Why Trump is right and wrong about America

Trump thought fulfilling campaign promises and peddling populism were enough for re-election. He thought wrong.

US President Donald Trump attends South Dakota's Independence Day Mount Rushmore fireworks celebrations at Mt Rushmore in Keystone South Dakota on July 3, 2020 [Reuters/Tom Brenner]
US President Donald Trump attends South Dakota's Independence Day Mount Rushmore fireworks celebrations at Mt Rushmore in Keystone South Dakota on July 3, 2020 [Reuters/Tom Brenner]

President Donald Trump is right to be mad.

Americans, who voted for him in 2016, are abandoning him in droves. Instead of rewarding him for fulfilling his campaign pledges, many are punishing him for it.

But he is wrong about the reasons why.

No, he is not a “victim” of a conspiracy by the Democrats, the treachery of the “deep state”, or a witch-hunt by the liberal media, though he did fall out with all three.

Nor is he the victim of the coronavirus. Republican strategists had warned of the impact of Trump toxicity on the future of the Republican Party well before the pandemic.

Rather, he is the casualty of simple and not so simple misunderstandings. 

Faithful Trump

Unlike many of his predecessors, Trump has done or tried to do all he promised.

He lowered taxes, relaxed regulations, limited immigration, built a wall along the border with Mexico, renegotiated trade agreements, and even recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US embassy there, among other campaign pledges.

He has also increased the Pentagon’s budget, shrunk US military commitments abroad, and bullied US allies to spend more on defence.

And he withdrew from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Iran nuclear deal and pulled out of UNESCO and the World Health Organization.

Trump boasted that these steps have helped “make America great again”, powerful, protected and prosperous.

He took the credit as the economy boomed, the stock market skyrocketed and unemployment nose-dived, until the “Chinese pandemic” was let loose on America and the “radical left” exploited the police killing of George Floyd to foment civil strife.

All of which begs the question, at least in Trump’s mind, why on earth are Americans not uniting behind him to beat the presumptive Democratic candidate Joe Biden, and to defeat the leftist “fascists” besieging America?

Surely, he is not to blame for every “Chinese virus” and every police transgression!

This being an election year, Trump is not surprised that the Democrats, who tried and failed to indict him on collusion with Russia and abuse of power in dealing with Ukraine, blame him for the high rate of coronavirus infections and deaths and for fomenting racial hatred that encourages police brutality.

But why are “seniors and suburban voters, two longtime pillars of the Republican coalition,” defecting to Biden? Why are Republicans organising political action committees (PACs) against him? And why are the swing states swinging towards the Democrats?

In short, why are more Americans rejecting the messenger and his message after embracing him in 2016?

Why, why, why?

Some of the answers may be found in Trump’s misinterpretation of his mandate and the role of the presidency, others – in his misunderstanding of America.

Overreaching, underperforming

From the very outset, Trump’s invocation of “the American carnage” in his inauguration speech was an overreach that alienated many Americans. In the words of former Republican president, George W Bush, that was “some weird sh*t”.

To be clear, Trump’s fear-mongering on Twitter cannot be compared to Bush’s warmongering. He may have talked the big talk, but like President Ronald Reagan, he has not gotten America into any major war. Not yet.

But his “America first” policies have translated into “America alone”, allowing China and Russia to step in and fill the void. This mainstream Republicans consider the abandonment of America’s hard-earned global leadership.

By walking away from international agreements without reaching alternative agreements, with the exception of the North America Free Trade Agreement, Trump has weakened America’s influence abroad. 

And by imposing his “deal of the century” on the Middle East, he caused a major breakdown in regional US diplomacy. 

He also pursued a severe and inhumane immigration policy that led, among other human rights violations, to snatching children from their parents at the US-Mexico border.

All of which has undermined America’s long-nurtured brand as a benevolent superpower, and compromised its much-valued liberal principles.

Americans may be ambivalent about “ends justifying the means” abroad, but domestically, ends do not justify the means when those means are undemocratic.

So, when Trump imposed a “national emergency” for the sole purpose of circumventing Congress to extract funds from the Pentagon to build his border wall, Americans squirmed.

They also squirmed after he politicised the Justice Department to do his bidding and attacked judges and the courts for not doing his bidding.

Trump took advantage of his predecessor’s economic recovery to impose tax cuts, mostly for corporations and billionaires.

The stock market may have risen to new heights and unemployment fallen to new lows, but the real standard of living has remained stagnant for most Americans, as the gap between rich and poor has kept growing.

His tax cuts helped create more job opportunities for African Americans and Latinos, but Trump ignored problems of structural racism and treated people of colour like no more than tolerated guests in their own homeland.

Likewise, Trump’s assault on Obamacare without reaching an alternative scheme left many poor and elderly confused and exposed to the high costs of healthcare. 

And then came his terrible mismanagement of the pandemic, reacting rather slowly, half-heartedly and incompetently to the health crisis that has engulfed the nation and taken more lives than all of America’s wars since World War II.

And to top it all, he inflamed racial tensions instead of calming and healing the national divide, following the police killing of George Floyd.

In short, the state of the union has not been great; it has been dreadful.

The president of some

Trump has failed the basic test of politics: to create the broadest voter base possible.

He has been so laser-focused on appeasing his core right-wing and evangelical base, attacking journalists, bureaucrats and even generals and war heroes, that he has alienated mainstream Americans, who cherish their democratic institutions, independent media, and liberal values.

Americans may have tolerated his bullying, name-calling and outright viciousness during the campaign, but despite him winning and becoming the president of all Americans, he continues to lead like he campaigned, alienating everyone outside his hardcore followers.

His populist, racist, authoritarian tendencies have disaffected many traditional conservatives who believe in Republican values. 

Trump’s populism may still appeal to certain Americans, who want to have their cake and eat it too, but even they do not necessarily want to listen to populist precepts amplified from the White House and UN podiums.

White conservatives may want to maintain their privilege at home, and American domination abroad, but they want it done benevolently and cost-free. They are even OK with war, as long as no American soldiers die and no foreign civilians perish on live TV.

They may prefer limiting Muslim or Latino immigration, but they would like it done subtly and gently, not boastfully and maliciously, because it undermines their noble image of themselves.

Even hypocrites do not appreciate their president reminding them of their hypocrisy in every other tweet.

But Trump tweets too much, talks too much, boasts too much, and humiliates and degrades others too much.

And the more he does that, the more he and his administration become isolated.


In politics, like in chess, losing too many assets without strategy or compensation spells defeat.

And Trump has lost more than a few liberal and mainstream Republicans without winning over Democrats, Neocons or Independents.

He has also lost the swing states and the swing voters – the 10 percent of the electorate that makes the difference between winning and losing.

His populist strategy also failed when tested by the coronavirus pandemic that required less deception and more leadership.

His “I am the outsider” routine may have been appealing during his 2016 campaign, but his failure to transform the system as president – the ultimate insider – made his populism unsustainable in liberal America. 

The country has witnessed and experienced Trump’s greatness and changed its mind.

Americans may have grown accustomed to the lies and exaggerations, but more of them have become hostile to Trump’s illiberal, cynical, and divisive vision for the country.

They looked in the mirror and did not like what they saw; they felt ashamed and insecure at home and abroad.

The king-president has been checkmated. It remains to be seen if he folds or tries to delay the inevitable, hoping for a major Biden blunder that paves the way for a repeat of the 2016 upset.

Long live the king…

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