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Op-Ed: State of the Union – Where to now for Trumpistan?

By Jonathan Faull 2 February 2018

President Donald Trump – like some deluded people – lives in a world where he can tweet at the television and the TV talks back to him. Of late, the TV has been telling DJT that his job approval rating is the worst on record (by 10 points). As he may have said in a previous life: “Too much failure in office. People will not allow another four years of incompetence.” By JONATHAN FAULL.

January 2017’s American Carnage begat vandalism. Vandalism called his mates, and together they plotted to gut environmental protections, and rustle up “historic tax reform” as rhetorical cover for a tax break for billionaires. While they were at it, they did a quick whip-around and decimated access to health care for the poor, just for kicks. Between golf games and Fox News watchathons, President Donald Trump found some time to sprinkle a bit of racism, sexism and xenophobia over the seething morass. All the while, his boys on the Hill stretched the fraying sinews of credulity to chase down an illusory “deep state” to protect the ginger leader, and maybe, possibly, perhaps the interests of foreign power too.

On the international stage, Trump galumphed like the man of little reading that he is: shithole countries, Nambians in huts with Aids, the excoriation of well-wishing allies on the telephone, and the use of aid money to blackmail Palestinians to tow his line. Zapiro was perhaps too generous in assessing President Trump’s first year at the helm as an Anus Horribilus.

2018 commenced in now typical chaos: The publication of Michael Wolff’s sordidly delicious muckraker of a book The Fire and the Fury, painted the president as a cheese-burger eating narcissist, hopelessly out of his depth, surrounded by sycophants and a thinning cast of increasingly desperate policy wonks. Questioning of the President’s state of mind, was followed by medical exam that seemed to go out of its way to skirt the edges of heart disease and obesity.

Following Fury-gate the penny appeared to drop: The polls, the administration’s threadbare legislative record, the general madness that increasingly appeared to presage a Republican shellacking in November’s mid-term elections underscored “too much failure in office”. Steve Bannon, undeniably an architect of our Trumpian times, was duly thrown under the media bus in retribution for his serial indiscretions that form the basis of Wolff’s book, and the unforgivable sin of criticising the president’s offspring.

In the aftermath of the “fake book”, Trump played a steady hand through the 70-hour government shut-down, staring down the Democrats and then watched them blinked. Not having previously been one to miss an opportunity to gloat, Trump even left the crazy talk to his acolytes on the Hill. Then he magnanimously signed a new spending bill to reopen the government while expressing hope for an immigration deal with Dems to underpin a longer-term government spending agreement. DJT then jetted off to Davos for a round of high fives and investor chat with some new richer-than-God chums. It could have even passed for presidential.

The State of the Union (SOTU) address before a joint sitting of the House and Senate, would be a timely litmus test. Perhaps one year in, chastened by his dumpster-fire polls, fingers burned on the MAGA alters of Roy Moore and Ed Gillsespie, this neophyte president could finally sport some chaps and, before a national television audience, dispel the growing majority among Americans who believe he does not care about average Americans and he is not “fit to serve” as president.

Alas! Message delivered is so often not, message received. Trump implored his legislative colleagues and countrymen to come “together” 13 times, referenced “our country” seven times, and referred to “our Nation” a further four times. He dragged out a litany of statistics to paint a picture of a country getting back to work, and feeling great again.

But in so doing, he also told a bunch of fibs and lies, and what facts there were, were embossed in hyperbole. And he couldn’t keep sneering Donny out of the limelight. He self-applauded, repeatedly smirked and leered at the Democrats seated to his right. Critically, he had also, demonstrably, been unable to keep Stephen Miller’s hands off the immigration and culture war sections of the speech, conflating immigration with murder, fraud, and impending doom, and the legitimate protests against police killings as the actions of those who don’t love their country. The pillars of his immigration plan were so preposterously not the “fair compromise” he claimed they were, that Democrats audibly booed the words when they came. The Troll in Chief could not and would not stay away.

So where to now for Trumpistan? The current stop-gap spending bill expires on 8 February, and Congress will have two working days to keep the government funded. With the parties seemingly further apart on immigration reform than they were on Monday, the prospect of another shut-down is very real. In a clash of institutions, House Republicans look willing to blow up the FBI to scuttle ongoing inquiries into alleged Russian collusion in Trump’s 2016 victory, while an increasingly plausible criminal case of obstruction of justice appear to be taking shape in Bob Mueller’ office.

Dysfunction and ridicule look like they will be Trump’s ongoing bedfellows. Exhaustion and cynicism will continue to stalk the Hill. November’s tide begins to draw strength. DM

Photo: US President Donald J. Trump smiles during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the US House of Representatives in Washington, DC, USA, 30 January 2018. This is the first State of the Union address given by US President Donald J. Trump and his second joint-session address to Congress. EPA-EFE/WIN MCNAMEE / POOL

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