A tale of two Trumps

Why President Trump loves his role, hates his job, and what this means for the November elections.

by
    US President Donald Trump reacts as he holds a 'listening session' with members of the local African American business community in Ypsilanti, Michigan, US on May 21, 2020 [Reuters/Leah Millis]
    US President Donald Trump reacts as he holds a 'listening session' with members of the local African American business community in Ypsilanti, Michigan, US on May 21, 2020 [Reuters/Leah Millis]

    You have to admire US President Donald Trump's persistence. Almost 100,000 Americans have died under his watch in the last 100 days, and he is still boasting about his success and greatness.

    Of course, the president is convinced he is not responsible for these deaths and that, in fact, he has done a "great job" and saved "millions of lives".

    Trump also reckons "Trump is right" about the economy and he thinks there has never been a president like President Trump.

    Surrealistic? Perhaps. But he believes it.

    Trump, who so often talks about himself in the third person, has been living two lives, or arguably two lies - that of a populist outsider and an unfortunate White House insider.

    May the real Donald Trump please stand up

    Ever since the real estate magnate, TV sensation and brand master auditioned for the presidency of the world's foremost superpower and won it spectacularly in November 2016, he has been having great fun performing the lead role in the greatest show on earth.

    As if he were still at Trump Tower, @realDonaldTrump has continued to amuse himself watching TV and tweeting, bullying, badgering and berating his detractors and praising and flattering his lackeys, all the while confusing the United States's friends and bewildering its foes.

    He has had the time of his life. It has been a showman's dream come true. He can say anything about anything and watch it cause a national hoopla "like you've never seen before". 

    His motto: All publicity is good publicity; if you cannot be famous be infamous, as long as you dominate the news agenda.

    So when his detractors called him "frighteningly unstable", Trump insisted he was a "stable genius".

    And when the Washington establishment baulked at his dangerous Middle East policy, he propagated the claim that he was "the King of Israel" and "the second coming of God".

    In the process, he became an international sensation and the undisputed star of world politics. Neither Hollywood, nor slick Obama, could have matched such terrific political drama.

    But then, just as the lead man prepared for another four-year season, it all came crashing down.

    Not the drama, not the spectacle, but the act.

    A pandemic struck and suddenly, Trump had to be president, not only perform the role.

    Lives depended on it.

    A rude awakening

    The pandemic spoiled the party and interrupted Trump's scripted reality.

    He was forced to govern in a time of crisis.

    So he tried.

    But "America's CEO", who ran the White House as he did Trump Tower, relying exclusively on unqualified loyalists and family members, stuttered and stammered.

    He tried desperately to cover up the pandemic by resorting to polemics. He first insisted it did not exist, that it was just a hoax. Then he claimed it was nothing important and it would just disappear.

    But it did not. It spread like wildfire.

    As he struggled to understand the scientific and medical aspects of this national public health emergency, the spectacle devolved into a real-life tragedy as people died in droves.

    He tried to do what he does best - branding. He stamped his name on every government cheque that went out to tens of millions of needy Americans, hoping to be appreciated. He also put his face on every press conference, briefing the nation on the "tremendous job" he was doing combatting the virus.

    He even called himself a "war president", declared war on the pandemic, and assigned his son-in-law, the "talented Mr Kushner", to wield the power of government to defeat it.

    And within weeks, Trump declared success, not to say victory, and tried to move on.

    But to no avail. The virus would not be intimidated, charmed or wished away.

    But as Trump, the insider, failed at the White House, Trump, the populist outsider, was having relative success blaming China, "the do-nothing Democrats", and the World Health Organization (WHO) for his failures. 

    He also blamed the deep state bureaucracy, the governors and the scientists who disagreed with his rosy projections, calling their warnings, a "political hit job".

    But Americans have continued to die and the economy has continued to tank.

    More Americans have died from COVID-19 this year than in all US wars since World War II, and the country has witnessed its worst economic decline since World War I.

    In short, the novel coronavirus has infected Trump's entire presidency, leaving it in critical condition.

    Signs of fatigue, pain and frustration are only a few of the symptoms the White House has displayed, as it has tried to put a brave face on a helpless situation.

    But numbers do not lie. Nor do the countless dramatic images from overcrowded hospitals and empty streets that will forever be associated with Trump's presidency, and may well torpedo his chances for another term.

    So what to do?

    Unable to save lives or jobs, Trump has opted to save his presidency.

    The show must go on

    Tired of all the nagging scientists and probing journalists, Trump has checked out, leaving the pandemic to the state governors to handle.

    The populist outsider has been dying to get the show back on the road in order to replace the images of suffering and desperation with those of cheering crowds.

    The "morbidly obese" president is literally risking his life to get out and about in preparation to launch his presidential campaign. And he is deliberately doing it without wearing a mask to project an image of confidence. 

    He wants to lead rallies and speak at packed stadiums, which the Democrats have denied him, as they milk the pandemic "hoax" and encourage restrictive measures.

    He has also expressed his intention to convene next month's annual G7 meeting in person at the Camp David presidential retreat, to show how the world is returning to "normalcy" and the US is "transitioning back to greatness". 

    Except that the day he made the announcement, the WHO registered the highest number of infections in a single day since the pandemic started - 106,000.

    But @realDonaldTrump in his mind has already transitioned from the presidency to the incumbency.

    The pandemic has dramatised the schizophrenic swing between Trump the White House insider who has failed miserably, and Trump, the populist, who loves his outsider role and excels at it.

    So much so that Trump the populist incumbent is considering running against Trump the president and the entire Washington establishment.

    All of which, on second thought, explains why Trump may be failing successfully.

    But as the number of American deaths continues to rise, will the images of his upcoming rallies mask the real American carnage?

    The answer may determine whether next year Trump ends up at the White House or at a New York courtroom.


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