Welcome to Trumpistan

Andrew Donaldson says the US now has a bad-tempered pit bull for its President


GEORGE W Bush rises this morning secure in the knowledge that he no longer enjoys the dubious reputation of being the worst American president in history. So claim the regulars here at the Mahogany Ridge.

But that’s not strictly true. James Buchanan, who disastrously misread the slavery issue and the secession of the southern states that led to civil war, is widely regarded as the worst US president.

There are those who suggest we should cut Donald Trump some slack. This, after all, is his moment; in Washington, the celebrations — and protests — are still ongoing in a manner that is very, very bigly (as the West Wig is wont to have it put) and he really hasn’t yet had an opportunity to do much damage as the so-called leader of the (greatly alarmed) free world. 

Thursday evening’s pre-inauguration bash, the Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration, didn’t attract much in the way of A-list entertainers. It really is a large fail that even a Bruce Springsteen tribute band turned the gig down rather than upset their friends.

But then this was never about recycled Boss, and Boris Epshteyn, director of communications for the Inaugural Committee, has been pooh-poohing concerns about the “modest” line-up for weeks now. “This is not Woodstock,” he told CNN last month. “It’s not a summer jam. It’s not a concert.”

But try telling that to Jackie Evancho. 

Many of you, like myself, had perhaps never heard of this 16-year-old former America’s Got Talent contestant until now. But she’s reportedly a veteran at these sort of things, having twice before performed at Barack Obama events. 

Trump was greatly pleased that she was on board. Earlier this month he tweeted: “Jackie Evancho’s album sales have skyrocketed after announcing her Inauguration performance. Some people just don’t understand the ‘Movement’.”

You have to love that. Firstly, her latest collection, released in late October, was entitled Someday at Christmas and, along with all the usual chestnuts, contained not one but two versions of Little Drummer BoyThis is fare that traditionally shifts units in December in American supermarkets. To take credit for its popularity suggests a narcissism disorder of sorts.

But more to the point, however, is the fact that many Americans believe they do understand the “movement”.  A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that Trump entered the Oval Office as the US’s least popular president since 1977.

Just 40% of respondents had a favourable impression of Trump ahead of his inuaguration. Compare that with the 79% for Barack Obama, 62% for George W Bush, 68% for Bill Clinton, 65% for George H W Bush, 58% for Ronald Reagan, and 78% for Jimmy Carter.

Outside America, there is much to fear. Very little is known of Trump’s plans for the next four years with regards to foreign policy. Analysts point to the bullying tactics at the core of his diplomacy; according to the Economist, he acts “as if he can get what he wants from sovereign states by picking fights that he is then willing to settle — at a price, naturally. His mistake is to think that countries are like businesses.”

He appears to have little interest in Africa and that may be a good thing, although a memorandum circulating among his staff does suggest a skepticism about aid and current US policy regarding the continent. 

Trump’s grasp of geopolitics is crude and poor. Even before taking office, he set out to destroy the bipartisan nature of US foreign policy with his lopsided crusade to protect American “business” abroad. 

He started with Mexico with all that bluster about a wall to keep out the gangsters. Then he turned on the European Union, and went after Germany like a bad-tempered pit bull. He criticised chancellor Angela Merkel over her stance on refugees and threatened a 35% tariff on BMW cars imported into the US. 

Germany responded by coolly suggesting that, if Americans wanted to sell more cars to Germans, then they should build better cars.

More ominously, he has endangered US relations with China. In Beijing there are now fears of a disastrous trade war in the offing. 

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, though, China’s Xi Jinping took the trouble to lecture Trump on the virtues of globalisation, free trade and even climate change — and warned that he was placing the US at risk. 

“Pursuing protectionism,” he said, “is just like locking oneself in a dark room — while wind and rain may be kept outside, so are light and air.”

For a communist, that was quaintly Confucian. But we don’t believe Trump would have noticed.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.