It is almost one year since Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th US president. Will he last another 12 months? Day after tumultuous day since 20 January 2017, Trump has provided fresh evidence of his unfitness for America’s highest office.
It is not only that his politics and policies, from tax cuts and climate change to Palestine and nuclear weapons, are disastrously wrong-headed. It is not just that his idea of leadership is divisive, confrontational and irresponsible. Nor does the problem lie solely with his blatant racism, misogyny and chauvinism, though these are indeed massive problems.
His latest foul-mouthed outrage – describing developing countries as “shitholes” – is appalling even by his crude standards.
The fundamental failing underlying Trump’s presidency is his wilful ignorance. His frequently petulant, childish behaviour combines with a staggering lack of knowledge and contempt for facts to produce serial, chronic misjudgments. Trump, in power, cannot be trusted. He has been exposed as lacking in empathy, shamelessly mendacious, cynical and unversed or uninterested in the enduring human and constitutional values his office is sworn to uphold. Trump is the first and hopefully the last of his kind: an anti-American president. He is a disgrace and a danger to his country. The sooner he is sent packing, the better.
How much longer will Americans tolerate his embarrassing presence in the White House? His tenancy runs until November 2020, when he could seek a second term. But the problem is getting worse, not better. A series of scenarios, fuelled by his endlessly damaging, unacceptable words and actions, is beginning to unfold that could bring about his early departure.
The first and, democratically speaking, the most desirable scenario is that the electorate will simply reject Trump. This process is already well under way, if opinion polls are to be believed. Trump’s personal approval rating has averaged below 40% over the past year, a record for presidential unpopularity. More telling, perhaps, were the findings of a Pew Research Center poll last month that debunked the myth that Trump’s “base” – his core support – is impervious to his daily blundering. Trump’s backing among key groups that helped elect him – white men, Protestant evangelicals, the over-50s and the non-college educated – has fallen significantly across the board. At the same time, a Gallup survey found the number of voters redefining themselves as uncommitted “independents” rose to 42%.
Trump’s fading electoral appeal was cruelly exposed in shock defeats in Virginia and Alabama. Anger and disappointment with Trump among white voters was said to be a decisive factor, assisted by record turnout among African Americans. Nationally, evidence that the Trump rump is shredding is on the rise. A Monmouth University poll last August found that 61% of Trump voters said they could not think of anything he might do that would turn them against him. A poll last month put that figure at 37%. It is plain that many ordinary voters who trusted Trump to make a positive difference have been repelled and disgusted.
Pollsters and pundits are looking to November’s midterm congressional elections. Forecasts suggest a stunning repudiation of a “toxic” Trump, with the Alabama upset being replicated nationwide. The GOP could lose control of the House of Representatives, where large numbers of moderate Republicans are retiring, and its grip on the Senate may be loosened by an anti-Trump tsunami. No party since 1950 has hung on to the house in a midterm poll when the president’s approval was below 40%.
A humiliating nationwide slap in the face from voters this year, coupled with the loss of Congress, could bring Trump’s presidency shuddering to a halt, leaving him wounded, deserted by most Republicans and doomed to one-term ignominy. Meanwhile, another scenario prospectively leading to his political demise is playing out simultaneously. Nobody knows, as yet, whether the federal investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russian agents in 2016 will ultimately irretrievably compromise the president himself. But claims that Trump conspired to obstruct justice by putting pressure on the FBI and firing its unbiddable director, James Comey, appear to have substance and are potentially fatal to his presidency. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is proposing a formal interview under oath.
It’s not over yet. Supporters of Trump point to what they see as a string of successes. They cite a stock market that has added $7tn in value, 2m new jobs and radical tax reform. They credit Trump with defeating Islamic State (a vain boast) and reducing illegal immigration. The number of Americans saying the US economy is in “excellent shape” has jumped from 2% in November 2016 to 18%. About 48% say the economy is “good”, up 11% in the same period. By these measures, his trademark vow to “make America great again” may be beginning to work – and this is likely to slow the pace of desertions from his electoral base.
Elsewhere, conservatives will point to some significant triumphs that give the lie to the idea that Trump has been a hapless figure unable to bend America to his will. On many fronts, his administration is landing significant blows to the Obama-Clinton legacy. The environment secretary, Scott Pruitt, has effectively disembowelled the Environment Protection Agency, sacking scores of advisers and scientists. He is intent on scrapping many Obama-era regulations on water, climate, pollution and more. There has been a bonfire of environmental rules. New rules on chemicals previously declared toxic are being relaxed.
The president is busy appointing predominantly young, white male, conservative judges to federal appeal and district courts. While the supreme court hears only a handful of cases a year, it is in these lower courts where America’s settlement on issues of gender, race, work, relationships and much more is decided.
Meanwhile, the interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, is shrinking America’s national monuments. Part of the Obama-designated Bears Ears in Utah (1.3m acres) and the Clinton-designated Grand Staircase-Escalante (1.9m acres) will likely be opened up for mining and other industrial pursuits. (Trump was lobbied by the uranium mining company Energy Fuels to open up Bears Ears for its uranium rich deposits.)
Then there are the quiet revolutions under way by Betsy DeVos at the education department, while former presidential candidate Ben Carson, at the department of housing and urban development, is slashing government spending on affordable housing. And on and on. These are some of the wins that conservatives are happy to bank while tolerating the intolerable in the White House.
The overwhelming impression of Trump’s first 12 months is not of steady progress but chaos. Tantrums, tears and irrational rage dominate the reality TV scene inside the White House, according to Michael Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury. On the national stage, Trump has displayed open bigotry over migrant and race issues. His lowest point, among numerous low points, was his implied support for white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Internationally, Trump made nuclear war with North Korea more likely, dismayed the entire world by rejecting the Paris climate accord, insulted and threatened the UN over Jerusalem, did his best to wreck the landmark 2015 treaty with Iran and did next to nothing to halt the terrible conflicts in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Afghanistan. Worse still, in a way, he has scorned US friends and allies in Europe and cosied up to authoritarian leaders in China, Russia and the Middle East. Britain has been treated with condescension and contempt, as in his abrupt (but welcome) cancellation of next month’s London visit.
Is this dysfunction evidence of an unhinged personality, as many people suggest? Rather than invoking the 25th amendment and dumping Trump, it would be better if he was held responsible for his actions. For his wilful ignorance, his dangerous lies and his unAmerican bigotry, Trump must be held to account. Perhaps 2018 will be the year.