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A ‘first family’ that warped America

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As Donald Trump limbered up to give his infamous speech to last week’s “Save America march”, his son — Donald Jr — shot a video for the ages. It captured a festive first family — the president, Ivanka Trump, Eric and Lara Trump, and Donald Trump Jr’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle — swaying to Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” shortly before Capitol Hill was breached.

The video was for “all you awesome patriots who are sick of the bullshit”, said Don Jr. It showed Mr Trump and his self-styled first daughter transfixed by images of the waiting crowd. It ended with Ms Guilfoyle calling on ralliers to “do the right thing — fight!”

Ninety minutes later, that is what happened. Unlike the British army’s sacking of Capitol Hill in 1814 — the only other time Congress has been overrun — this desecration was at the incitement of the US president. It was also egged on by his family. Both his adult sons spoke before him. Each vowed to unseat any Republican who voted against overturning the US presidential election. Donald Jr’s speech was so controversial and expletive-laden that it was cut off by Fox News — though only after he declared: “This isn’t their Republican party any more. It is Donald Trump’s Republican party!”

The danger is that it will turn into the Trump dynasty’s party. Many constitutional scholars celebrated the fact that 10 Republicans voted to impeach Mr Trump on Wednesday, which was 10 more than had done so for his starter impeachment 13 months ago. They accounted for less than 5 per cent of the caucus. In reality, more Republicans would have voted to impeach Mr Trump had they not been intimidated with death threats. That is not how an institutional party behaves. It is the hallmark of a cult. The focus of any cult is on its leader and his family — not its ideas, which can be capriciously altered.

The marchers who changed America’s history last week backed any number of ragtag causes. They ranged from white supremacist and Christian fundamentalist, to QAnon and “America First” Republicans. What united them was loyalty to the Trump brand. Such devotion is an awesome weapon. Had the rally happened on any previous day of the Trump presidency, Mike Pence, the vice-president, would surely also have spoken. Because of his role of overseeing the electoral certification, Mr Pence had turned into an enemy overnight. Some of the trespassers chanted “hang Pence” as they marauded the Capitol building. A hangman’s scaffolding was erected outside. There is no one quite so vulnerable as an apostate.

The only people that Mr Trump and his base can trust are his family. Even slavish devotees, such as Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, William Barr, the former attorney-general, and Mr Pence in particular, can turn on you. Thankfully for Mr Trump, his children are all keen to carry the torch. Lara Trump, his daughter-in-law, is being urged to run for the North Carolina Senate seat in 2022. Don Jr is rumoured to be eyeing a 2024 presidential run if his father drops out — or is unable to do so because of health or legal difficulties. Ivanka Trump is making little disguise of her ambition to run either for governor of Florida or a Florida Senate seat in 2022. She and her husband, Jared Kushner, recently bought a $30m plot on Florida’s Indian Creek Island, also known as “billionaire’s bunker”.

Following the president’s change of residence in 2019, most of the Trump family is now quitting New York, where they are collective personas non gratas. Tiffany, the youngest daughter, and Don Jr, are the latest to announce they are shifting their official residences to Florida. They are by no means leaving America. Not only is Florida host to the White House-in-exile at Mar-a-Lago, it is also the emerging centre of Trumpian conservatism. It provides a setting where you can shun masks and mock social distancing. It is the kind of state where you can jive to Gloria before riling up mobs.

As the Trump family moves south, much of the country will celebrate the end of a uniquely toxic period in American culture. They should be circumspect. Some time in the next five days Mr Trump may very well pardon his family and himself for crimes they may or may not have committed. Alas, there is no law against dynastic cults. The Trumps will be down but they are by no means out.

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