OPINION: It is one of Donald Trump’s remarkable though typically obnoxious personality traits that when you think he has finally reached the limits of the outrageous and the objectionable, he then takes the abuse and insults to an even more fraught level.
His ridiculous claim that he has done more to help the African-American community in the United States than any other president with the “possible” exception of Abraham Lincoln is very much a case in point.
That Trump would mention himself in the same sentence as such an iconic and heroic figure is as absurd as it is both insulting and stomach-churning.
That he would make such a comparison after a week of the worst outbreak of civil unrest in the United States since the Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965 makes it all the more grotesque.
In Trump’s self-penned political textbook, there are seemingly no barriers limiting the extremes to which he is willing to go — not least as is almost certainly true in the Lincoln example amounts to a very deliberate exercise on his part to annoy and anger the many people who detest him with undiluted vengeance and venom.
There is an additional factor now operative in this mutual equation of hate, however.
The breaching by the Covid-19 virus of the walls of Fortress America and the incumbent president’s half-baked and half-hearted response to the invasion has changed everything.
Trump is in huge danger of being tagged with the most demeaning label in American politics — the one which reads “one-term president”.
Those three words spell failure in the brightest neon lighting. It is ignominy which overshadows all achievements of any president who falls victim to that fate.
No-one is more deserving of this ultimate booby prize than Trump. His membership card endorsing his pending inclusion in a club no-one wants to join is being readied.
Behind the facade of self-glorification and self-worship which Trump projects to the world outside the White House, there now resides a very desperate individual.
As much as he might behave like one, Trump is no fool. He knows he is in deep political strife.
He is in serious danger of doing what just a few months ago would have been deemed to have been virtually impossible — namely succumbing to defeat by Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s candidate for the nation’s supreme role and someone whose political DNA marks him out as second rate by almost any measure you choose to use.
The opinion polls are unanimous in displaying an increase in the number of voters who disapprove of Trump’s performance as president as against those who approve.
Throughout most of his presidency, Trump’s approval rating has been lower than that registering disapproval. The former measure spiked upwards after Trump stopped claiming Covid-19 was a “hoax” perpetrated by the Democrats. His disapproval rating bounced back upwards after he suggested injecting oneself with disinfectant helped the body to combat the virus.
The extent of Trump’s electoral problem is perhaps better exposed by current polling in what are termed as “swing states”, a handful of the most crucial ones being in America’s Midwest.
These are the states that Trump won by very narrow margins in 2016, but which he must hold if he is to remain in the White House. Recent polls in states in that category have him trailing Biden by varying margins.
“Sleepy Joe” — as Trump prefers to call his rival in the battle for the right to occupy the Oval Office — is sleep-walking to victory.
If there is any surprise it is that the outcome of November’s election is not yet a foregone conclusion.
With a quarter of the workforce in the United States now jobless and the number of Covid-19 cases having passed the 1.8 million mark and deaths from the pandemic nudging 100,000, Trump’s clarion cry of “making America great again” is a pretty sick joke.
Add to that mix the anger and disorder which erupted on the streets of the nation’s largest cities following what can only be regarded as the wanton slaughter of an African-American whose crime was to try to use a counterfeit $20 bill as payment in a convenience store.
It all adds up to America’s worst crisis since the Vietnam war.
Trump’s response to this crippling trifecta has variously been to ignore that it is happening to pretending it is not happening to blaming everyone but himself that it is happening to claiming his initiatives have gone a long way in preventing the crisis happening on an even larger scale.
Bereft of the courage to make the difficult decisions that are part and parcel of any effective response to this perfect storm-like conjunction of crises, Trump has instead reverted to his default setting.
“Divide and rule” is once again the order of the day.
His saving grace in the minds of many voters had been the pre-Covid buoyant state of economic activity and the confidence business had in it staying that way.
Such a sentiment had served as an antidote for the scandals, downright lies and other outrages which have become the White House’s version of the new normal.
That buttress has been kicked away. No thanks, however, to those who took to the streets not so much to protest the killing of George Floyd as an invitation to kick in the windows and doors of merchants unlucky enough to be in their vicinity, Trump has been handed an alternative matter to milk.
The photo-opportunity which had him clutching a copy of the Bible in front of a church located not far from the White House and which incurred damage during rioting in the capital serves as a classic example of the deployment of what might be termed as an “us versus them” political strategy. In other words, you are either for us or against us. There is no in-between.
Trump’s message was that he was the “president of law and order”. It was a message whose audience was the conservative hinterland which comprises much of Middle America.
The backdrop of a boarded-up place of worship was a less than subtle attempt to engender fear by insinuating that the next stop for the looters from African-American neighbourhoods would be the white-dominated suburbs.
The bluster built on bluster reached new levels of the absurd after Trump’s press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, likened the photo-opportunity to Winston Churchill visiting bombed-out parts of London during the Blitz.
She described the charade as a “leadership moment” which had sent a “powerful message of resilience and determination”.
The fact that Churchill did not need tear-gas to clear anyone blocking his path seemed to have escaped the attention of the latest recruit to the thankless task of being Trump’s minder.
What McEnany also failed to mention was that something essential was missing from the highly stage-managed exercise — and glaringly so.
Americans expect their president to be a figure of strength and someone who willing to play tough when toughness is so required.
Whomever holds the post is also expected to perform another associated role — that of someone who is a unifying figure; someone who can rally the country as a whole when times are as tough as they are now.
On that score, they are getting a big fat zero from Trump. What Americans have instead is someone in charge whose every word spoken and every action taken is predicated on the vanity that he is bigger than the post he holds and that the job exists to serve his interests rather than vice versa.
If nothing else is going to terminate his tenure in the White House when the polling stations open on the first Tuesday in November, then that flaw may yet prove to be the factor that sees him gone.
Here’s hoping. Trump’s four years in the presidency have been a never ending litany of chaos and havoc. Handing a second term would be on a par with giving a child some sticks of dynamite, some fuses and a box of matches with which to play.
America cannot afford a further four years of Trump. Neither can the rest of the world. In particular, neither can New Zealand.
Having an unreconstructed protectionist at the helm of the richest economy and having no qualms about raising trade barriers under current circumstances would be a recipe for deep, long lasting and worldwide recession.
To think that such a scenario remains a distinct possibility is to think the unthinkable.