John Lee is the political editor and columnist at the Mail on Sunday (Ireland edition). He has covered Irish, British, US, European and Australian politics for over 20 years for a number of titles, including the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph (Australia). He lives in Dublin, Ireland with his wife Lorraine, who is a politician, and his daughter Kitty.
When Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States we clung to fragile hope. We hoped he could morph from the wild, aggressive and boorish candidate into a moderately good president.
After he vanquished Hillary Clinton, I was one of those who hoped that he might bring a fresh approach to politics in a stagnant, divided and risk-averse Washington. He couldn’t really be that bad, could he?
Millions of American voters and I were wrong. He really is that bad.
It seems an eon ago if we cast our thoughts back to the turn of the year, but there was actually some optimism about the Trump presidency.
When Bill Clinton’s Democratic presidency was engulfed in controversy almost 20 years ago, the Republicans unsuccessfully tried to have him impeached. The savage battles that raged over Clinton – a president who embarrassed the nation – poisoned Washington. DC became rabidly bipartisan and never recovered its moderation. Democrats opposed Republicans and vice versa for the sake of it. And nothing could be done, business ground to a halt. President Barack Obama, though in comparison to Trump a credit to his country, never fulfilled his promise. The Republicans blocked his projects. He failed in his promise to fix broken politics.
Trump capitalized on this paralysis. In the post-crash recovery, the forgotten white working man turned to Trump and voted for him, to expel the establishment candidate Hillary Clinton and her like from Washington. Many minority groups backed Trump too.
Last year Republicans secured majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Trump had everything going for him.
Perhaps he could bring a businessman’s efficiency to getting Washington working again. Most of all he promised to drain the swamp. Perhaps Trump, outsider with no political experience, could finally fix American politics in a way that Obama couldn’t.
This week, barely eight months after Trump’s inauguration, the poll ratings of the reality TV star turned president hit rock bottom. Trump isn’t great on detail, but the former TV personality will understand ratings.
Now 61 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Donald Trump is doing. The national poll was conducted by the highly regarded Quinnipiac University Polling Institute and is fascinating when you drill down into the numbers. It is an appalling indictment of the US Commander in Chief that 62 percent believe Trump is not honest.
And, most damagingly, 50 percent of white voters with no college degree disapprove of the president. Since seven percent didn’t express an opinion in this section just 43 percent approve of him.
Not only is America as a whole resoundingly turning on Trump, his key support base the blue collar worker of the Rust Belt is turning on him too.
America, that brash nation, is embarrassed. A majority of respondents said they were embarrassed by their president.
Now in the latest round of leaks, it appears he can’t even observe decorum in what are supposed to be routine phone calls with world leaders.
The broken politics of Washington’s near past is now being shattered under Trump.
The cloak and dagger briefings and maneuverings in Donald Trump’s personal White House staff make it resemble the court of Sun King Louis XIV.
The sackings and resignations have transfixed the world’s media and would be laughable did they not occur in perhaps the most important political institution in the world.
FBI Director James Comey was fired in May, but he was a bureaucrat Trump inherited. It is the carnage among Trump’s personal staff that is the most compelling.
One is tempted to call Sean Spicer Trump’s “long serving” Communications Director such is the impact he has made. Spicer only lasted 183 days. I met him at the White House during the St Patrick’s Day Irish American event, and even then he looked haunted. He got off to a rocky start when he tried to defend Trump’s strange claims about the crowd at his inauguration and didn’t recover. He had become a feature of the Saturday Night Live comedy TV program in that short time. Quite something for a press officer.
Spicer opposed the appointment of Anthony ‘the Mooch’ Scaramucci as another Communications Director.
Scaracmucci, a New York financier who is friends with Trump, opposed Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
Priebus was fired. Former Homeland Security chief John Kelly was brought in to replace Preibus. He demanded Scaramucci be got rid of so the Mooch was fired after ten days.
In those ten days, Scaramucci had brought further shame and dishonor to the White House with an expletive filled interview with a journalist.
As I watch this ludicrous, juvenile farce play out it occurred to me that all these people have become household names.
I asked myself a question. Had any of Barack Obama’s communications directors made any impact on US national consciousness or the global media landscape? Do you recall Obama’s communications directors Ellen Moran, Anita Dunn, Dan Pfeiffer, Jennifer Palmieri or Jen Psaki with any great alacrity? But the world knows Spicer and the Mooch.
