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VIEW FROM ABROAD: Bring on the clowns

VIEW FROM ABROAD: Bring on the clowns

IT was said that the American constitution had so many inbuilt checks and balances that it was not possible for the president to change the country’s direction very easily. Welcome to Donald Trump’s kaleidoscopic world where policies and players tumble around like bits of glass, changing the geometric patterns every few minutes. Not a day seems to pass without hair-raising tweets from the White House. It seems we have wandered into the mad hatter’s tea party in Alice in Wonderland.

The latest twist of the Trumpian kaleidoscope has thrown up Anthony Scaramucci — also known as The Mooch — as the new White House communications director. The appointment of this foul-mouthed New York hedge-funder caused Sean Spence, Trump’s press secretary, to hand in his resignation, and now threatens to cause further chaos in an already dysfunctional White House. Following an excoriating public attack carried in The New Yorker in the form of an interview in which shockingly filthy language was used by Scaramucci to denounce Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff, it was the latter who was forced to resign. He is being replaced by John Kelly, the fourth marine general to join Trump’s team.

Nowhere else is Trump’s frustration as evident as in his repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Medical Care Bill, popularly known as Oba­macare. Last week’s embarrassing defeat by the slimmest of margins (51-49) came about as a result of three Republican senators switching sides to add to Trump’s humiliation. Despite the Republican control of the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the White House, Trump has been unable to pass a single piece of meaningful legislation.

One problem Trump is grappling with is his inability to grasp the difference between being CEO of a private company and president of a large country operating under strict constitutional constraints. Thus, he is constantly being foiled in his attempts to keep his campaign promises by a plethora of laws and rules. Above all, his overriding desire to undo all of Barack Obama’s achievements is being thwarted time and again, something that seems to eat into his vengeful soul.

This turmoil in Washington is reflected in the current incoherence of US foreign policy. Friends and foes are scratching their heads, wondering how the superpower will act and react. Trump’s tweeted bluster has put foreign leaders on edge, but has also caused merriment in chanceries across the world. From leader of the free world to global laughing stock doesn’t take long if Donald Trump is the president.

But there is a serious downside to this ongoing circus: when Trump visited Saudi Arabia, he encouraged the ruling family to confront Qatar for its alleged support of terrorist groups in Syria and elsewhere. Never mind that the Saudis have been doing exactly the same thing for years, and the Americans have a major military base in Qatar from where they are conducting operations across the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. The resulting blockade of the tiny kingdom has made the entire region nervous. So clearly, Trump is at odds with his own State Department, leaving American diplomats unsure of the policies they are supposed to push.

In a stinging article in The New Statesman, Nesrine Malik had this to say about Trump: “There is no plan and Trump has nothing in mind. All that we can confidently assert is that the main survival skill of an incompetent is to constantly assail what is normal so that there are no standards any more by which to judge them.”

But many have passed judgement on Trump, and they are far from favourable. He is mocked every day by comedians and media pundits, while ordinary Americans wince each time they see yet another embarrassing tweet from their president. I try and console my American friends by saying that while they have to endure Trump for another three-and-a-half years, Brits will have to live with the consequences of Brexit forever.

But three-and-a-half years in politics can be an eternity. Considering American military might and diplomatic clout, the range of mischief Trump can unleash is truly frightening. Even megalomaniacs like North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un will think twice before provoking the US beyond a certain point, for fear of his own survival. No such constraint exists for Trump as he knows no state has the power to challenge the US, so his tweeted threats and insults do not endanger his survival.

The one constant of the Trump presidency is his determination to undo every vestige of Obama’s legacy. Relentlessly, he has been gunning for the popular Obamacare law that has extended medical care to millions of Americans for the first time. He has taken the US out of the historic Paris accord on carbon emissions, and has undone laws that protected wildlife and trees in some of America’s most scenic regions. Despite this mindless gutting of humane, civilised laws, he continues to draw support from his core constituency.

So why this deep-seated animus against Obama? According to one theory, he felt humiliated by the ex-president’s needling during an annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington where the president is chief guest, and has the licence to relax and take witty pot shots at the great and the good gathered there. After months of having his US citizenship questioned by Trump, Obama let the bombastic businessman have both barrels. In a video of the event, Trump can be seen scowling and squirming during Obama’s roasting.

Some say that was the moment Trump decided to run for the presidency. If this story is true, Obama’s jokes have clearly boomeranged.

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Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2017

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