With CHARLIE HARPER
What a mess. We’re just over four months away from a pivotal presidential election in the US - and what do we see?
The incumbent president, Donald Trump persists in behaving in ways that seem to his allies and opponents alike as hobbling his re-election chances. As his polling popularity continues to sag, he yields to his own impulses and insists on travelling first to Tulsa, Oklahoma and then to Yuma and Phoenix, Arizona to hold what are clearly campaign rally events. Both states are seeing increasing coronavirus infection rates.
We have all heard the medical experts – and Democratic politicians – warning about the dire public health consequences of these vanity trips. Trump, whose transparency would be admirable if its revelations were not basically so vile, makes no secret that he misses the adoration of his base of supporters at such rallies.
So off he goes, never mind the health consequences. He got what many feel he deserved from Tulsa, where the big story turned out to be the quite surprisingly low turnout in the large downtown arena that his campaign had wrongly predicted could not hold half the expected number of his supporters.
Then it was off to Arizona, where both Trump and his ally, appointed senator Martha McSally, may be in trouble in November. The image of thousands of true-believing college students crammed into a mega church without masks to hear Trump rant will do little to encourage anyone still undecided to support the President.
Meanwhile, Trump’s November opponent Joe Biden is giving new meaning to the phrase “keeping a low profile”. If Biden’s public posture were any lower, he’d be underground. Critics say he already is basically in hiding, to avoid chances he might make some silly, casual remark that would offend young voters and liberal activists, both of whom he will need to turn out to vote in November if he is to prevail over Trump.
Last week, iconoclastic American film maker Michael Moore was interviewed on a liberal TV talk/news show. Moore, who gained serious credibility in 2016 by warning of Hillary Clinton’s impending defeat, was asked about his forecast for this November. The interviewer sat back in her chair, clearly expecting a Biden victory prediction.
Moore paused for a moment, looking soberly into the camera. “If Biden picks a vice presidential candidate who will excite black and young voters, he can win. If he does not do that, I think Trump will win again.” The interviewer was at a loss for a reply. But Moore’s solemn warning should be heeded by the Democrats and their candidate.
This is especially true because Trump’s supporters will surely turn out. Rarely has an American president shown such dogged loyalty to his “base”. Trumpers can hardly be blamed for reciprocating the fanatical loyalty he has shown to them and their core beliefs during the past three-and-a-half years. Yeah, Trump’s 35 percent will show up to vote in November. He’s counting on it, and so should we.
Still, the president’s poll numbers now regularly show a ten-plus point deficit to Biden. And there is talk the Democrat is finally closing the financial gap between his campaign and Trump’s. But the best news of all for Biden may have been that the University of Michigan has declared it would not host the second of three scheduled Trump-Biden debates set for this fall. The university cited public health concerns.
Biden should count himself lucky if this debate does not find another venue. For whatever else he is or isn’t, Trump is a formidable presence on the debate stage. Both in the lengthy series of Republican candidate debates in 2016 and in his showdowns with Hillary Clinton later that year, Trump projected a raw power that belied the weakness of his arguments and rude nonsense of many of his statements.
The compelling nature of his stature and manner forces opponents into a flinching, uncertain response that gives to many observers the subliminal message of Trump’s potency. This was not insignificant four years ago and it’s unlikely to be insignificant this year. That’s why Trump’s campaign recently proposed adding a fourth debate. Biden’s people wisely refused.
Peaking behind the curtains at the White House
A couple of new books appeared this week. Neither aims to flatter Trump nor his wife. But they will likely make a lot of money for their authors and publishers. They offer a few insights.
Former National Security Adviser John Bolton announced during the Trump impeachment hearings just six months ago that he was preparing a memoir covering his 18 months in Trump’s White House. Rumours had him receiving a $2 million advance.
After a reportedly rancorous stretch at Trump’s elbow, Bolton apparently figured that living well off his book earnings was the best revenge.
“The Room Where It Happened” is sure to be a best-seller. He charges that the Democratic Party’s impeachment against Trump amounted to “malfeasance” because there was so much more than extorting Ukraine for which Trump deserved to be removed from office.
Widely circulated reviews of the new book quote Bolton on various aspects of Trump’s interaction with foreign leaders and nations. “The slowness and lack of agility on Venezuela was painful to watch.” Withdrawing US troops from Syria was “the most irrational thing I ever witnessed any President do.” “Pleading with (Chinese president) Xi to help him win the November election was stunning.” The president’s faith in North Korea was “unbelievably naïve”.
Impeachment testimony from Bolton’s staff on Trump’s infamous Ukraine phone call was corroborated. But we knew or suspected much of that. There are more interesting revelations in a new book about Melania Trump by a Washington Post reporter.
Born in Slovenia and still (along with her son Barron) a dual citizen of that country, Melania entered the US originally on a visitor’s visa and then received an H-1B work visa normally granted for “distinguished merit or ability”. She was a reasonably successful model at the time.
Later, she reportedly got a green card under a programme called EB-1, reserved for those with “extraordinary ability”.
While the rules were probably bent to facilitate Mrs Trump’s status in America, she is hardly the only one to benefit from some murky or questionable visa decision making.
The big reveal from “The Art of Her Deal” is the assertion that Melania, criticised for her lack of an independent public posture since moving to the White House, is actually quite happy with her life and with her situation.
The book reportedly describes Melania as “enigmatic, glamorous, secretive, strategic. She is a quiet loner and master compartmentaliser who made her deal with the devil and made it work because in many ways, deep down, she and Trump are cut from the same shiny cloth. She is as complex and complicated as her husband. She is more like him than it appears.”
Looks like any tears we might shed for Melania might be unnecessary.
Filling in blanks on the sports calendar
A sports tout months ago said the smart play was to assume there would be no American major sports leagues playing games for real this year. Was he right?
The NBA looked well organised to finish up its regular season as a tune up at Disney in Orlando, then move to a much-anticipated post-season with both Los Angeles teams as reasonable bets to win the championship. Now, with the spike in COVID-19 cases in too-early-opening Florida, the hardwood stars are reportedly having second thoughts.
Not that anyone’s paying too much attention, but the NHL seems to be having some misgivings, too. The NFL, lucky so far in the relationship of its schedule and that of the murderous virus, is still publicly hoping for as normal a season as possible under these dire circumstances. The virus’ expected second wave in November would defeat that hope.
Major League Baseball may be finally ready to resume “spring” training on July 1, begin playing a month from now and finish a 60-game regular season by the end of September, but watch out. As COVID case reports among teams multiply, the 2020 season may still skid off the rails.
Big-time soccer has resumed in Europe without fans. The major leagues in England, Germany, Spain and Italy are all playing on TV, and the late Champions League rounds are set for Lisbon in August. At least there’s that.