How is Donald Trump doing?
In the past couple of weeks, this question has been making the rounds in political and punditry circles pondering the first six months of the new US President.
The answer depends on whose point of view one has in mind. From Trump’s point of view things are going well for him. He has managed to keep himself at the center of global media coverage almost non-stop, thus satisfying his seemingly insatiable craving for attention. At the same time, he has made it impossible for political foes to challenge him in the field of policies. Not doing anything in that field, he is not exposed to scrutiny and criticism. To avoid being labeled as a do-nothing president, however, he fills the policy vacuum with a deluge of tweets and an avalanche of executive orders while highlighting his few surprising successes, including the ability to name a man of his choice to the US Supreme Court.
Trump has turned the political debate in the US into what sociologist Malinowski calls “phatic communion” or “content-less conversation”, a process solely aimed at keeping the conversation going without conveying any discernible meaning — something like what Irish dramatist Samuel Beckett did in his plays.
The Trump method, if one might call it thus, has two planks.
The first is to foment confusion regarding his public and private personae. All public performers usually have two faces: a phony one in public and a real one in private. In Trump’s case however, it is the public face that is genuine and the private one that is phony, as French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin recently discovered.
The second plank of Trump’s method is to hide what matters through over-exposure. The model for that is Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Purloined Letter” in which Auguste Dupin, the best of French detectives, has to employ all his resources to discover a compromising letter that is so much in evidence that no one notices it. Because everyone sees what Trump is doing, or believes they see what he is doing, no one actually knows what he is doing. That offers him a luxury that few previous US presidents enjoyed, that of escaping the trap of predictability.
More importantly, perhaps, Trump has managed to maintain his original support base almost intact. The latest polls in July showed that his approval rating remains at around 39 percent, the lowest for any president in his first year, but surprisingly close to the base that swept him into the White Hose.
By all accounts, Trump’s presidency is an unusual one because Trump himself is an unusual occupant of the White House. He is the first non-politician to win the presidency since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. He is also the first to enter the White House without the active backing of either of the two big parties.
In Washington, the conventional wisdom is that the Trump presidency has already failed and that a change at the top in the White House is only a matter of time.
I am not so sure. Politically, no potential alternative to Trump, Republican or Democrat, could garner a similar support base at this moment. Deeply divided, Americans seem to be getting used to the new version of the Punch-and-Judy show in Washington, and trying to live and better their lives as if government were on auto-pilot.
Government on auto-pilot should not be dismissed out of hand as if it were a misfortune. In fact, there are many examples in history, including the American story itself, of good results emanating from auto-pilot.
President Bill Clinton’s second term was an overall success by all accounts, largely because the auto-pilot was working, while the White House was dealing with Monica-gate and the Republicans pursuing their dream of impeaching him.
In contrast, the US passed through one of its most humiliating phases under Jimmy Carter, the most active and hands-on president in the past 100 years.
Trump succeeded Barack Obama, another hands-on president, one of whose aims was to counter the traditional working mechanisms of the US government. One example: He insisted that the firing of a missile by an Apache helicopter against terrorist bases in Iraq be first cleared with him in Washington. Obama also took pleasure in publicly contradicting, thus humiliating, his own top aides, including the hapless John Kerry, by reversing policies developed by the American machinery of state.
In contrast, Trump, while playing his TV-show “you-are-fired game” with his close entourage, most recently with the Italian-American loudmouth Antonio Scaramucci, has steered clear of intervening in the workings of the American machinery of state, the invisible power that the French label “the cold monster”. It may take many more months, if not years, for that “cold monster” to regain the self-confidence and agility it lost under Obama. But the process has already started in the Pentagon, the CIA, the Treasury and the Permanent Legation at the UN. The State Department is the only major part of the “cold monster” that has not yet recovered from the shock of the Obama years.
Auto-pilot is also working on the economic front. Projected growth rates for the final quarter of 2017 hover close to 2 percent compared to .05 in the comparable period last year. Although job growth was slowing down, the US unemployment rate in June dropped to 4.3 percent, the lowest in 16 years. The US dollar also seems to have benefited from auto-pilot, rising against all main currencies, including the euro and the sterling.
Auto-pilot is also doing well on issues of more concern to Trumps’ support base, notably immigration, with the monthly number of expelled “undocumented illegals almost double that of 2016.”
Where auto-pilot isn’t really interested, including on such childish schemes as building a wall on the Mexican border or expelling transgenders from the armed forces, nothing happens beyond the president’s tweets. Nor does “the cold monster” take any notice of Trump’s seemingly conciliatory, not to say flattering, remarks when meeting Putin, Macron or British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Trump may end up doing damage to the presidency as an institution by further de-sacralising — not to say demeaning — it. But that could help other institutions, the Congress and the Supreme Court more specifically, to regain part of the strength they lost under Obama.
Each presidency develops a grammar of its own which, if not understood, would make its proper assessment difficult. Trump’s is no exception. So far, it has allowed the US machinery of state — the “cold monster” — to enter a period of convalescence to recover from the shock of the Obama years. That may not be a success for Trump, but it certainly is for the US.
|(Image source: White House/Wikimedia Commons)|
Amir Taheri, formerly editor of Iran’s premier newspaper, Kayhan, before the Iranian revolution of 1979, is a prominent author based on Europe. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.
