Trump and the verdict of history
Sir, – As we approach the end of this turbulent US presidency, Michael McDowell (“Is democracy in the US still sound and resilient?”, Opinion & Analysis, December 23rd) points to an inconvenient truth – but for the pandemic, Donald Trump would have been re-elected.
President Trump has presided over an administration which changes personnel weekly, with inevitable results. As commander-in-chief, he has denigrated his own military and its war dead. In his self-proclaimed capacity as a stable genius, he has advocated bleach as an antidote to Covid-19 (arguing, not unreasonably, that bleach would “do a number” on the lungs).
He has stated that he believes Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence services. He is an inveterate liar who claimed last December that his daughter had created 14 million jobs over the preceding two years.
He has fought tooth and nail to prevent the disclosure of his financial records and tax returns but we now know that he pays less federal income tax than his hairdresser. He is both a poster boy and a cheerleader for right-wing thuggery. In the first election debate on September 29th, he called on the Proud Boys to “stand back but stand by”, prompting CNN to report that the president of the United States had declined the opportunity to condemn white supremacists and instead had given “a wink and a nod to a racist, Nazi, murderous organisation that is now celebrating online”.
Some 74 million Americans voted for Donald Trump last month despite – or perhaps because of – these well-advertised talents. He foresaw this; he said in January 2016 that he could stand on New York’s Fifth Avenue “and shoot somebody” and still not lose votes. Many Americans supported him in 2016 on the grounds that they did not really know him and would give the refreshing political upstart the benefit of the doubt. They have no such excuse this time. They knew exactly what they were voting for.
William V Shannon was writing of Richard Nixon’s behaviour in the early 1950s but his words have resonance today: “A man can be compromised only if he makes a conscious choice between his own moral standard and that of others. When the standards coincide, there is no need for choice and no sense of guilt . . . Arthur Balfour, the British statesman, once remarked of an opponent that ‘his conscience is not his guide but his accomplice’. It would be melancholy if such a phrase were ever applied to an American president.”
It certainly would be – and it is. – Yours, etc,