Can America survive Donald Trump?

By Aijaz Zaka Syed

No one expected Donald Trump to be all sweetness and light once he won the White House. But who turns his first press conference into a circus and slanging match with the media and virtually everyone else in the room? The man really nurses a grudge.

It was probably the shallowest speech ever delivered by an incoming president, endlessly boasting about his ‘tremendous’ talents and those of his team of billionaires to make ‘deals’ and do ‘business’ with the world. Yes, that’s what he thinks all this is about – making deals and doing business. And what a stunning, breathtaking contrast he offered against the man he is replacing in the White House.

Speaking only a day earlier in his hometown Chicago for the last time, Obama had been at his loftiest best – dignified, charming and all pathos and gravitas. As he became sentimental with his daughter shedding copious tears, the rock star president for the last time brought tears to his legions of admirers around the world.

For all his flaws and many failures, especially on the Middle East, including the disasters of Syria, Libya and Palestine, he is truly the best global president the world has ever had. A real class act that is hard to follow.

The contrast between the present and the future couldn’t have been starker. But then this is the new normal of US politics, I suppose. This is what the voters, in their wisdom, have chosen. America, what have you done?

Look at Trump’s encounter with ‘fake news’! This was again a first – a corporate candidate trashing the big media that essentially created him. He ignored the big boys including the New York Times and the Washington Post, repeatedly refusing to engage the CNN for its audacity to spill the beans a day earlier about his alleged sexual escapades in Moscow under the benign gaze of comrade Putin.

We couldn’t have hoped for a more explosive start. Looks like this is going to be fun and one hell of a ride. Bring it on!

Trump has already been in a heated war of words with the US intelligence community for suggesting that Russia has been behind the hacking of the Democratic National Convention and may have played a key role in clinching the election in his favour.

BuzzFeed and Mother Jones published some lurid details about Trump’s antics in Moscow.

Remember, this had been long before Trump decided to run for the White House. Clearly, the history of mutual admiration between the 45th president and his predecessor goes way back. Apparently, all this was caught on camera and preserved for posterity by the Russians.

In a report about the Russian hacking, National Intelligence Director James Clapper noted: “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. We also assess Putin and the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavourably to him.”

Following a briefing by the top sleuths, Trump finally admitted that his hero Putin may have been involved in hacking the US polls. However, he has demanded to see the ‘evidence’, preferring the Russian version over that of his own agencies and reminding everyone that these are the same agencies that had made outlandish claims about the non-existent WMDs in Iraq.

But did Putin really do it? Given the long history of the Russian and US shenanigans in each other’s countries during the cold war and Putin’s own background as a former spy master, you cannot really put anything past the Kremlin. But then as someone pointed out, Russia has not done anything to subvert US polls that the US agencies, like the CIA, themselves haven’t done to influence polls in other countries.

Remember what happened to Mosaddegh of Iran in 1958? The Yanks and the Brits hated his guts and independent streak – not to mention his audacity to introduce reforms and nationalise Iran’s oil industry. So the honest and incorruptible Mosaddegh, the first elected leader of Iran, had to go following a sensational coup. History repeated itself next door in Iraq four decades later when Saddam Hussain got too big and ambitious for his own good, turning on his masters.

Putin would have certainly liked to see someone like Trump in the White House, rather than Hillary who represents the establishment and the US deep state. He may have pulled some levers to that effect.

So Trump comes to the White House under a huge cloud of suspicion and apprehensions about his credibility and suitability for the most powerful job on the planet. After the recent disclosures, many view him as Putin’s revenge on the US. A Manchurian candidate, if you will. Scenarios like these were conjured up by authors like Irving Wallace at the height of the cold war. So has fiction finally become a reality now? This is an extraordinary situation indeed never before seen in history.

But it would be too simplistic to conclude that Trump owes his victory entirely to Putin or that Kremlin’s meddling may have helped the billionaire clinch his victory.

If Trump owes his victory to anyone, it is to Obama. Indeed, as Gary Younge argues in the Guardian, it was Obama or his legacy that paved the way for a Trump presidency: “One cannot blame Obama for Trump. It was the Republicans – craven to the mob within their base, which they have always courted but ultimately could not control – that nominated and, for now, indulge him. And yet it would be disingenuous to claim Trump rose from a vacuum that bore no relationship to the previous eight years.

“Some of that relationship is undeniably tied up in who Obama is: a black man, with a lapsed Muslim father from Kenya. That particular constellation of identities was like catnip to an increasingly strident wing of the Republican Party in a time of war, migration and racial tumult.”

While the Republican Right and the neo-cons saw and cleverly used Obama – the son of a Kenyan Muslim often suspected to be a closet Muslim with Hussain as his middle name – as a bogey and rallying cry to unite all the racists, bigots and Islamophobes, the middle class, white Americans, increasingly obsessed over the economy, the influx of immigrants and fleeting jobs.

Trump successfully tapped into this undercurrent of disaffection and paranoia to turn into a groundswell of support that was clearly underestimated by much of the media and pundits.

Be that as it may, Trump’s ‘hostile takeover’ of the White House, just as the real-estate billionaire would take over a rival firm, is not the end of the world. For all its flaws, the US remains a vibrant democracy with robust institutional mechanisms and checks and balances in place. It would not be easy to mess around with it, even for someone as wild and blinkered as Trump. One can trust America – and the world – to survive Trump.

The writer is a Middle East
based columnist.


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