How has the Trump ride been so far?


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

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When Donald Trump was inaugurated as president of the United States I said in this space that the American people should strap themselves down for a rough ride. As some readers would recall, based on a set of assumptions, I had predicted that he would have lost the elections. This was not to be. Then, I did not count on the stubborn one-third that voted for Trump in key states that mattered or on the unwinnable factor of a Hillary Clinton.

But, that was then. Here we are now, two years into the presidency of Trump. How has the ride been?

To begin with, he has presided over a White House that has proven to be very chaotic. He is a man who glamorises chaos — a word he has capitalised in one of his Twitter rants. He has publicly expressed his appreciation for situations of conflict, declaring them to be good apparently when he believes he comes out on top. Chaos and conflict may be good for a man who is not governed by the conventional norms that have made great men of American presidents. They may fit into his narrative of what makes one or a country great, but governing a country, even a small one, where chaos and conflict are at the epicentre of your thinking, is bound to lead to disaster.

Someone must wake up to the reality of what is taking place. Trump will not, because he is the Gulliver who continues to sleep. The American people ought to. But will they?

The latest salvo from Trumps playbook of chaos is the firing of the deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Andrew McCabe. The firing was done by Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the obvious bidding of the president. This firing is especially egregious and unconscionable, coming as it did just two days before McCabe's pensionable retirement date. This smacks of the worst kind of 'bad-mindedness', sour grapes, and nastiness imaginable. Trump's and Sessions' action against McCabe was intended to hit him where it would hurt the most. In that Sessions was not man enough to even wait tells you the measure of the mentality that is running the justice department by a key functionary of the American Government.

But this is government-by-conflict and chaos, not even common sense. It is clear from his first year in office that Trump has no patience with the humbug of democracy which calls for debate and the valuing and honouring of opinions other than one's own. In fact, it is this interplay of debate on which the country was founded and which has contributed to its greatness over the years. But in Trump we have someone who thinks he knows more than anybody else in the room.

Remember that he knew more than the generals. He is the “Mr Fix-it” who can heal all the wounds of the nation and make it the more healthy and prosperous. Others have low IQs, while he excelled in school and at a business empire which he has built by his own hands. His dangerous belief in his own invincibility brooks no criticism. And those who are willing to work for him must do so unquestioningly. This is his definition of loyalty.

Former Trump Administration Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's goose was cooked from the day he referred to Trump as a moron. What is surprising is that he made it this long after making this remark — one that, to the best of my knowledge, he has not disavowed. Undoubtedly, Trump viewed this as disloyalty, but he uncharacteristically bided his time waiting for the appropriate moment to strike.

To work with Trump as president requires great moral fibre to stay the course of decency. What has happened is that too many people seemed willing to suspend fidelity to moral soundness to work with the president. Some were and still are willing to play loosely with the truth and to introduce alternative facts as valid. Sarah Saunders, the White House press secretary, must regard the daily press briefings an immense torture, having to defend and sell statements that are utterly false. One wonders what this has done to the evangelical mores planted in her as a child of the Reverend Mike Huckabee, Baptist pastor.

Trump's White House is a Godzilla which eats people with any strong moral cleavages. They will leave, as many have done in the mass defections that have taken place, only when things have become too unbearable for them to stomach. Some have bit their lips for too long; some have declared enough. But this is chaos and conflict at work and, in the eyes of the president, this is good.

What seems clear is that whatever Trump can do within the boundaries of law, he will do. It is not ethical considerations that constrain him, but what is admissible within the fine permutations of the law. Where these are not too clear he is willing to take a plunge. He has declared that he merely used the provisions of the law in his bankruptcy proceedings. While this is true, he has exhibited no remorse for the debts he was willing to ignore or small contractors and others who were left to hold a bucketful of pain. The law allowed him a way out and this is all that mattered.

This is why his irascibility temperature gauge is going to reach boiling point now that special counsel Robert Mueller, as part of his investigations, has requested records of the Trump Organization's financial dealings. The famous red line that he will not allow Mueller to cross is within sight, and it will be fireworks — or better Twitter works — from here on.

Figures do not lie, and there will be a lot of figuring out to do to find the underlying cause of Trump's convoluted financial dealings. There was a time when there was no scrutiny and one can rest assured that there are things that Mueller now has in in his possession from various testimonies given and evidence adduced that should be worrying to the president. But he does not know exactly what Mueller has on him. If he does not sleep at nights this is what keeps him up. Thus, his irascibility will increase.

He may want to get Mueller fired to end the investigation into his organisation's finances, but he would first have to get rid of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and then appoint someone who will then have to be approved by the Senate. There is no telling how long this will take, especially when people become incensed at the clear Machiavellian move by Trump against Mueller. While Trump is searching for someone to do his bidding, expect Mueller to make a pre-emptive strike by coming out with his findings and even proffering a clear case for the indictment of the president. If he does this, it will be up to the Congress to act.

It is an open question as to whether the wishy-washy Congress presided over by Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, and Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader of the Senate, will do the right and honourable thing and begin proceedings against Trump. Both men have no stomach for this fight and this is regrettable. Does this explain why so many Republicans in Congress are willing to end their political careers and head out of Washington while the going is good? The 2018 midterm elections are certainly not looking favourable to them.

Meanwhile, like a lumbering giant, the country ambles along with no certainty of the next danger into which an unpredictable and chaos-loving president will plunge it. His unconventional approach to governance may be shaking up the status quo as it has been known, but when things are not well thought out one can only expect the worst to happen. The sad truth is there is more, much more, to come.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

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