This article first appeared in Asharq Al Awsat and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.
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An antisemitic flyer found on the University of Houston campus on Tuesday. Photo: Michael Leone / Facebook
Dozens of flyers and stickers promoting neo-Nazi propaganda were found at the University of Houston (UH) this week, the latest incident associated with an increase in white supremacist activity on campuses nationwide.
The flyers, found on bulletin boards, walls, trash bins, and lamp posts at the university’s main campus on Tuesday, included phrases such as, “Beware the International Jew” and “Imagine a Muslim-Free America,” according to a statement shared online by UH’s chapter of the Young Communist League (YCL).
IDF soldiers make a blessing on the traditional Jewish custom of apple and honey to welcome Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. (ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) and Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) said they will provide $1.5 million in annual Rosh Hashanah “Fellowship Gift Cards” to 12,000 IDF soldiers marking the upcoming Jewish New Year.
The initiative, coordinated in collaboration with the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers and the LIBI Fund, will provide more than 10,000 lone soldiers and soldiers $140 gift cards. Another 2,200 soldiers will receive gift cards worth $100.
The cards “will allow the soldiers to celebrate the New Year without the burden of financial stress,” the organizations said in a statement Wednesday.
Gaza-based terror group says it will agree to Palestinian Authority conditions on forming joint government and holding elections
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, center, and spokesman Fawzi Barhoum attend a protest in Gaza City on July 22, 2017, against new Israeli security measures implemented at the holy site, which include metal detectors and cameras, following an attack that killed two Israeli policemen the previous week. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)
For the past week or so, Iranian official media and social networks have been abuzz with anecdotes woven around a football match in Tehran between Iran and Syria and the light it might shed on a complicated relationship.
According to most accounts, a group of Syrians flown in by special charter to cheer their national squad in its bid for a place in the World Cup in Moscow staged an anti-Iran demonstration in the stadium. The Syrian contingent included young ladies who refused to wear the Iranian-style hijab.
Their presence in the stadium highlighted the fact that no Iranian woman is allowed to attend a football match after a fatwa by the “Supreme Guide” that women watching young men running around with bare legs might cause “undue excitement”
An Orthodox man passes a British guard in London, UK. (drserg / Shutterstock.com)
A new in-depth survey conducted by the U.K.-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) found that around 30 percent of the British public hold at least one anti-Semitic viewpoint.
The report noted, however, that most of the 30 percent polled also held some positive views about Jews.
Further, around 15 percent of the British public indicated they agreed with two or more anti-Semitic views presented to them, while two percent of British adults polled were found to be “hard-core” anti-Semites.
The survey was conducted by JPR senior research fellow Dr. Daniel Staetsky using face-to-face interviews and online polls.
That’s followed by the sounds of the terrorists assaulting a passenger.
“Please don’t hurt me,” he pleads. “Oh God.”
As the passengers rush the cabin, a Muslim terrorist proclaims, “In the name of Allah.”
As New York firefighters struggle up the South Tower with 100 pounds of equipment on their backs trying to save lives until the very last moment, the Flight 93 passengers push toward the cockpit. The Islamic hijackers call out, “Allahu Akbar.”.
The autumn of 2015 was unusual in almost every way on the north Aegean Greek island of Lesbos from which I am writing. There were tens of thousands of illegal migrants on the island, the native population of which was scarcely 100,000. New refugees arrived every day by the thousands.
One evening, the blue-gray sky grumbled shortly after sunset. The thick clouds blackened and rain poured down over the city with a roar. As I ran across the slippery pavement into a friend’s bar, I heard a group of five poor souls speaking Persian with a Turkic accent and running amok, seeking shelter under the eaves of a building.
While the criminal investigation is closing in on one associate after another, one advisor after another, in one of the most serious affairs in the State of Israel’s history, and perhaps the most serious affair, I find it hard to believe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was driven by greed when he advanced the submarine deal.
There are doubts. There are associates being questioned one after the other. There are state’s witnesses. Nevertheless, Netanyahu likely wasn’t a partner in crime. He didn’t make decisions on the submarines in a bid to make a profit for himself or for his associates. It’s impossible, just impossible.
Regarding the question that forms the title of this article, I truly believe that the answer is “yes.” It is my belief that Christian Zionism is as obvious a sign of the beginning of the redemption of Israel as are the ingathering of millions of Jews to the land of Israel and the existence of the State of Israel itself. But there are many people who don’t share this perspective.
In the Jewish community, there are still many who are wary of Christian friendship and support. Many Jews are suspicious of an ulterior motive to convert Jews to Christianity that they fear underlies this political partnership.
Last weekend, the world experienced a petrifying “wake up call” when Pyongyang test launched a hydrogen bomb. According to Yukiya Amano, director of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), Sunday’s test represents “a new dimension to the threat.” Added Amano, “I think the North Korean threat is a global one now.
In the past, people thought it was a regional one, but that is no longer the case.”
Since 1994, when North Korea decided to pull out of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), there has been a huge history of attempts to chain the North Korean nuclear beast, including efforts for military cooperation, sanctions and, of course, negotiations.