Donald Trump has proved to be the president that his liberal opponents expected and warned of: the notion that the vain and narcissistic showman would be moderated by office was always fanciful. Indeed, his self-regard has merely grown.
The American journalist Michael Wolff’s excoriating book Fire and Fury offers a dismal “inside” portrait of Mr Trump’s dysfunctional White House. It is written with great gusto and energy, and has some of the hyperbolic power of the celebrated new journalism of Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe. Though parts of the book should be treated with scepticism (factual errors and omissions have been identified), its conclusions are disturbingly true.
Steve Bannon, Mr Trump’s former chief strategist, has given the president an equal chance of remaining in post, being removed by Congress or being declared physically or mentally unfit for office (under the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution). The president’s splenetic response to such concerns merely amplified their credibility. “My two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart”, Mr Trump proclaimed on Twitter. He was, he continued, “a very stable genius”.
It is careless, however, to assume that this American nightmare will end soon. Mr Trump can boast, with justification, that most of his critics never believed he would make it this far. The Republican Party, which has been captured by anti-government zealots and Tea Party belligerents, has tolerated and even indulged Mr Trump’s grotesque conduct.
To recall: the leader of the free world has defended violent white supremacists in Virginia, retweeted British neo-fascists, backed police brutality against suspected criminals and threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” (gifting Mr Wolff a memorable title). He has withdrawn the US from the Paris climate change accord, recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (in defiance of international law) and jeopardised the Iran nuclear deal, which is supported by American allies, such as Britain and the European Union.
The US’s written constitution and its separation of powers were designed by the country’s Founding Fathers to restrain autocrats. Yet with Congress controlled by Republicans, the constraints are limited. The Supreme Court last month approved Mr Trump’s egregious ban on immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries. In return for policies they have long craved, such as dramatic tax cuts for the rich and corporations, senior Republicans, such as the House Speaker Paul Ryan, have loyally supported the president.
The 25th Amendment, now widely touted as the antidote to Mr Trump, requires the approval of the vice-president, a majority of the cabinet and both houses of Congress (where the Republicans enjoy their largest majority since 1931). Impeachment must be initiated by the House of Representatives and conducted by the Senate.
The Democrats, whose political failures enabled Mr Trump’s victory, face a forbidding task in this November’s midterm elections. To regain control of the House they must win an additional 24 seats and retain the 12 Democratic districts that backed Mr Trump in 2016. Yet such is the president’s record unpopularity (his approval rating stands at only 37 per cent) that victory is possible.
Mr Trump’s opponents, however, must avoid the appearance of entitlement. In 2016, liberals complacently pointed to the Republican’s poor ratings as proof that Hillary Clinton was unbeatable. Rather than courting celebrities such as the Facebook head, Mark Zuckerberg, and talk show host Oprah Winfrey, the Democrats need inspiring candidates of their own. Against Mr Trump and his supporters, anger and outrage are not enough.
Thoughts on Toby Young
On the subject of Toby Young, nothing occurs to us.
This article appears in the 10 Jan 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Toddler in chief