Donald Trump fighting all the way to the Oval Office
US president-elect shows no sign of changing his abrasive ways as he prepares for office
He has picked fights with a civil rights hero and a Hollywood icon, compared the alleged practices of the US intelligence agencies he will soon command to those of Nazi Germany, described the decades-old Nato security alliance as “obsolete” and criticised a long-time US ally, German chancellor Angela Merkel.
This is all before Donald Trump has sworn the presidential oath and become the 45th president of the United States.
Even victory and the prospect of taking the world’s most powerful office has not encouraged the brash property developer to temper his abrasive manner or ease up on his attacks. He has continued to use Twitter to savage his critics with belittling insults that are not becoming of a US president.
It comes days before Trump will stand in front of an estimated 800,000 people before the west face of the US Capitol and deliver an address that his predecessors have used to heal divisions and remind the American people of the common bonds that unite them after the rancour of a long and bruising presidential campaign.
Some of the biggest protests associated with a presidential inauguration are being planned in response to Trump’s swearing-in, including the Women’s March on Washington. Organisers are expecting 200,000 to attend the event. Applications for at least 1,200 bus permits have been submitted to park at RFK Stadium near the US Capitol to transport the large numbers of people travelling into Washington for the event.
Against the backdrop of his free-swinging attacks, a boycott of his inauguration has grown among opposition politicians. At least 48 Democratic members of Congress have said that they will not attend Trump’s inauguration. The size of the boycott, started by Georgia congressman and respected 1960s civil rights activist John Lewis, reflects the depth of the divisions between the parties in Washington.
The president-elect’s response to Lewis’s assertion that the Republican was not a “legitimate president” because Russia helped the television celebrity’s election victory by hacking Democratic computers and leaking damaging information that “helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton” was textbook Trump.
The incoming president alienated residents of the ninth largest city in the country, Atlanta, attacking Lewis for not spending more time fixing his congressional district “which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested)”. He accused the congressman of being “all talk, talk, talk” and “no action or results”. He concluded his tweet with his signature put-down, “Sad!”
The error of accusing a man who was arrested 40 times in his fight for civil rights and beaten by police during a protest march in Selma, Alabama in 1965 was seemingly lost on the next US president. Trump appeared even more tone deaf to the criticism coming two days before the country celebrated Martin Luther King Jr Day, a public holiday.
While the public feud with Lewis and his fellow Democrats can be attributed to partisanship, Trump’s split with the country’s intelligence agencies could prove corrosive to the running of his administration.
The president-elect has blamed the intelligence community for leaking an unsubstantiated dossier of compromising and salacious information connecting him to the Russians. When outgoing CIA director John Brennan denied this and warned Trump to focus more seriously on national security issues as opposed to “talking and tweeting”, Trump doubled down, questioning whether Brennan himself was the leaker.
“Tell the families of those 117 CIA officers who are forever memorialised on our wall of honour that their loved ones who gave their lives were akin to Nazis,” the CIA director told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published on Monday.
Trump has brought his pugnacious tactics, so effective on the campaign trail, into his transition to president. Like during the election, in the face of criticism, he comes out swinging. His unfiltered Twitter feed allows him to respond instantly to his 20 million followers.
Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Centre for Politics, said that given how Trump’s combative style has worked for him so far he “may feel no need to change” but also he “may be incapable of acting any other way”.
“Through the election cycle, many people wondered if Trump might shift his style if he won the GOP nomination and then wondered if he might do so if he won the election,” he said.
“I think at this point we can safely say that Donald Trump isn’t changing his approach to politics just because he’s going to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”
The pre-election warnings about the risk of Trump’s thin-skinned temperament are proving accurate and his behaviour in the run-up to him taking office on Friday have not helped improved his standing.
Trump will be the most unpopular of at least the last seven new presidents, according to a poll by ABC News and the Washington Post. Just 40 per cent of Americans approve of how he has handled his transition compared with 80 per cent for Barack Obama and 72 per cent for George W Bush.
A poll by Quinnipiac University last week found that 64 per cent want Trump to shut down his Twitter account. That would, however, deprive him of a weapon that he shows no sign of relinquishing.