Donald Trump has been President of the United States for just over 200 days. Apart from his negligible legislative achievements domestically, his deplorable record includes a retreat from American global leadership and a rejection of those very values that made the US the leader of the free world.
This was epitomised by his response to the outrage in Charlottesville, Virginia a week ago, when a 32-year-old woman was killed by a white supremacist in an act horrifically echoed on a larger scale in Barcelona just a few days later.
Trump’s studied failure to draw a moral distinction between those shouting Nazi slogans and the counterprotesters rallying against bigotry and intolerance dismayed those who took it for granted that America’s multi-racial nature was irrevocably ingrained in its character, as exemplified by its leaders. Trump has dented that belief. His nationalist rhetoric and evident sympathy for white supremacists has emboldened far right groups and helped foster the conditions for the violence seen last week in Virginia.
It was reassuring that his wretched moral ambivalence was countered by clear talk from some influential figures. Among them, the chiefs of the US military services denounced the racism and extremism on show in Charlottesville, while former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, lamenting America’s newly diminished ability “to help secure a peaceful and prosperous world”, called on Trump to acknowledge he was wrong and apologise to the American people.
A few days before the incident, the world was looking on in trepidation as the crisis on the Korean peninsula intensified. At home and abroad, there are serious doubts about Mr Trump’s ability to be the safe pair of hands and level-headed leader which the international community needs at this delicate point in time.
His tough but empty talk towards Pyongyang is unlikely to produce any positive results. On the contrary, it has aggravated the situation and narrowed America’s options in dealing with this very grave threat. Shortly before he took office Mr Trump declared there was no way North Korea would deploy an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the mainland US. “It’s not going to happen,” he tweeted. Well, it did happen, as the Communist dictatorship tested two ICBMs last month.
North Korea would be met “with fire and fury” if it threatened the US, Trump thundered after a Washington Post report said Pyongyang had produced a nuclear warhead small enough to fit inside its missiles.
In response to Mr Trump’s outburst, North Korea said a plan to fire four missiles near the US territory of Guam would be ready in a matter of days. This is a terrifying development, although early last week there were signs of the tension easing as it was reported that Kim Jong Un had delayed the decision. But it’s just a matter of time before the crisis re-erupts. How would Trump react if those missiles were tested? By failing yet again to contain himself and spouting some more spur-of-the-moment bravado that would further dent America’s credibility? Or would he resort to military action the consequences of which cannot be imagined?
What is needed now is a cooling-off period and an intense diplomatic initiative involving both the US and China to reduce tensions and bring about a semblance of normality. Mr Trump must listen to the US national security establishment and Congress, as well as America’s allies, and refrain from aggravating the situation. There is simply too much at stake.
Trump has shown himself to be far out of his depth in both domestic and foreign policy. Besides, he frequently attacks the free press, his lies are legion and he is viewed with ever deepening distrust over suspected links between his electoral campaign and Russia. He spends far too much time tweeting nonsense and the White House is engulfed in chaos. He is the antithesis of presidential.
The end result of all this is that America has become an unreliable and unpredictable partner. Washington is not currently the standard bearer it once was for global engagement and the promotion of human rights, democracy and tolerance around the world.
Will Trump last his full term? Let’s hope not.