HISTORIANS will certainly have their hands full with the legacy of Donald Trump. Just when it seems he cannot do anything more outlandish, selfish or just plain stupid, he surpasses himself. His performance in meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland last week almost seemed to be an attempt to exceed his own previously well-documented witlessness. It must be admitted that if that was his intent, he was successful.
Observers accustomed to viewing an American president with at least some degree of respect and admiration must surely now concede this particular incumbent of the Oval Office deserves neither respect nor admiration. It is only a small step further for observers to acknowledge a growing feeling of disregard for the country of which he is the present chief executive.
Pundits and commentators are certainly among the major beneficiaries of Trump’s refusal to be careful with his words. Television personalities with predictable predilections about Trump opine every evening before increasing audiences.
Such dominance of the news media and public discourse must be a point of real pride for a self-oriented personality like Trump. He may wonder if figures he appears to admire like Putin actually do envy his ability to routinely blot out virtually any other news than what he has done or said lately.
It would not come as a surprise to learn that Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and other real autocrats do indeed envy Trump’s omnipresence. He has been able to achieve news domination without resort to the secret police, armed forces or control of the supply and distribution of food, communications and electric power.
How in fact has Trump managed to accomplish this? Are we all spectators and witnesses to a phenomenon who will take his historical place along political theorists and practitioners like Machiavelli, Disraeli, Metternich, Bismarck, Churchill, Lenin and Roosevelt?
Or is Trump the hapless, foolish buffoon many would secretly like him to be, a silly aberration who will inevitably soon be swept from the political stage, a mere footnote in a future discussion of a political course adjustment that was overdue in American and perhaps European politics?
It is too early to know. It seems improbable that Trump is really a calculating conniver who carefully plots his next move. He simply could not be that good an actor. But to dismiss him as an inconsequential outlier may also be misguided.
Democrats, liberals and the putative majority of Americans who despise this president, and the disrepute and even irrelevancy to which he is leading the United States, must not repeat Hillary Clinton’s mistake of 2016 in underestimating Trump.
They must learn also from the sad, similar experience of John Kerry in 2004. Kerry, a sitting senator and the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, had looked on as Bush made several major mistakes. Bush approved a profoundly poor policy decision in invading Iraq when the real revenge targets were further east in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Bush actively impeded life-saving stem cell research to appease a minority of religious zealots. Bush appeared to be the intellectual servant of neo-conservative theorists whose worldview was tainted by greed and lust for power and unconcerned with the nation’s interests.
But most of all, Bush squandered a once in a lifetime opportunity to unify the sprawling, diverse United States of America after the unfathomable horror of the terrorist bombings of New York City and Washington on September 11, 2001. For the first time since the Japanese sucker-punched the US by destroying most of its Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, the US mainland faced a real, tangible threat from an overseas foe. Americans were ready to enlist behind wise leadership and forge ahead to impel the nation to new heights.
Bush blew it. Feckless and intellectually lazy, he gave clear evidence of just how unprepared and unready he was to lead the nation.
That had all happened during his first term. Americans knew just how inadequate a president he was before they went to the polls in November 2004. John Kerry knew it, too, and like Clinton in 2016, he underestimated his opponent.
Bush won anyhow. Could Trump do the same?