Trump sexual abuse verdict 'shows spiraling political polarization'
Result won't affect the Trump base as morality no longer important in US politics
Published: May 10, 2023 08:12 PM
Donald Trump Photo:VCG

Donald Trump Photo:VCG

The verdict in a civil trial that former US president Donald Trump and a current contender for the White House candidacy is liable for sexual abuse has gripped the US, and dumbfounded the rest of the world. Observers view it as a prominent manifestation of political polarization in the US, as well as a reflection of the spiraling political offensives between the two parties that have dominated the US' domestic political agenda and will continue to do so for a long time to come.

The Tuesday verdict from a federal jury found that Trump sexually abused former magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll in a luxury department store dressing room nearly 30 years ago in the spring of 1996, making Trump the first US president deemed liable for sexual assault, US media reported. Carroll was awarded about $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

Trump on Tuesday said he will appeal the jury's decision, which he called a "disgrace" on his social media platform Truth Social. "We cannot let our country go into this abyss. This is disgraceful," Trump said.  

On how the verdict will influence the primaries and the 2024 presidential bid, observers said having a leading presidential contender who has been found liable for sexual abuse conceivably will turn some swing voters away, but it is generally believed the verdict will not affect Trump's base, because the moral fundamentals of politicians are no longer the most important factors in US politics. 

When it comes to American electoral politics, digging or playing up scandals about the private lives of politicians has become a norm, said Li Haidong, a professor of international affairs at the China Foreign Affairs University. 

"Isn't there something profoundly sick about American electoral politics that revolves around those scandals, rather than about how to put the country on the right track and address domestic problems that beset the country?" Li said.

It is premature to speculate how Tuesday's verdict will influence voters in the short term or the outcome of the national election, but now there is no reason to believe it poses an immediate threat to Trump's position as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, Diao Daming, an associate professor at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Trump has been a leading presidential contender in the GOP primary contest, compared with former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley or prospective White House contender Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. If the situation continues, it is of course extremely likely that Trump will lock up the GOP nomination, Diao noted.

Li said that some swing voters may turn away from Trump because of the case, but the political polarization in the US sets a tone where Trump's supporters will not give up voting for him because of the sexual assault. So far, there has not been a chorus of Democrats and Republicans calling for Trump to drop out of the primary. 

"The moral fundamentals of politicians are no longer the most important factors in US politics; they're even becoming an irrelevant factor for voters to consider, giving way to the widespread atmosphere of partisan lines," Diao explained, which further exposes the degeneration of US politics under chronic political polarization.

The sexual assault case of Trump also exploded on Chinese social media, becoming a trending topic on Wednesday. The hashtag "Donald Trump liable for sexual abuse" had garnered more than 300 million views as of press time. 

A netizen exclaimed the battle for the presidency of the US is "as interesting as a Hollywood movie." A netizen called Yusi joked: "When Trump takes office in 2024, maybe he'll start looking into Biden."