Necessarily, I have been observing Donald Trump from afar, but a wide network of friends and acquaintances in America has continued to supply me with references, citations, articles and the like. In addition, there has been the relentless coverage of American politics on international news channels on satellite television and international and domestic radio broadcasts via the internet. One thing is for certain, by this point we are no longer lacking for insights and information about this president. (Listen, for example, to this.)
What all of this has confirmed for me without the slightest doubt is that Donald Trump is totally intellectually, temperamentally, emotionally unfit to serve as president. Of anything.
From the first, when he decided to run for president as a total political neophyte, his tactics came from his experience as a television pitchman and star of fakery that played to people’s fantasies about becoming really rich and famous. His own business experience, in turn, had begun with the building of and serially bankrupting various businesses (despite the headstart given him by his father and then, later, financed with some tainted (or, at the very least, dubiously sourced) backing money.
Out of this strange, even bizarre tapestry of a life, he made the core of his presidential pursuit the idea that the country’s elites had been selling out the nation for their own benefit or even in the service of duplicitous foreigners; but that he — Donald Trump — and he alone, could reverse this horrific rot. It was his good luck that every one of his opponents in the Republican Party proved astonishingly inept in replying to Trump’s enticements to Republican voters.
Then, in the general election, Trump had drawn, in Hillary Clinton, one of the most experienced opponents in American political history. But she was also someone who proved unlikeable enough to millions of otherwise traditional Democratic voters that Trump could just scrape together the 78,000 votes in three states that made the difference in the final vote by the electoral college.
But running for office is very different from leading a government. Instead of “draining the swamp” as he had repeatedly shouted to crowds, a whole raft of ethically challenged individuals were appointed to senior positions (and any rational ones quickly tossed overboard or quit in disgust or exhaustion). A wide-ranging swathe of questionable executive orders on hot-button issues were promulgated, especially pushing drastic overreach on immigration and border control, and environmental protection and climate-change policies.
True, the administration’s domestic economic policies did generate growth in the stock markets and continued the economic recovery begun during the Obama administration after the 2008 financial crisis. But these came at the cost of a vast bulge in the federal budget deficit, authored major tax benefits for the rich and led to deep uncertainties for agriculture and many business sectors from the sudden aggressive tariff spikes on Chinese imports.
Moreover, confrontations with longtime neighbours and allies over trade issues have been pursued, and virtually the entire architecture of the post-World War II and then the post-Cold War world has been questioned and then disrupted, with little or no benefit to the nation.
Still more dangerously, as president, Donald Trump has embarked on the simple-minded (even mindless, by some measures) embrace of a frightening collection of authoritarians and totalitarians — from Vladimir Putin to Kim Jong-Un, to Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and on to Recip Erdogan — all apparently in order to achieve a kind of 21st-century version of the post-Napoleonic Emperors League, keeping democratic forces at bay.
Beyond that, there has been an astonishing move towards the maximalist policies from Binyamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government. These have included accepting Jerusalem as the country’s capital and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem formally, acknowledging a substantive Israeli suzerainty over the Golan Heights, offering a Washington-sponsored comprehensive agreement heavily weighted towards Israeli positions, and largely supporting the circumstances of most Israeli West Bank settlements. None of this has made a move towards anything approaching a real peace any easier.
But perhaps the most egregious foreign policy choices of all have been directed towards the American “relationship” with Iran. Goaded by a visceral hatred of anything connected to his predecessor, Donald Trump fulminated against the six-nation accord with Iran over its nuclear ambitions because the pact did not restrain every single one of Iran’s policies, missile development and support for its militia surrogates across the Middle East.
Instead, the president decided a policy of ever-tighter economic and financial sanctions and a tighter coalition of American regional allies would bring the Iranians to heel — or even bring about the downfall of its government. Instead, as tensions ramped up via Iranian missile strikes on Saudi oil field facilities and the shooting down of an American drone craft, the American drone missile killing of the Quds Force’s leading general during his visit to Iraq generated massive protests in Iran (as well as others in countries like Iraq) that only broke when the Iranians shot down a commercial airliner over Iranian air space.
Until that moment, the Iranians were firmly in control of the international high ground over the Iranian-US confrontation. But as things are now, Trumpian Iran policy has no forward movement, just the retrograde motion similar to other Trump foreign policy directions.
But the president’s continuing obsession with the Obama legacy and the possibility of facing former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, became married to the idea Joe Biden’s son was entangled in a plan to gut Ukrainian state prosecutors in the Bidens’ favour. Together these visions were tied to the conspiracy theory that — instead of the well-documented Russian intervention in the 2016 US election — everything was the fault of Ukrainians who were in bed with Hillary Clinton.
This has meant pursuing the fairy tale pushed by Rudy Giuliani, working with heavies who would have been right at home in The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight or Goodfellas, has become Trump’s white whale. And that, of course, gave birth to the president’s now ongoing impeachment trial in the US Senate on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The case against the president, set out in admirable, albeit lengthy clarity, by a team led by Congressman Adam Schiff before the Senate, has shown a president addicted to using power for personal aggrandisement and making use of all of the executive branch’s tools to squelch any effort by the House of Representatives to get to the bottom of this sordid business.
As the trial has proceeded, yet more information keeps coming, including, most recently, a taped conversation where the president can be heard saying to Guiliani’s heavies that they must get rid of the sitting US ambassador in Ukraine because she was standing in the way of moving on the Biden business. This is just so damned ugly and tawdry that it will now take extraordinary powers of imagination for the president’s lawyers to explain it all away over the next two days — 27 and 28 January. Shades of that catchphrase from The Wizard of Oz, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” when yet more embarrassing, unpalatable truths come out.
Of course, it is now common wisdom the 53-47 Republican majority in the Senate will cling to Trump like a drowning man who grabs any bit of floating debris after a catastrophic shipwreck, in order to save themselves in the upcoming election. They will, the argument goes, acquit him, come what may to the truth.
But, just possibly, a few Republican senators will finally locate their heretofore misplaced consciences or spines sufficiently to support Democratic demands to vote on summoning witnesses such as John Bolton, former national security adviser, or Mike Mulvaney, the acting chief of state. Should that eventually occur, who knows what will happen next, if senior officials testify under oath in front of the entire world.
But even if Trump is acquitted by a majority vote, or even if a majority votes to convict, but is still below the two-thirds majority needed to remove a president from office, that record of policy failure internationally, the conflicts of interest and special dealing in the administration, the overall ineptitude, are all a matter of public record now. They are the casebook, bullet points, evidence dossiers and debates raw material, whoever wins the Democratic nomination.
At that point, if Donald Trump can still not be moved from the White House and replaced by someone more stable, then PT Barnum was right, you can fool an absolute majority of the electorate — twice. But that may well put a punctuation mark to any sense America can still lead in the 21st century.
In that eventuality, history may eventually note that it was Donald Trump who became the man who helped it become clear that everyone will need to learn to speak Chinese.
Thanks, Donald. DM
"We are surrounded by story." ~ Alice McDermott