Trump: emboldened and dangerous

Published by The i paper (26th March, 2018)

Donald Trump never wanted to be president. His goal when running for the White House was the same as it has been all his life: money and mass appeal. ‘I can be the most famous man in the world,’ he told an aide at start of the race. A few weeks later he bumped into a mutual friend and said he aimed to drive up his speaker fees by standing. He floated talk of using the campaign to launch a television network. And his wife, assured he would not actually win, was in tears on election night, revealed biographer Michael Wolff.

Although he achieved his ambition of global fame, Trump often appears uncomfortable with the compromises and hard slog of politics. This is a man with the concentration span of a gnat and an elephant-sized ego, who reportedly needs his name inserted in security briefings to ensure he keeps reading them. His naivety can be amazing. ‘Nobody knew health care could be so complicated,’ he said last year, having fought so furiously against Obamacare.

It is no surprise that he has turned out to be a dismal president, demeaning the United States with backing for bigots at home and despots abroad. He has achieved little beyond a big tax cut for business, while his attention-seeking tweets make the world’s most powerful man look like a petulant teenager. So given all this, some worrying news is seeping from the White House. For Trump believes he has settled into the job and – emboldened by revived self-confidence – intends to ignore the cautions of advisers and trust his own instincts more than he has over the past 14 months.

You might have thought Trump never seemed short of self-belief. Asked during the campaign who was his key foreign policy adviser, he replied: ‘My primary consultant is myself and I have a good instinct for this stuff.’ Soon after taking office, he told Time magazine: ‘I’m a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right.’ Yet only now has he relaxed into the job and, according to a prominent republican who spent several hours with him recently, feels all the failures were because ‘he wasn’t allowed to be Trump’.

Already we see alarming signs of this rebooting. There were foreign policy lurches – recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and sudden offer of talks with a North Korean dictator he ridiculed in tweets – that jettisoned diplomatic norms by offering major concessions while asking for nothing in return. He started talking openly of using the death penalty for drug dealers, diverting attention from his abject failure to tackle the opioid addiction crisis. And he bragged about making up claims of a trade deficit with Canada in a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

It is unsettling to have a US President who not only lies with frightening frequency but now boasts about doing so. Welcome to the world of Trump 2.0. The 45th President has told confidants he intends to be less reliant on staff, according to several media reports, a revelation that come as some more respected aides flee his side. Those quitting include his long-suffering communications chief, seen as one of the few people able to blunt the property baron’s worst excesses.

Another departure was chief economic adviser Gary Cohn after losing a struggle to stop imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminium imports. These came into effect on Friday, the day after this nationalist president launched a damaging trade war with China in another sign of his unshackled mood. Shares slumped, ending the worst week for US stocks in two years. Strangely this time Trump did not tweet to take credit for the market shift.

This is all bad enough: an appalling narcissist has fallen for his own publicity and believes he alone can solve the planet’s problems. He is said to be annoyed by efforts of his chief of staff to impose some order on his administration. But it gets worse, certainly for those of us not living in his country. First he sent in a hardliner to run the State Department. Then in appointing his third national security adviser in 14 months, he replaced the restraining figure of HR. McMaster with a warmonger.

It says everything about this administration that the exit of a tough general is mourned by moderates. Yet it is hard to think of anyone worse for a post with such influence than John Bolton. Often seen as a neocon due to his feisty support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, this hawk does not even share their decent, if deeply flawed, aim of imposing democracy on an unruly world. Instead he believes American might is always right, having argued for pre-emptive strikes on Iran and North Korea while rejecting a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. He has also advocated confrontation with Cuba in the past and is sceptical about Nato.

The big looming question is whether Trump will testify to Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the probe into Russian election interference. The arrogant tycoon thinks he can talk his way out of trouble; his lawyers understandably fear he risks damaging his case by saying something stupid. This row led to another critical exit: his lead lawyer quit as the president tried to hire another pugnacious lawyer who has argued publicly Trump is being ‘framed.’ This may be hard to conceive, but Trump unbound looks even more chaotic, disturbing and disruptive than the original version. Hold on to your hats – even if they say ‘Make America Great’ yet were made in China.

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