THE events in the US since the inauguration of Donald Trump would seem insane in any fictional drama. Indeed, there isn’t a single soap opera that can hold a light to the goings on at the White House these past seven months.
Blink and you’ve missed an entire episode: from incendiary comments by the commander-in-chief, to his repealing vital initiatives undertaken by previous administrations on climate change, healthcare and international trade. There have been public verbal assaults on high-profile business leaders and politicians, the hiring and firing of staff, and even toying with war against a deranged leader with nuclear capabilities. Surreal does not come close to describing it.
The clearest indication of chaos in the White house comes in the sheer number of close aides who have left; either fired or forced out. The most recent and significant is the departure of chief strategist Steve Bannon. He joins press secretary Sean Spicer, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, national security adviser Michael Flynn, Rich Higgins, a member of the National Security Council, and KT McFarland, who served as a deputy national security adviser.
And let’s not forget Anthony Scaramucci, who had barely got his feet under the table when he was fired, surviving less than two weeks in his post as White House communications director. The fact such an uncouth man had been appointed at all says much about the president’s lack of judgement.
Trump has also turned on others in his inner circle, most significantly Jeff Sessions, his Attorney-General. Sessions was the first senator to offer the business tycoon public support during his presidential campaign. But loyalty counts for nothing in Trump’s world, nor does playing it by the book. Four months ago, Sessions had recused himself from the Justice Department’s high-profile inquiry into Russia’s possible interference in the 2016 presidential contest because he believed his “impartiality might reasonably be questioned”. The president was angry at being left exposed and vulnerable, his temper tantrums boiling over several times since.
In an extraordinary series of tweets at the end of July, Trump accused Sessions of being “VERY weak” on his unwillingness to investigate Hillary Clinton, and the White House leaks to the media. Afterwards, he told the Wall Street Journal: “I’m very disappointed in Jeff Sessions.” Clearly Trump never got the memo about the need for discreet team talks. But that’s the least of our problems.
Earlier this month, we watched in disbelief as tensions between America and North Korea brought us to the brink of nuclear war. Responding to news of the pariah state’s newly developed miniature nuclear warheads, the American president decided against a measured and reasoned reaction. No, in good old Trump fashion he pitched himself directly against fellow narcissist Kim Jong Un, exclaiming during a photo op at one of his golf clubs that: "North Korea had best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen."
Trump’s willingness to trigger all-out war with North Korea left many questioning his fitness to be in office, among them former director of national intelligence James Clapper. He asked: "How much longer does the country have to -- to borrow a phrase -- endure this nightmare?"
We didn’t have time to catch an answer before the next crisis came along: Charlottesville. On August 12, hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members came together in this historic town to “take America back”. Their call to action: to protest against the planned removal of a statue of Confederate icon General Robert E Lee – a man who had fought and lost the war to maintain slavery.
Counter-demonstrators had assembled, resulting in violent clashes. In the most disturbing incident, a young white supremacist terrorist drove his car into a crowd, leaving one person dead and 19 others injured.
Trump’s ascendency to the White House has galvanised America’s home-bred fascists. His electioneering openly pandered to their racist agenda as he took aim at perceived outsiders, from Muslims to Mexicans, promising to “Make America great again”. By employing nationalists like Steve Bannon, he granted an air of respectability to the “alt-right” movement and it’s been open season for white supremacists since.
Bannon is behind news website Breitbart, which taps into “white rage”, carefully cultivating and popularising a bigoted view of domestic and international events. With him guiding the president, it comes as no surprise that Trump was incapable of showing leadership following the Charlottesville tragedy. The president laid blame for the violence on “many sides”, effectively equating fascists with anti-fascists. Surely every sane person’s job is to resist fascism?
America fought against fascism in the Second World War; now it has a leader who makes it acceptable to be one. In Trump’s America, it’s OK to display Nazi flags and make Nazi salutes, to make anti-Semitic chants, and proclaim the need to rid the country of its non-white citizens.
Trump’s mishandling of this incident has prompted the biggest exodus of advisers from his administration. Following his reluctance to denounce white nationalists, bosses from Intel, Merck and Under Armour defected, as did the president’s entire 17-member Arts and Humanities Committee. They join Tesla founder Elon Musk and Disney CEO Bob Iger, who quit the president’s Business Advisory Board in June after Trump announced he was ditching the Paris Accord.
Serving under a leader widely regarded as “divisive” (Phoenix City Mayor Greg Stanton) and “dangerous” (Carl Bernstein, who exposed the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon) has become a matter of conscience and principle. The dilemma is best captured in a hard-hitting resignation letter to Trump posted by his science adviser, Daniel Kammen.
The professor from the University of California, Berkeley, accuses the president of failing to condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and adds that this is part of “a broader pattern of [behaviour] that enables sexism and racism, and disregards the welfare of all Americans, the global community and the planet”. Interestingly, the first letter of each paragraph of Kammen’s letter taken together spell: “impeach”.
There is no denying it: Trump’s irrational behaviour and policies make him unfit to lead the world’s largest democracy.
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