Monday, 27 March 2017

What Will Trump Do in a Crisis?

Traditionally the first 100 days of a presidency are supposed to be the most important: the time to set the agenda, hit the ground running, utilise the power of a fresh mandate to get things done. Now I confess I have never entirely bought into this particular truism, which is nevertheless repeated as if it is an established fact. Why 100 days after all? Why not at least 365 before the midterms start to loom? Why not 150? 200?

But even if we accept that conventional wisdom is faulty, it is hard to argue that Trump's first 65 days,   have been anything other than one disaster after another. What makes them worse is that so many of the disasters have been entirely unforced and simply been the consequence of Trump being Trump. There was no need to get into a confected row over the size of his inauguration crowd the very first weekend. There was no need to make such a mess of his much vaunted immigration ban. There was no need for the diplomatic spats with Australia of all countries or latterly with the UK over CGHQ. There was no need to appoint such controversial and disruptive figures as Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions. There was no need to falsely accuse Barack Obama of wiretapping him. There is no need to have such a combative relationship with the press. There is no need to have such a combative relationship with his security services. There is no need to tweet so often and so incoherently just because things piss him off. There is no need to keep lying. He is a pathological liar. He lies for no reason other than that he is serially incapable of ever admitting a mistake or an error of judgement. When caught in a lie Trump doubles down on that lie or blames someone else. So when asked if he now regrets or wishes to apologise for accusing GCHQ of spying for Obama he shrugs and says he was just quoting someone on Fox.

On the wiretap claim it was revealed last week that some Trump associates may have been caught up in investigations into other parties as a kind of collateral damage. Trump saw this as vindication, which of course it is not. But that is the way the man who is now president rationalises things. That is if he even bothers. Most of the time he just barefaced lies. He did it at that press conference when he lied about his electoral college results only to have a reporter read back the facts to him. When Trump is caught in a lie he simply shrugs and deflects instead of doing what any normal human being would do and say sorry I was wrong. We are all going to get very accustomed to his stock of techniques for dishonesty, techniques he has been using his entire life. The difference is - and what he cannot get through his thick head - you cannot get away with it when president. People are watching you and taking note of what you say. The scrutiny means that what you say matters. Your lies will be caught. Often within minutes.

The reason that the Trump presidency is already suffering such appalling approval ratings in the polls is down to many factors but mostly to do with the fact that Trump himself is proving to be as spectacularly unsuited and unqualified to the job as we all said he would be.

And now this last week we have seen him exposed not only as a liar but as hopeless at the very thing that some hoped might be his USP. The great businessman and dealmaker failed to do what he is supposed to do best. Obamacare remains law and the reforms had to be withdrawn. Trump used all of his techniques of charm - no, I can't see it either, but apparently he is said to be very charming - bullying, dealmaking, bluffing and bullshitting and still couldn't get the deal done. The president in his first 100 days and at the zenith of his powers couldn't persuade his own party to get the job done, to repeal legislation they have been railing against for 7 years and replace it.

What has been Trump's response? Typically confused and yet revealing. First he blamed it on Democrats, an odd accusation since his party controls both houses and the executive branch. Then he said that he would wait for Obamacare to fail and make Democrats own that failure, this from the man who said he had inherited a mess and was going to fix it. Remember Trump said that he had a beautiful plan for healthcare that would see people covered and at a lower cost. Turns out of course that he had no plan and indeed professed surprise that healthcare can be so complex. This was why he bought into the plan of Paul Ryan. He didn't understand it of course and had to keep asking advisers if the plan was any good. It wasn't and that was why it failed.

What is truly terrifying about Trump though is that he keeps making these unforced errors. His administration is dysfunctional, has struggled to fill vacancies in its corridors meaning that work is not being done. He presented a budget that was cack handed and incompetent and was rejected out of hand. Repealing Obamacare was supposed to be a key priority. They bungled it. So what happens if and when something unexpected happens, when a crisis comes out of the blue? How will this president cope, how will he manage to get his head across the issues and to act decisively, expeditiously and wisely?

It's still early days and perhaps he will grow into the job and surprise us all. But so far those of us who were appalled by his election and genuinely fearful are being entirely vindicated.

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