One year on, and America has, somehow, survived a full 12 months of the Trump treatment. Even the President’s greatest fans – and those devoted to him are still out there – wouldn’t claim that his time in office thus far has been an unalloyed success. So poor has his judgement proved, and particularly the entanglements he has dragged himself into over Russian collusion via close friends and allies, that no one can be sure that Mr Trump will in fact be able to serve out the term he was elected to one year ago.
The threat of impeachment grows closer to him with every week of fresh revelations about his campaign and his circle; his foreign policy risks regional, if not global, thermonuclear war over Kim Jong-un’s weapons programme; and at home the domestic challenges facing him look too formidable for him to handle politically or economically.
Nominee after nominee for important agencies and cabinet positions have either resigned before they were appointed, lasted a matter of days, or were in due course forced out. Some posts remained unfilled for months. Chiefs of staff and press spokespeople have come and gone. His first press secretary Sean Spicer became an early target for satire, and a symbol of Trump’s bombastic style, up to and including refusing to accept the reality of the size of the crowds at his inauguration. His Secretary of State has reportedly called the president a “moron”. Mr Trump publicly challenged him to an IQ test. It says it all. The appointments of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and Jerome Powell as chair of the Federal Reserve were the only real successes Mr Trump can point to in a run of failed or duff appointments.
Against that, there is what might be termed the “Trump factor” – an ability to survive and even triumph in the face of the overwhelming scepticism, if not hostility of the political and intellectual establishment. He has scope, in his economic policy, particularly using the deeply damaging weapon of protectionism, to shore up the US economy and job creation in the short run, running into the 2020 election cycle. If he delivers on the economy then impatient and frustrated Americans may yet offer him the benefit of the doubt. In other words, Trump’s not finished yet, whatever his many critics would like to believe.
The litany of failure is a long one. Every day, President Trump faces the flipside of the “outsider” status that propelled him into the White House. A Republican in name only, his party, especially in Congress, dislike and mistrust him, some openly disowning him. John McCain was merely the most high profile, and brave, to defy the bully in the White House. His Republican predecessors as president criticise him openly or in thinly veiled code.
The President never minds about any of that – but his gross political inexperience, bordering on naivety, means that he simply cannot get essential legislation through Congress. Thus his proposed reforms to Obamacare, tax proposals and much else get gummed up in the Senate or the House, a whole body of men and women who are probably the most accomplished on the planet at stopping things from getting done. If it is not Congress then it is the courts that thwart Mr Trump, as with his illogical and unconstitutional “travel ban on Muslims”, as it came to be known, crude but accurate shorthand for a racist policy.
What’s more, in his recent reactions to gun massacres, natural disasters, terror at home and abroad and the civil rights protests in the South he has shown, to use the words attributed to George W Bush, that he doesn’t understand what it takes to be President. Instinctively divisive, petulant and impatient – witness his weapon of first resort, Twitter – his first reaction to any perceived slight is to attack the integrity of whoever happens to be the nearest target.
He treats the widows of war heroes as if they were nuisances; he suggests moral equivalence between peaceful civil rights protestors and violent fascists; he criticises the British authorities as the nation mourns mass murder; he wishes away the reality of gun violence. It is difficult to think of another president in history who is not only so boorish, but who so revels in it. A painful sense of intellectual inadequacy may be part of the reason; sheer vanity the rest.
Maybe America would find this misogynistic, Islamophobe easier to accept of he was making them sleep safer in their beds. He is not. With no idea about how to restrain Kim Jong-un he resorts to crude insults and uses North Korean-style overblown rhetoric about “fire and fury”. It has not worked. He is unravelling the carefully obstructed multi-nation treaty that contains the nuclear threat from Iran, and is making enemies for the United States from Cuba to Germany.
Most dangerously he is starting to play brinkmanship with China, veering from chummy praise of President Xi to hostile criticism almost day by day. On the economy, on Chinese territorial ambitions in the West Pacific and on China’s policy towards North Korea, President Trump is paying a weak hand badly – China, after all, remains the United States’ largest creditor, and rivals its economic prowess.
To a degree, America knew what it was getting when it elected Donald Trump. He was a political outsider – but a very familiar personality as a reality TV star and businessman. During the campaign many revelations emerged about his appalling attitude to women, his past business dealings, employment practices, his management of staff, and the involvement of Russian entities, in various ways, in the presidential election.
Yet they did elect him; women voted for him in surprisingly large numbers, as did the Latino community, and the pious conservatives of the religious right, though Black Americans and the educated classes did shun him comprehensively. Plainly, he scooped the support of the “left behind”, the victims of globalisation who have watched their communities turn from thriving places with jobs and enterprise into crystal meth ridden slums. It is they who hold the future of Donald trump and their country in their hands. The last year may have prompted doubts in some about his ability to deliver on his promises, but they have not – yet – lost faith in him, whether the rest of the world thinks him a dangerous buffoon or not.