THESE are days of reckoning in the United States. It’s fitting then that this, the very first of my new weekly analysis columns examining the most significant global stories around, should focus on the dramatic events underway in America.
With the obvious exception of the coronavirus pandemic, no other story dominated the 2020 global headlines in quite the way Donald Trump’s presidency did and so it continues at the dawn of a new year.
One week from today, though, Mr Trump’s presidency is set to end and barring any major upsets – of which there are no shortage in America currently – Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president.
For the next seven days however, – in theory – Mr Trump remains in the White House besieged by potential impeachment proceedings and increasingly abandoned by some fellow Republicans keen to distance themselves from what they now perceive as a rogue president.
So, just what might we expect then over the coming week? Well, if warnings by the FBI and several other US government agencies are accurate then last Wednesday’s “insurrection” and attack on the Capitol building was only the start.
As I write, US media reports based on an FBI memo suggest that armed far-right extremist groups are planning to march on state capitals this weekend. Evidence of plans in all 50 state capitals have been uncovered along with information indicating people might storm government offices or stage an uprising were President Trump to be removed from office.
This ‘raw intelligence’ comes too as acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf resigns ahead of president-elect Biden’s inauguration and House Democrats introduce an article of impeachment against President Trump for the second time, levelling an unprecedented charge against him of inciting an insurrection.
Unlike last time over the Ukraine scandal, observers point out that the evidence now is not second-hand accounts of meetings and phone calls but occurred instead in public for weeks, culminating live on national television last week. Trump needs to go now Democrats say.

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But despite the chorus of calls for impeachment, there are also arguments against. The capacity of such action to sow more division is one. Any impeachment trial could cast a shadow over Mr Biden’s healing and unity message and distract the Senate from beginning to implement his agenda.
Might it not be easier for the incoming administration to let President Trump leave office ignominiously consigning his incitement to storm the Capitol to the past and allowing Mr Biden’s team to get on with tackling the myriad other challenges currently facing America?
The problem with this of course is that even now in his very final days in office Mr Trump might not go quietly but choose instead to fire off other incendiary parting shots both at home and overseas.
When viewed from a Republican perspective there is clearly a damage limitation and identity issue at stake here. There’s no doubt that the attack on the Congress finally seems to have stirred some Republicans from their unquestioning and reflexive loyalty to a president who incited that assault.
These latest events have only driven further wedges into the already serious fissures in the Grand Old Party. With one eye on their careers and one on the future of their party, individuals and cabals within the Republican ranks have been taking stock ever since the last election.
These days of reckoning are fully upon them now and will determine whether the Republican Party will descend into bitter divisions between those who still carry the Trump standard and the more traditionally conservative within their ranks.
That corporate big business with its deep pockets and capacity to help fill the GOP’s coffers, has started to burn its bridges with the Trump White House has only further focused minds within the party.
The corporate giants do not take kindly it seems to Mr Trump’s disastrous handling of the pandemic and war on constitutional government when it starts to damage business and seriously undermines profits.
But what if – and it’s a big if – Mr Trump in the best cowboy tradition rides sedately off into the political sunset? In the minds of many Americans this would make for a hopeful political reinvention of their country and government. For many others though it would signal the need to step up their activities and re-fashion their Make America Great Again, campaign either with Mr Trump goading them on from the sidelines or at the behest of other more extremist leaders.

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Speaking last week in the wake of the attack on the Capitol, the well-known American historian Jeffrey Engel founding director of the Centre for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, is said to have pronounced the mob and president Trump who incited them as “bats**t crazy”.
Whatever the accuracy of such a derisory description, it’s important to bear in mind that in last November’s election Mr Trump won 11 million more popular votes than he did in 2016, a rise of roughly 63 million to 74 million. Many of those voters of course would not support violence, but there are those who do.
As Alex Friedfeld, an investigative researcher at the Anti-Defamation League’s Centre on Extremism has pointed out, irrespective of how many and in what states protests materialise this weekend, the worry is that state capitals will continue to be front lines of the country’s bitter, and increasingly violent, cultural and political battles.
In the longer term too, recent events have left other more profound questions for a country that likes to see itself as the world’s leading democracy. For as if Mr Trump’s parting shots on the domestic front were not trouble enough for president elect-Biden, the Republican administration has left last minute foreign-policy boobytraps galore for the Democrats.
Among these are reversing an Obama administration decision by designating Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, declaring Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi movement as a terrorist organisation, and rolling back a decades-old policy of “self-imposed” restrictions between American and Taiwanese officials making relations even more difficult with China.
All of this has been described by one US official as “fire sale diplomacy,” and will make rebuilding America’s standing in the world even more difficult for Biden and his team.For the moment though all eyes are on the home front and whether this weekend’s marches on state capitals will materialise and next week’s inauguration will go ahead peacefully. America’s days of reckoning are far from over yet.

David Pratt is The Herald's Contributing Foreign Editor