Breakfast with Bwana
By Anil Madan
Donald Trump liked to throw his weight around. Like most clumsy heavyweights, he took wild swings and sometimes landed. But his punches, even when successful, were mostly flails. Crooked Hillary, Lyin’ Ted, Low Energy Jeb, Sleepy Joe – those are just some of the punches he threw. The truth is that like most bullies, Donald Trump was a heavyweight in girth only. He couldn’t take a punch. He was a lightweight. So tonight, it would be appropriate to perform a Requiem Mass for him — assuming that anyone has the patience to sing for the salvation of the dead Trump soul.
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump left the White House Wednesday morning before a short sendoff at Joint Base Andrews, which Trump closed by saying: “We will be back in some form.” Photo – fox8.com
When a real punch was delivered, when the American people rose and said “Enough!!” he couldn’t take it. His knees buckled, he grabbed for the ropes but he found no support. He flailed and in the end, grabbed just enough rope to hang himself.
So it was on the morning of January 20th, 2021, Donald Trump, disgraced, denounced, disowned by the nation, boarded his final Air Force One flight, a journey to ignominy. He left, ungracious, uncouth, unwanted.
Yet, as we do a postmortem, we have to acknowledge that there were some accomplishments. Let us start with his oft-repeated claims to having created the best economy ever. It was not the best ever, not by many measures. True, his initial tax cuts and deregulation initiatives, as derided as they were by the Democrats and anyone who cared about those left behind, delivered a stock market surge. But ultimately, it was not Trump but an accommodating Fed that channeled more and more money into stocks. The Fed itself, was aided by the marvel of American technology and the maturing of e-commerce and web-based solutions that changed the shape of the American economy. Add to that the impetus provided by emerging technologies, whether in robotics, biotech, or artificial intelligence, and you get the idea that it was not Trump but American innovation that created the boom.
The Trump wall
Trump’s signature promise in the campaign of 2016 was to build a wall along the Mexican border. The truth is that Mexico did not pay for the wall. Accounts vary, but one review claimed that as of October 2020, only 15 miles of new barrier where none had existed had been built, 350 miles of replacement or secondary barrier had been built, 221 miles of new and primary replacement barrier were under construction, and 157 miles were in pre-construction planning. Of course, President Biden intends to stop construction of the Trump wall.
What can be said of Trump is that he succeeded in building walls between Americans, between his supporters and the rest of America, between criminals and the prisons they should have been sent to, and between an America full of decent people and an America filled with hatemongers. And he built walls between America and her allies.
Before he boarded his last flight, Trump declared that the economy he built was about “America First,” that he had restored the principle that a nation exists to serve its citizens, and that his agenda was not about right or left, about Republican or Democrat, but was about the good of the whole nation. Here was his belated realization of what he should have done as President. As an apologia, with the red carpet being rolled up after his last steps to the plane, it was a little late.
We must acknowledge the strides made in getting rapprochement between Israel and several Sunni Arab states. There is the promise of a broader and long-lasting peace in the region. Yet, one has to acknowledge that it is really the emergence of Iran as a malevolent presence in the region that has driven the Israelis and Arab states to find common ground. Nevertheless, this remains a feather in Trump’s cap.
Trump’s push for deregulation at home has been as destructive as it has been deplorable. On Trump’s final full day in office, a federal appeals court threw out his administration’s Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule for power plant emissions. The court saw through the fraudulent plan which by the Agency’s own analysis would reduce emissions by only one percent by 2030 in contrast to the 30% reduction mandated by the Obama administration’s plan that Trump sought to replace. This type of dishonesty was a characteristic of the administration of a President who repeatedly showed that truth was of no consequence in his world.
President Biden has signed the nation back onto the Paris Climate Accords. One can debate whether the pace of cuts under those accords is wise. But there is little doubt that regardless of the cause of climate upheaval, we need to address issues of mitigation and adaptation wisely.
The reframing of NAFTA into the USMCA is another achievement for which Trump deserves credit. But that is more than offset by the loss of opportunity and initiative from giving up on the Trans Pacific Partnership. That failure worked to China’s benefit.
Trump’s approach to foreign policy
And that brings us to the broad scope of Trump’s approach to foreign policy. Contrary to his self-aggrandizing and touting proclamations, he accomplished nothing. China promised, but did not deliver on promises to purchase more American goods. Manufacturing has not been returned to the U.S. China thumbs its nose at America and the world when it comes to abuses in Hong Kong and against the Uighurs. The South China Sea is all but ceded to Chinese control and India is threatened by an ever more aggressive Chinese Communist Party. The U.S. is vulnerable and ill-positioned to do anything about Chinese aggression against Taiwan.
