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Donald Trump celebrates his first anniversary as President with what is left of his base. Photo: The White House/flickr

What is the point of the Trump presidency?

A year into his tenure, Donald Trump has got to that stage where all that is left is to survive and cling to power

THERE are many ways to begin an article assessing the first anniversary of the Trump presidency, but the ending is always the same: Donald Trump is cooked.

That is not meant as a prediction, or as partisan gloating. It’s a simple statement of fact.

Trump’s presidency is a charred, lifeless husk of a thing, like a Christmas turkey that spent too long in the oven.

He may still have three years left in the Oval Office — that’s if he is not impeached in the meantime — but if the Trump presidency ever served any purpose, that is long gone.

So it couldn’t have been more appropriate that on the first anniversary of Trump’s inauguration, to the day, the US government went into shutdown.

Usually, after 12 months, a president would be just hitting their straps: having adapted to the demands of the office and ironed out any bugs in the first year, chalked up some major policy successes and with the benefit of a lingering honeymoon, they would be in a position to fully roll out their agenda.

There would still be another 12 months to enjoy before any changes to the balance of power in Congress from mid-term elections would take effect, and before a shift of gears to prepare to campaign for re-election in the fourth year.

But not Trump. His single goal was to win the prestige of the presidency. His motivation was greed. What happened next did not matter to him, and so he came to office with no real agenda bar a vague grab-bag of ideas concocted by Steve Bannon to appeal to a hardened base of alienated white working class people in flyover states. But even that reason for being has long gone, shoved out the door with Bannon following soon after. No wonder he was so unprepared for the role.

Now, just a quarter of the way into his presidency, Trump has got to that point where all that is left is to survive and cling to power – and in the meantime to do as much damage as possible by undoing the hallmarks of good government, for no other reason than he is a meanspirited, vengeful creep. In this he is no different from autocratic rulers the world over. He can thank his lucky stars that under the US system of government, it is almost impossible to remove him from office against his will.

The passage of the high income and corporate tax cuts shortly before Christmas was, rather than the belated emergence of a legislative agenda, an aberration in what has in a short time proven to be the most dysfunctional and incompetent presidency in more than two centuries.

The evidence is there in the opinion polls: a 39% average first year approval rating at home, the lowest on record for any president at this stage in their term.

What was obvious back in 2016 is now irrefutable: Donald Trump never was and never will be fit to be President of the United States. He is not going to grow into the role. He cannot change. He has neither the discipline nor the intelligence to do so. And his incompetence is contagious to all around him.

On the eve of his first anniversary, he wasn’t even able to strike a deal with Congress to keep the government running.

But it would be wrong to say Trump has not achieved anything in his first year in office.

His crowning achievement has been to sink the presidency to a new low of vulgarity and offensiveness, not only through his Twitter addiction but in almost every public utterance. There are too many incidents to recount here, but his recent reference to the entire continent of Africa and the island of Haiti as “shitholes” ranks right up with them.

So complete has been Trump’s ubiquitousness, that it is actually becoming difficult to remember how different and higher standards were expected of the occupant of the Oval Office prior to his arrival.

But consider this to understand the double standard under which Trump operates: what would have been the media and public reaction if a story had been published — and not denied — that Barack Obama had paid off for her silence a porn star with whom he’d had a relationship. Yet, after the tapes and other tales of Trump’s sexual harassment and misogyny, this type of story is now almost ho-hum.

Trump’s petty vindictiveness and boorishness is even more pronounced when you do manage to recall the grace and dignity with which the Obama’s occupied the White House during their eight years. Trump’s childish behaviour has been normalised to the extent that we have become almost anethetised so that nothing would really shock us now. He is seemingly impervious to scandal and immune to criticism.

But we should not be surprised; as long ago as November 2016, he was already making basic mistakes that told us “his ego and need for self-gratification is so great that he will be mentally incapable of adopting the gravitas required in a national leader”.

