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Le Monde
Le Monde
6 Jan 2024

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Three years on, the trauma of the US Capitol attack by Donald Trump's supporters on January 6, 2021 continues to mark the political landscape and weighs on the campaign for the November 5 presidential election. On Friday, January 5, the eve of this anniversary, President Joe Biden kicked off his new electoral duel with Donald Trump by presenting the upcoming election as a test for the survival of American democracy. In an impassioned speech with visionary overtones, the Democratic president clearly expressed the choice he believes voters will face in the autumn: between the preservation of American democracy or political chaos.

A few minutes later, the Supreme Court announced that it would consider the question of Trump's eligibility to run for president starting in February. This question has been raised since the decision of the state supreme courts of Colorado and Maine, which consider that, under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution prohibiting citizens who have participated in an insurrection from holding public office, the former president cannot run in the November 5 election. Similar proceedings to prevent Trump's candidacy have been filed in the supreme courts of more than 30 other states.

High-risk decision

It was therefore urgent that the Supreme Court, to which the former Republican president has appealed the Colorado court's decision, rule on this issue, as the presidential primary season gets underway. For the country's highest court, three of whose nine judges were appointed by Trump, this is a high-risk decision. In the event of a decision confirming that the 14th Amendment applies to the Republican ex-president's candidacy, we cannot rule out the possibility that Trump's supporters will resort to violence once again and question the Court's legitimacy. Another danger is that a decision by too small a majority of the nine justices, revealing the division of the Court, would exacerbate the country's polarization.

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Currently favored by the polls, Trump, who continues to contest the outcome of the 2020 election, makes no secret of his support for the January 6 Capitol rioters. He regularly pays tribute to participants who have been sentenced by the courts to prison terms, whom he describes as "hostages" or "political prisoners."

Biden, who has already made it known that he is running for a second term despite his age (81) essentially to block Trump, has thus decided to present the stakes of this election as an existential struggle for American democracy. On Friday, he chose a symbolic place for his speech: Valley Forge in Pennsylvania, where George Washington, accompanied by La Fayette, had stationed his troops during the winter of 1777 to resist the British.

American democracy, the president warned, would not stand up to Trump's new assaults and the "political violence" he encourages. "We all know who Donald Trump is," he said. "The question we have to answer is who are we?" This question, with far-reaching consequences for the rest of the democratic world, is in a way one that the nine Supreme Court justices will also have to answer.

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Le Monde

Translation of an original article published in French on; the publisher may only be liable for the French version.