Somehow Trump got elected, with no record of exposure whatsoever to public service, at any time, in his entire life – not via the military, not the more conventional government bureaucracy. He got elected anyway, through an electoral system that now calls for serious review if the process is to move closer to the ends of popular democracy.
So, Trump was effectively an outsider, with at best a fickle understanding of the nature of the US political process, and how it works. He does not even understand the totality of what can be characterised as the American project, and why the country has to do several of the things it does around the world.
That explains why his style was as unorthodox as his lack of purchase on statecraft stank to high heavens. I mean, to imagine a US president rooted for NATO withdrawal from Germany; US pull out of South Korea; break up of EU; and a precipitate withdrawal of US troops away from the Kurds. All of these depict a president who had little or no understanding of the place of America in history.
He could not understand that a country that makes up just four per cent of world population must do all of these, and more, if it must continue to consume no less than a quarter of all global resources. He does not know why U.S. should be in Germany or Korea. He simply does not know, and indications are that Trump had his nose too much in the air to be taught by the experts, for whom he had little or no respect. He thus continued to blunder from pillar to post, pretending, as Michelle Obama aptly put it, to be doing the work of president.
All of these account for why Trump left office as arguably the most divisive of presidents the U.S. has ever had. To imagine a U.S. president would give so little regard to facts, and rather do what one of his most ingenious aides, Kellyanne Conway, dubbed ‘alternative facts’; seek to put down critical institutions of U.S. democracy like the intelligence apparatuses; disparage Americans in military service, including those that had paid the supreme sacrifice, as ‘sucker and losers’; regard the media as enemy of the people; consistently bluff Congress and disregard its subpoena; wallow in the abyss of wanton racism and the most despicable of bigotry; and give voice to extremists that had long been on the fringe of society. At the end of the day, Trump sought to overturn an election that he had lost so resoundingly!
These, under normal circumstances, would be unspeakable in the American political process! They were things no one could have imagined prior Trump. They depict a character model that was not thinkable for the big job in the White House – an institution Americans had, perhaps justifiably, showcased for more than two centuries as the very citadel, and bastion of moral rectitude.
Trump blew all of those assumptions in four short years; and then sought to arm-twist the system to get for himself a second term! How dangerous for an American president who once lauded Chinese Xi Jingpin when the latter undercut his country’s constitution and did away with term limits.
US President Trump tweeted that someday, Americans would want to take a look at that model – for possible replication, of course! With that, no one should say, truthfully, that Trump’s January 6th instigation of the ‘insurrection in Washington’ – which to all intents and purposes was an attempted coup d’état – came as too much of a surprise. One thing that cannot be missed in all of these, however, is that it is a testament to the resilience of the American political system that it, by and large, succeeded in standing up to Trump.
It made nonsense of his calamitous attempts to damage American democracy. At the time it mattered most, American institutions of democracy stood up as one and pushed an undeserving man to the exit door, and in a most ignominious manner, setting a record as the first president to be twice impeached, and this time, with a most bipartisan vote ever! A couple of months ago, soon after he was unceremoniously thrown out of his position, former Acting FBI Director, Anthony MacCabe was unequivocal on CNN, on the prodding of an interviewer, that indeed, the US intelligence community had reasons to believe that Donald Trump had become a threat to America’s national security! For those who cared to listen, it was evident at that point that go, Trump must, from the White House.
As if that was not enough, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, declared early November 2020, thus, ‘We do not take an oath to a king or a queen, a tyrant or a dictator. We do not take an oath to an individual. No, we do not take an oath to a country, a tribe or religion. We take an oath to the Constitution.’
On November 13, 2020, I remarked in a tweet that ‘The sense in General Milley’s averment is unmistakable. One has to be a rookie, a complete outsider, to the American political process to contemplate staking out a position against an election already won and lost.’ Trump, I concluded, ‘has zero chance of remaining in office beyond noon January 20, 2021.’ The overriding point here, as I had demonstrated elsewhere, is that Trump is a greatly flawed character.
It is trite that he did not leave America better than he met it – in terms of quality of public service, cohesion of the American society, the economy (beyond the interest of the 1%), race relations, projection of long held American values abroad, strengthening of the Atlantic alliance, and even in the Middle East where he constructed a ‘peace’ process that practically disregards the interests of one of the principal stakeholders – the Palestinians. I say it again, Trump’s foreign policy betrays the fact that the man does not just understand the American project.
Simplicita! There is the temptation to think that he is successful to the extent that on his watch the US did not start a new war, but as I had noted in a WhatsApp commentary, it is very well known in the diplomatic community around the world – both at the levels of praxis and pure intellectualism – that the only reason there was no war in the Trump era, was because everybody saw in him a dangerous player, one who could, without compunction, fire a nuclear bomb!
He had wondered aloud anyway, on the hustings, why America would invest so much in a bomb it never intended to use! Note the extent to which Europe went in carefully managing his handling of the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) to not spiral into full blown crisis. Not a few leaders of nations, many of them America’s traditional allies, made both public and personal appeals to Tehran not to escalate when Gen. Qasem Solemania was murdered on the say so of Trump.
Thus, that the world is not at war is neither consequent upon Trump’s sagacity nor act of responsibility. It was because everyone knew they had to work together to stave off the real and present danger that a convoluted US electoral system inflicted upon the world. At home in the United States, the anti-war constituency was almost certain he would make a mess of a new war; thus the bipartisan initiative to make the three Generals – John Kelly, James Mattis, and H.R. McMaster – stay and ‘manage him’ for as long as practicable.
The correctness of this position can be gleaned from the manner the self proclaimed ‘war time President’ fought the Covid-19 war. The only reason the coronavirus pandemic is sweeping through the world today is the failure of American leadership.
If the US, under Trump, were in its place, it would have moved swiftly to lead the world out of the crisis – as it did on Ebola, Zika, etc. That’s what global leadership is all about. One can go on and on about this unusual presidency, but suffice it to note that on his signature campaign lines – ‘build the wall,’ for which Mexico was to pay, dump the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), rein in North Korea and Iran – Trump didn’t deliver. The man failed in every respect; and he couldn’t have succeeded anyway, given his temperament, ignorance, egoistic nature, and moral depravity.