In tearing up America’s democratic norms, Donald Trump leaves behind a poisonous legacy
As I write this, with the states of Nevada, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, and North Carolina circling around him, the first term of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States is about to come to a shattering end.
Notice that I said first term.
For there is little doubt that the Republican Party remains Trump’s to lead.
The President remains wildly popular in the GOP, as a February Gallup poll attests to, where he was given an overwhelming 94 per cent approval rating by his Republican supporters.
This is the highest intra-party favorability for any Republican since Gallup began modern polling in the 1920s. Put simply, Trump is more popular with the party faithful than was Eisenhower, Nixon, or Reagan.
There is no constitutional impediment to him running again in four years’ time, and (his health willing) he is the overwhelming favorite to be the party’s nominee for 2024.
What explains this fanatical devotion? Simply put, Trump has transformed the GOP into a working-class party, and he has laboured assiduously (unlike many Presidents before him) to keep the promises he made to his base.
He has fought a trade war with China on the premise that a generation’s worth of free trade deals has offshored manufacturing jobs to America’s rising enemy.
He has kept his word to evangelical Christians by appointing three young conservative Supreme Court Justices who will influence American life for a generation to come, along with hundreds of other federal jurists.
And until the virus struck, Trump had a sterling record on the economy. His dogged efforts at deregulation jump-started the US economy, making it the envy of the advanced industrial world.
Trump’s foreign policy accomplishments are also seminal, far outshining his glamourous, overrated, predecessor Barack Obama.
Crucially, he radically changed America’s perception of a rising China, correctly noting that this superpower rivalry, and not Islamic fundamentalism, was the country’s greatest strategic threat moving ahead.
China’s failure to stop the spread of the coronavirus, shameless abrogation of its understanding with the UK over Hong Kong as it cracked down on free speech, horrendous treatment of Uighurs in western Xinxiang province, bloody seizure of 300 kilometers of Indian land in the high Himalayas, and bullying of its maritime neighbours in the South China and East China Seas have all confirmed his basic strategic analysis.
When I left Washington 14 years ago, everyone was a naive China dove. Now, both parties have woken up, becoming various varieties of hawk. This is largely due to Donald Trump — and geostrategically it alone amounts to a not inconsiderable legacy.
The outgoing President is also right in that his many political enemies did not fight fairly with him. I have watched in horror close-hand as otherwise sane Democratic friends of mine have come down with what I have called Trump Derangement Syndrome, as the crude personal ugliness of the man as much as anything else drove them to behave despicably towards him.
The US mainstream media has given up any pretense of objectivity, to the disgust of most of the country, instead all becoming editorialists (without the expertise), playing an endless, childish game of “Gotcha” with a man they despised. This in turn fuelled the President’s persecution mania, bringing out the worst in both. No, Trump is right, he was not treated fairly.
And yet for all this, I cannot wait to see the back of him. For character matters — matters immensely — in the making of history. As Trump himself has said: “One of the big problems is that politics is such a disgrace, good people don’t go into government.” About this, above all, he is surely right.
Here, Trump is a major part of the problem. All of us knew, given his unbearable narcissism, concern only for himself and not the people of the country or the country itself, that if there was a close result Trump would not think of the greater good, but would instead pull the temple down around all of us.
And that is what he has done, crying out — all facts to the contrary — that the election was rigged, commanding the battleground states to stop counting the postal votes, stating that he has won states he has not, and threatening frivolous lawsuits to enhance the appearance of fraud, with absolutely no evidence.
In short, as always, Trump has put his own needs ahead of those of America.
In this, out of all the modern Presidents, he is unique. His character must be disqualifying of Trump, as a President and as a man.
In tearing at the norms that have made American democracy the envy of the world, at gnawing away at the culture and customs that have sustained the Republic for 240 years, Donald Trump has done America great harm.
For all that he has done, it is past time for him to go.
Get City A.M. columnists’ views delivered straight to your inbox in our daily Midday Update newsletter.
Main image credit: Getty