If the US cannot control Trump, what chance does the West have?
The Herald, by Iain Macwhirter
And so farewell, Anthony “the Mooch” Scaramucci, Donald Trump’s director of communications who lasted only ten days. In fact, he’s set a record for this and every other administration in being sacked even before he formally took up his post, scheduled for 15th August. “A great day in the White House” was tweeted from the Potus (President of the United States) account with unintended irony.
But the Mooch lasted long enough to elbow out Sean Spicer, Mr Trump’s former press spokesman, and sack the Chief of Staff, the gloriously-named Reince Priebus. Unfortunately, Mr Priebus’s replacement, General John Kelly, decided to whack the Mooch before he got whacked himself. The Trump White House is beginning to make Game of Thrones look like The Little House on the Prairie.
Mr Scaramucci was a fast-talking, former Wall Street banker whose only qualification for this office appeared to be vanity equal only toMr Trump’s. He departed the White House following what we in the business like to call a an “expletive-filled rant” at a New Yorker reporter, Ryan Lizza, over the alleged leaking of his business interests by West Wing colleagues. Toby Zeigler, comms director in the TV series of the same name, never behaved like this. The revolving door at the White House is now rotating so fast that it is ejecting senior staffers, 12 so far, before they reach the reception desk.
The departures began in earnest in February when Mr Trump’s National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn was forced to fall on his sword after he lied to the Vice-President, Mike Pence, about conversations he’d had with the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak. Mr Flynn had apparently discussed the future of US sanctions on Russia before taking office – an illegal act of freelance international diplomacy. Mr Trump tried very hard to keep Mr Flynn on board, but let him go after he was advised that a having a liar as senior adviser on international crises might be a liability.
The Russian connection also led to the sacking in May of James Comey, the Director of the FBI. Mr Comey was investigating the broader links between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin’s men. His sacking was revealed on TV while Mr Comey was addressing FBI staff, and he initially thought it was a joke. It wasn’t. Dismissing the head of the FBI while he was conducting an investigation involving Mr Trump,was an astonishing and unprecedented act which would likely have brought down any previous president. But not this one.
The Russian scandal is proliferating daily. It’s already been established that Russian hackers handed thousands of damaging emails from the Democratic Party to Wikileaks in order to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Mr Trump made clear during his campaign that he rather approved of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin’s, style. This seems to have been taken by team Trump as the green light to open up a back channel to the Kremlin which was neither legal nor politically defensible.
A Special Counsel, ex FBI director, Robert Mueller, has now been appointed to investigate Mr Trump for obstruction of justice, both in his sacking ofMr Comey and his attempt to defend Mr Flynn. However, this investigation is itself under question because the most senior figure in the US justice system, who theoretically is in charge of it, is also implicated in dealings with Russia. The Trump-appointed Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions, had also met Mr Kislyak, twice, during the presidential campaign. Mr Sessions somehow omitted to mention these meetings to the congressional committee that confirmed his appointment last year. The Attorney General has since recused himself from any role in the FBI investigation, which means he supposedly takes no part in the most important legal case in his in tray.
Mr Trump claims there is a “witch hunt” against him, and he’s probably right, but he is entirely responsible for starting it. How could the media possibly ignore the mounting evidence that Russian interests interfered directly in the 2016 US Presidential election? Or that senior members of the Trump campaign were in direct contact with agents of Mr Putin? Last month the net closed around Mr Trump’s own family when it emerged that Donald Trump Jr had met Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016 after being told that she had damaging material on Mrs Clinton. Mr Trump dictated junior’s misleading statement explaining the encounter.
Viewed from the UK it seems incomprehensible that this President is still in post. Mr Trump is manifestly unfit to hold office, as evidenced daily by his vain, incoherent and frequently offensive early morning tweets. His legislative efforts, from the Muslim ban to his attempts to repeal Obamacare, have been a disaster. His dealings with foreign leaders have been needlessly bellicose when they haven’t been pointlessly sycophantic. His administration is in chaos, as he discards senior staff almost as fast as he hires them. Mr Trump is the only president in history to have speculated about pardoning himself and his family. Yet there he still is, sitting behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, that defiant grin stapled to his face even as his ratings tumble.
Presidents can only be formally removed from office, or “impeached”, if they have been convicted of what are called “high crimes and misdemeanours”. This is usually taken to mean bribery, corruption and/or treason. Mr Trump’s dealings with Russia certainly stray into this territory, though no one has actually found the “smoking gun” that proves either that he has been seeking financial gain from his associations or that he has endangered US national security.
Presidents faced with multiple scandals are expected do the decent thing: resign before they’re impeached. But there has never been a US president like Mr Trump, who’s never before held public office, led a political campaign or occupied a responsible position in the military. Even the egregious 19th century populist, Andrew Jackson, was an experienced campaigner and a significant military leader.
This cannot but raise difficult questions about the much-vaunted US constitution with its checks and balances. Is it all just an illusion? Can a determined and thick-skinned demagogue face down the media, the political establishment, the security agencies and the justice system? If so, it is a problem for all of us. Already we see Mr Trump’s reflection in Recep Erdogan, Mr Putin, Viktor Orban. If the centre of democracy, the US, cannot hold, then things may fall apart fast across what used to be called the Free World.