The US’ never-ending days of reckoning

The US is facing yet another ‘day of reckoning’, but Trump will survive any so-called ‘test’ to his presidency.

US President Donald J. Trump meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
US President Donald Trump speaking with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during their meeting in the White House [EPA]

Today, the United States is facing, yet again, a historic day of reckoning.

This latest was triggered by news that during a tete-a-tete with former FBI director, James Comey, President Donald Trump may have encouraged – to put it charitably – America’s top cop to halt an investigation into his dearly departed national security adviser General Michael Flynn’s cob-web connections to Russia.

Not surprisingly, word of Trump’s possible obstruction of justice unleashed another round of apron-over-the-head-like consternation that the US was confronting a defining national moment: will its democratic institutions prevail over a president that, by his word and conduct, has made a mockery of those same democratic institutions?    

It’s an all-too-familiar rhetorical question since, if memory serves, America faced the same historic day of reckoning yesterday and the day before that and the week before that and the month before that and the year before that and the year before that.  

Fact is, America has faced one historic day of reckoning after another since Trump first became a candidate for president in early June 2015. By my admittedly unscientific count, we’ve reached Trump “test” 106.

You could call it America’s historic “Groundhog Day” of reckoning.

Of course, despite every egregious insult, demeaning remark, sinister and overt act of racism, xenophobia, misogyny and stupefying expression of ignorance on Twitter and elsewhere, Trump has not only passed each of these so-called “tests”, but he’s been emboldened and promoted along the long, odious way by Fox News and more than 63 million Americans whose support for him remains largely steadfast.

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While Trump has succeeded time and again, America’s democratic institutions have failed spectacularly time and again, permitting a man who, by any sentient measure, should have been permanently disqualified from considering, let alone competing for and ultimately winning, the office of president of the United States.

A cautionary tale 

This is the glaring prism through which the bizarre events in Washington, DC over the past two weeks must be considered.

Buttressed by the maniacal, reality-defying support of his followers and a propaganda outfit masquerading as a cable news network, Trump will continue to survive any current and future 'tests' - including the tepid calls for impeachment - to his presidency.


It’s a cautionary tale that should warn against any suggestion, from any quarter, that, suddenly and remarkably, America’s institutions will finally, albeit belatedly, assert themselves to remove this ugly, metastatic cancer from the Oval Office.           

I’m old enough to remember when, last week, America’s institutions apparently faced the test of all tests after Trump summarily fired Comey on the eve of a visit to the White House of senior Russian diplomats led by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.  

Just days ago, Trump was being excoriated by the establishment media and beyond for this naked abuse of power and authority reminiscent of the poster president of presidential abuses of power and authority – Richard Nixon.   

Right on cue, The New York Times’ Amanda Taub reached instinctively for the “test” trope in a piece exploring the potential institutional consequences of Comey’s curt dismissal.

Taub wrote that several US academics saw “the Comey firing as the latest in a string of norm violations, by Mr Trump as well as others, that have been slowly escalating – and as a test of whether today’s polarized political system will halt that escalation or accelerate it”.

As we know, despite all the huffing and puffing by the Times, political scientists and others, Trump was able to emerge from that seemingly stiff test relatively unscathed with the consent of much of the Republican Congressional leadership and caucus who insisted the president is permitted to fire anyone, at any time, for any reason.

Mother of all tests

Fast-forward a week, and the brouhaha over Comey’s axing had already lost its supposed political potency. Another signature test quickly emerged that, according, this time, to ex-Harvard law professor and ubiquitous TV talking head Alan Dershowitz, made the Comey “test” look like a pimple on the scale of tests marking the magnitude of America’s historic days of reckoning.     

Reportedly, during his meeting with Lavrov et al, Trump betrayed secret information to the Russians about ISIL terror plans that may have come from Israeli or Jordanian intelligence sources.

Trump’s national security adviser, HR McMaster, vehemently denied the story in a brief statement made outside the White House. Shortly after, Trump fatally undercut McMaster’s ironclad denials by confirming the main thrust of The Washington Post’s spy scoop on Twitter. 

Echoing scores of other instant analysis pundits, Dershowitz also took to Twitter to decry Trump’s reckless actions. “This is the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president. Let’s not minimize it. Comey affair now in the wastebasket of history”, he wrote.

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So, let’s recap: Comey getting canned by the man whose administration he was probing was briefly the mother of all “tests”. That is until Dershowitz and company dumped that test into the wastebasket to crown the latest mother of all tests. 

Well, Trump’s loyal Republican lemmings in Congress batted away Dershowitz’s hyperbole like a pesky mosquito, claiming the president can declassify and share intelligence whenever he wants to, and with whomever he wants. So much for America’s vaunted democratic institutions.

Turns out, Mr Dershowitz, that you were not only wrong but a little premature in awarding the prize for prompting the most serious day of reckoning in US history to The Washington Post for its story about Trump’s perpetually loose lips.  

A day later, The New York Times appeared to claim the teeter-totter-like title after the paper revealed that Trump pressured Comey to drop the Flynn inquiry.

In responding to the stunning revelations, Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, dipped into the “test” cliches like clockwork.

“Our country is being tested in unprecedented ways,” Schumer said. “History is watching.”

So is the rest of the fatigued world, Mr Schumer, and the grudging appointment of a “special counsel” to delve into the byzantine, murky terrain of Russia’s reported interference in the last US presidential election is unlikely to disabuse many of the notion that America’s institutions are corroded to the core, perhaps beyond repair.

To prove the point: the venal Republican Party is standing stubbornly by its multibillion-dollar-tax-cut-for-the-rich, Obamacare-repealing mannequin.

It’s the principal reason why Trump has, to date, overcome all the “tests” he’s encountered. Buttressed by the maniacal, reality-defying support of his followers and a propaganda outfit masquerading as a cable news network, Trump will continue to survive any current and future “tests” – including the tepid calls for impeachment – to his presidency.

Trump is the embodiment of this axiom: the US government is of the few, determined by the few, for the few.

Andrew Mitrovica is an award-winning investigative reporter and journalism instructor.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.