Similarly Preibus and John Kelly are now well known. Obama’s three chiefs of staff – Bill Daley, Jack Lew and Denis McDonough were, well, hardly known outside political circles.
Highest Stock Market EVER, best economic numbers in years, unemployment lowest in 17 years, wages raising, border secure, S.C.: No WH chaos!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 31, 2017
It is because the White House has become a grotesque, excruciating freak show that these people and their infighting and tit for tat leaking are receiving any notice. The circus and its clowns are important for two reasons. Firstly, because they represent the president, leak on his behalf and defend his behavior and twitter rants. And secondly, they represent the type of management style he favors.
This management style and method of doing business have infected the president’s dealings with Congress, where laws are made.
Trump’s management style means he has dipped in and out of his communication with Capitol Hill. The House of Representatives and the Senate must be cajoled, bullied, charmed and glad-handed 365 days a year. They cannot be dismissed lightly as those Houses are a balance to the presidency and can block him. My contacts on Capitol Hill tell me Trump is unfocused, fickle and disinterested. He rarely goes to the Hill. And he is paying.
At one point in the spring, Donald got involved in lobbying Senators on the Republican alternative to Obamacare. Privately he told Senators the Republican bill was ‘mean’ and undercut the work of so called party colleagues.
Priebus fell into disfavor because he did a lot of Trump’s communicating with Capitol Hill. And clearly the savage, Hobbesian etiquette of the White House did not translate to the Capitol.
As Congress comes to a close for this term, Trump’s administration has achieved nothing. This is despite Republicans holding control of the presidency, the House and the Senate. Trump has spent most of his term trying to replace Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act). That attempt finally failed with the intervention of veteran Senator John McCain.
Republicans gave up on introducing the border adjustment tax last week. That will end hopes to repatriate companies who are availing of low foreign corporate tax. It also makes it difficult to make income tax cuts.
Taxes are unlikely to be reduced significantly in the short or long term. Two of Trump’s biggest (or bigly as he’d say) campaign promises are stuttering. Time can fly in Washington, and suddenly, if there are bad midterm elections for the Republicans next year, Trump could find himself a lame duck if poll figures continue to fall. If it is apparent he might not be re-elected Capitol Hill will desert him.
What Trump broadcast as a positive, his lack of connection with Washington DC’s establishment, is proving to be a huge negative. He does not understand the legislative process.
Trump may yet see gains in repatriating jobs that have gone abroad, but that is a far more complex issue than he perhaps understands. He does understand the free market and that may ultimately dissuade US firms from leaving their low-pay bases abroad.
This is all bad for America. Trump talks about America First, but as he finds himself increasingly stymied where his failures are likely to mean trouble for the rest of us.
His anti-immigrant rhetoric is becoming increasingly worrying and distasteful. As an Irishman, whose ancestors were saved from starvation and poverty by the open arms of America, I found this week’s new proposals for legal immigrants to the United States soul destroying.
The requirement to speak English is so mean spirited when you think that so many immigrants arrived at Ellis Island with only Gaelic, Italian, Spanish or Russian to communicate.
Trump’s restrictions on travel for some Islamic countries were found to be so mean States opposed them in the courts.
Trump thrives on chaos. I was part of a team of Irish journalists last March who were involved in as chaotic a news conference as the Oval Office has seen. I nearly fell over a lamp such was the anxiety to get words from Trump.
Some US officials, the Irish Prime Minister, and even journalists looked concerned at the unseemly scene in the Oval Office. Only one man looked completely relaxed and happy – President Donald Trump.
Chaos in a private real estate company must work because his business did work. The charisma of a man with no feel for minutiae can work in a business.
But it cannot work for the government.
How dispiriting it all seems in Washington. And how forlorn, how naive we were to think that this crass, rude and aggressive president could bring hope. The establishment, the Democrats, and the skeptics were right. The sackings, the final weeks of Congress have driven home the belief that this man is an unmitigated catastrophe for the United States. And perhaps for the rest of the world too.
For if he continues to fail at home, maybe Trump will turn his energies and insecurities on the rest of the world. That carries a deep fear for us all.
Meanwhile, the latest man who pledged to fix politics has, through his actions and those of his lackeys just hastened its demise.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.