This decline in basic standards extends to the way that Trump has achieved some sort of record for churning through senior staff and advisers in a short time span. Remember Sean Spicer? Reince Priebus? James Comey? Anthony Scaramucci lasted less than two weeks as communications director. Even the disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lasted longer than that.

A year ago, Steve Bannon was close to the most powerful man in Washington after Trump himself, but now he is a pariah, abandoned even by the far-right media network he once headed.

Once again, we can only compare Trump with his predecessor, and one of Obama’s most notable achievements was he did not have a single staffing scandal or sacking in his entire two terms as president.

Having shed almost his entire senior staff in one year, those left are either family members or sycophants — either way, none have the competence or experience to run the executive.

Trump’s petty vindictiveness and boorishness is even more pronounced when you do manage to recall the grace and dignity with which the Obama’s occupied the White House during their eight years.

Of all the scandals that have swirled around Trump in his first year, none has lingered or had such resonance as the alleged collusion by his campaign with Russia to rig the 2016 election.

In dealing with this scandal, Trump has managed to achieve the rare trifecta of a special counsel investigation, the potential of being charged with obstruction of justice, and the possibility of impeachment hearings.

Like Richard Nixon, Trump is slowly discovering that it is not the crime but the cover-up that eventually catches you out. But his sacking of FBI chief James Comey overshadows even the worse of Nixon’s crimes in Watergate.

Trump has trashed America’s standing far and wide across the globe, where he is loathed even more than he is at home. He has earnt censure from the United Nations for unilaterally deciding to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and was forced to abandon a planned visit to the UK because of fears over mass protests and the likelihood that he would be banned from addressing the House of Commons. The last time the US president faced such opposition from Britain would have been around — I don’t know — 1776? Trump has managed to offend everyone from Mexicans to Norwegians, even in some cases when he has sought to praise them.

Trump has put the US on the path for a nuclear war with North Korea through hostile tweets aimed at “rocketman” Kim Jong-Un, at the same time fanning speculation about his own mental state by boasting he had a “bigger button” than the Korean leader. And when questioned about his mental health, he boasted he was a “stable genius”.

This is the reason why a survey 134 countries showed a record collapse in approval for the US role in the world, from 48% under Obama to 30% after one year of Trump.

Not surprising given his lifelong history of racism, he has set back progress towards racial equality by decades, while giving heart to bigots and extremist right wing groups across the US. He described white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville last August as “very fine people”, while disparaging the Black Lives Matter movement and denigrating the African-American footballers who kneel on one knee during the national anthem before a match in a form of protest at ongoing racism in America.

And if that wasn’t enough, he earned the condemnation of the British Prime Minister for sharing bogus videos from an extremist racist movement. That’s some achievement.

He has backed a series of candidates patently unfit for office in Senate and gubernatorial elections held in late 2017, none more so than the accused child molester and racist Roy Moore in Alabama.

No wonder the only prominent black member of his staff quit in a huff in late last year, ominously threatening that she would later tell the full story of her struggles within the White House.

Not only a racist, but an open Islamophobe, Trump sought to ban Muslims from selected countries from entering the US, while continuing to allow entry for people from countries which are known to have harboured terrorists, and striking an arms trade deal with the undemocratic and tyrannical Saudi Arabian regime.

Trump’s behaviour towards women displays a similar pattern. In the face of the #metoo tidal wave and seismic change in attitudes towards sexual harassment, he has refused to apologise for his own sexist comments and behaviour and has failed to refute allegations that he himself sexually harassed or assaulted dozens of women.

He has no women in senior positions in his office or the Cabinet, and the sidelining of an invisible Melania Trump as an independent First Lady has diminished the status of that role.

Like any narcissist, Trump is obsessed with getting good press, and his withering attacks on the media area all about settling scores.

Throughout the first year of his presidency, Trump has demonstrated a reckless ignorance of America’s history and a disdain for the constitution which he has sworn to uphold.

While he openly barracks for the constitutional right to bear arms, his contempt for the First Amendment — which protects freedom of speech and the press — could eventually be grounds for impeachment.