Trump repeatedly boasted of imposing tariffs on China forgetting that it is Americans who pay the price.
North Korea threatens to deploy ever more destructive missiles and dismisses the very idea of any agreement with the U.S. So much for Trump’s claim that he and Kim Jong Nuke fell in love. Such claims were characteristic of a buffoonish President.
We cannot leave mention of China without addressing the topic of the Covid-19 virus and pandemic. The simple fact is that for all his bluster, Trump has not been able to hold China to account. Perhaps there is no way to do that. But Trump’s pretending that he was somehow doing so is another mark of how much of a lightweight he has been on the international stage.
Whether it is his seeming butt-sniffing of Putin or the disdain with which Kim Jong Un announces new missile initiatives, or Erdogan’s increasing aggressiveness, or the Taliban’s dismissive approach to “peace” initiatives, Trump showed over and over again, that he was in over his head, out of his depth, and an embarrassment to this nation.
With respect to the pandemic, Trump deserves marginal credit for that aspect of Operation Warp Speed that provided funds for pre-ordering vaccines so that the risk was reduced for manufacturers in advance of successful clinical proof. Nor can anyone seriously entertain the idea that a total ignoramus on scientific matters such as Trump had anything to do with the success of actually creating the vaccines. In the end, Trump botched the distribution of vaccines too. Vaccines are in short supply and Americans are tragically not being protected. Unless something is done, the pace set by Trump will take us about ten years to vaccinate the nation.
Trump also likes to brag about the energy independence of America. The truth is that the boom started under President Obama. Trump was merely the beneficiary of a roaring energy sector. And now things are changing. It remains to be seen if the American energy story can be sustained and with oil prices having cratered, just how much of the U.S. petroleum industry will survive, remains to be seen.
An economy in shambles
And that brings us to the economy and the stock market. The sad truth is that much of the economy is in shambles due to the pandemic. This is not Trump’s fault but he never quite understood that what he saw as his greatest triumph, the economy — even though he had little to do with it — would turn sour if it were not tended to with care. Yet, the stock market continues to soar, at least insofar as the major indices are concerned. Again, none of this is due to Trump but rather, due to the maturing and flourishing of e-commerce and web-based solutions, the Internet economy. And that will only continue to grow. Business leaders foresaw this long before Trump was on the scene and exploited it, even as he focused on dinosaurs such as the coal industry.
Trump has even had the temerity to claim that his administration created choice and transparency in healthcare. This is comical coming from an administration that botched the greatest healthcare challenge in 100 years when the pandemic hit. Donald Trump was personally responsible for many cases of surging Covid-19 infections as he disdained the wearing of masks and commonsense social distancing. An irresponsible refusal to heed the advice of scientists, a know-it-all attitude, and politicization at a childish level marked this ignoramus President’s approach to the welfare of this nation.
There is one claim that resounds with Trump’s supporters and that is his nomination of three Supreme Court Justices and the confirmation of some 300 federal judges. The truth is that credit, if “credit” is the right word, goes to Mitch McConnell. Trump was a conduit. He happened to be President when the vacancies arose. And in the case of one Supreme Court seat and hundreds of federal judgeships, it was McConnell who preserved the openings by refusing to entertain nominations from President Obama. It should also be noted that Trump did not do the hard work of selecting the judges. That was left to the Federalist Society. In effect, Trump was maneuvered into his choices and he didn’t even know it.
Finally, we come to immigration. Trump was right about the need to curtail illegal immigration. The problem is that as with almost every other matter, he simply had no sense of how to execute policy. So it was that the need to curb illegal immigration and the need to manage and administer legal immigration were thrown into the same pot and disjointed policies emerged. The danger is, of course, that Trump’s bungling is likely to cause Biden to bend too far in the other direction and the dawning of a sensible and consistently enforced American immigration policy has been pushed back.
Contrary to his claims, Trump did not rebuild the U.S. military. True, he may have spent more money, but the U.S. remains vulnerable, undermanned and unable to maintain a presence overseas. Perhaps the last is a good thing. But the downside is that Trump’s policies have only enhanced China’s aggressive posture around the world.
America is well rid of this lightweight of a President who did more harm to this nation in four short years than our foes have done in 244.
America must now ensure that Trumpism dies with Trump’s exit from the stage.
* Published in print edition on 22 January 2021