this time the US continued supplying Israel with weapons via lucrative arms contracts.

Needless to say, as Israel’s military operations in Gaza have unfolded since the October 7th attack, Trump’s successor in the White House (who, of course, served as Obama’s vice president) has taken US enabling of Israel’s crimes to a new low of outright complicity in genocide. Current US President Joe Biden also failed to take any action against Israel following its storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in May 2021 and subsequent brutality against Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza.

George W. Bush’s policy toward Palestine included enabling Israel’s human rights abuses throughout the Second Intifada and during its reckless war against Lebanon in 2006. The Bush administration also played a hand in Hamas’s eclipsing of Fatah in Gaza by insisting that the election go ahead, and that the Islamist group participate as part of its policy of so-called “democracy promotion.”

During Bill Clinton’s time in the White House, he launched the shambolic Camp David summit, which culminated in no agreement whatsoever between the two sides and whose failure was a factor in the outbreak of the Second Intifada. While George H. W. Bush was slightly better on policy toward Israel than his successors by imposing consequenceson Israel for bad behavior, he nonetheless oversaw the Madrid Conference and subsequent signing of the first Oslo Accord, which has had the effect of subcontracting out the Israeli occupation of the West Bank to a collaborationist Palestinian Authority.

And of course, just as during Trump’s time in office, throughout the Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush administrations as well, Washington has continually used its veto power at the UN to block resolutions that condemn, let alone take meaningful action against, Israel’s crimes.

Civil Liberties: Bipartisan support for authoritarianism and trampling over legal norms

After leaving the White House, Obama publicly denounced Trump for his authoritarian tendencies. But while Obama didn’t engage in the brazen authoritarianism of Trump – such as threatening the press, pledging to jail political opponents, airing the idea of delaying elections, or stating he is “not going to be beholden to courts” – Obama was hardly a paragon of civil liberties during his time in office either. A 2013 Washington Post exposé, for example, documented the National Security Agency’s repeated abuses of power under Obama’s watch, including deliberate interception of emails and phone calls as well as illegal surveillance of both foreign and domestic intelligence targets.

Despite promises to shut it down during his presidential campaign, Obama also failed to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, where torture, rendition and indefinite incarceration (in flagrant breach of international law) continue to this day. While president, Obama also declined to repeal the Patriot Act (again, after promising to do so as a presidential candidate) and even renewed some of the law’s major provisions, such as roving wire taps.

It was, of course, his predecessor, George W. Bush, who first introduced the Patriot Act – which has undermined some of the most core modern legal principles such as habeas corpus – and opened the Guantanamo Bay detention center in 2002 as part of his so-called “War on Terror.” Since then, nine detainees have died while incarcerated there and an unknown number have been subjected to so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” – known in common parlance as torture.

During Clinton’s time in the White House, he signed the so-called ‘Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996,’, which like the Patriot Act also undermines the legal principle of habeas corpus.

George H. W. Bush, meanwhile, in the 1970s served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), an organization that is notorious for its civil liberties violations including wiretapping, illegally monitoring postal correspondence, and interrogating people against their will. At that time, it was notorious for its role in Operation Condor in which right-wing governments throughout South America engaged in political repression campaigns against perceived enemies. Bush remained close to the CIA as vice president in the Reagan administration in the 1980s, when it became embroiled in the Iran-Contra Affair, and as president in the early 1990s, when it faced accusations of involvement in drug trafficking.

Time to stop singularizing Trump as uniquely evil

Clearly, it is time we take a step back from the narrow focus on Trump’s latest legal wranglings. Focusing on his shady business dealings committed when out of office obscures the fact that, if there were any justice in this world, Trump as well as all his recent predecessors would be tried for much bigger crimes of state that dwarf in severity anything about hush money payments or falsifying business records.