He began his presidency by ordering his surrogates to openly lie about the size of the crowd at his inauguration and has continued with daily mistruths and dishonesty, while having the audacity to criticise long-established bastions of independent journalism as “fake news”, even going so far as declaring a strong free press to be “un-American”.

Like any self-obsessed demagogue, Trump is obsessed with getting good press, and his withering attacks on the media are all about settling scores. After co-operating with the author of a book about his first year in office, he sought to have the book banned when it portrayed him as an insane and incompetent fool who didn’t have a clue what he was doing.

But perhaps Trump’s greatest achievement of all was to pull off the trick of campaigning as a champion of the forgotten people of working class America, and then to implement policies like tax cuts that will benefit only the rich while increasing the burden on the same people who voted for him. Which only goes to show you can fool some of the people all the time.

True, it is easy to get fixated on Trump’s behaviour and gloss over actions that have led some commentators to describe him as being consistent with conservative tradition, such as his judicial appointments. And we do need to be on guard for this trap.

But overall his cupboard of real wins is miserably bare. But while Trump has been singularly unsuccessful in advancing his political agenda, he has managed to inspire and unite a new movement of left-wing resistance to his presidency and to everything he stands for. The New York Times is not alone in having experienced a Trump-led spike in subscriptions and online readership. Thanks to Trump, there are positive signs that the Democratic Party is making a turn towards the left. The Alabama Senate result was the icing on the cake of a number of political contests throughout 2017 which saw blue replacing red.

For the Democrats, the main game in 2018 must be to regain both the House of Representatives and the Senate as a bulwark against Trump’s excesses. America cannot wait for the 2020 presidential election — by which time the damage would be irreversible. Without control of both chambers, any talk of impeachment is hypothetical.

Any early hopes that a Republican establishment Congress would stand up to him have long evaporated, and there is no chance they would support an impeachment motion. In fact, the Republican leadership of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have been complicit in failing to rebuke or oppose the mad man in the White House.

For the Republicans, their sycophancy to Trump is a millstone around their necks, and judgement day for those cowardly frauds cannot come soon enough.

As for the speculation about Oprah Winfrey running as a kind of anti-Trump celebrity candidate for the Democrats in 2020 . . . well, if Oprah is the answer, someone was asking the wrong question. Simply, it ain’t gonna happen.

Trump’s rapidly diminishing band of defenders among the political punditry like to point out that he remains popular, if not more popular, with his “base”. But they miss the point. The base is all Trump has left, and incidents like his “shithole” comment show how desperate he is to pander to them.

And here’s the rub: his base is probably at best a third of the voting population . . . and it isn’t growing. Each racist public utterance may strengthen his standing among his hardcore supporters, but they are turn offs to everyone else. Unless you are an FDR, your base can only begin to shrink once you are in office. That is the undeniable gravity of politics.

Like a classic narcissist, Trump values being liked above all else which is why he gets so angry at negative press coverage. He has been so used to getting his own way throughout his spoilt and pampered existence that he still thinks he can bully others to toe the line.

It confuses Trump that as president, he cannot command total respect and obedience. He still hasn’t worked out that the narrative tidal wave is only flowing in one direction and that whatever he says just fuels it further.

Trump is in the same predicament as Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull have all experienced. People have stopped listening and the media are only looking for mistakes. No matter how angry he gets, that isn’t going to change.

Yes, Donald Trump is well and truly cooked, so let’s leave this old man to hasten coronary disease as he eats his Big Macs in his bed at 6.30 each night while watching his three TV screens. Let’s leave him to stab out his angry and incomprehensible tweets, which he spews out as unpredictably as the flatulence created by his unhealthy diet. That’s all he has left.

Donald Trump is cooked.

As the line in that old Lou Reed song went, “stick a fork in their ass and turn ’em over, they’re done”.

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Mark Phillips

Mark Phillips

Writer, journalist & communicator based in Melbourne, Australia. Author of Radio City: the First 30 Years of 3RRR-FM.

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