By Charles Ofoji
Donald J. Trump, the most tempestuous leader in modern American history has exited the White House, diminished and disgraced after a tumultuous reign that left his country in chaos and bitterly divided like never before since the civil war.
History will be brutal to Trump, as a president who assembled and incited a mob of thugs to burn down the country he swore an oath to defend. That alone disqualifies him from being referred to as former president. Don’t mind the fact that he has been dubbed the worst president in the history of the United States. Time will tell if he would be admitted to the distinguished club of former American presidents.
I have scratched my head in a futile attempt to decipher why Mr. Trump chose to walk the path of infamy, instead of the one that led to valour.
For clarity, when he contested for the presidency in 2016, he did not believe he would win. He loved the spotlight like no other, and merely wanted to be in the news for some time. He was even surprised when he defeated former secretary of state, Hilary Clinton in electoral college votes. He was catapulted to power by a combination of things that had nothing to do with his competence and readiness to be commander-in-chief from day one.
Instead of making good use of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity fate thrusted unto his hands, he chose self-destruction, by serving himself, and the pettiness of his depraved bid to wipe out all legacies of his predecessor, Barack Obama, even when it made no sense and when he had nothing better to offer. He got political attention by his birtherism, claiming that the man (Obama) he was obsessed about, was not born in the United States. He compared himself always to the first black president and each time rated himself higher than him, unsupported by facts or achievements – in astonishing presidential delusion. Trump had an overblown ego, which saw him more than once declare that he was the greatest president America has ever had, “with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln,” hammering George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and all the other great presidents.
But the irony is that he had the chance to make himself to be rated among the greats. He promised to drain the swamp, he promised to build a wall Mexico will pay for, he promised to repeal and replace Obamacare, he promised a criminal justice reform. These were his major campaign promises. Only the last he kept, a success that was however overshadowed by his racism, lack of presidential temperament and decency. It was as if a child was in charge in the White House, and the world. His aides were exhausted with having to restrain him from misbehaving and cleaning his mess, and correcting the unforced errors.
It was a weird dream that a man from the private sector, with no public administration experience, could be trusted with steering America to greatness. It was the first time someone, who had not led any other organization that had a public purpose, other than serving itself, was handed the White House. That dream woefully failed to come true. It turned out that the man was not up to the job, and vehemently refused to grow on the job, which he saw as a reality show to talk aloofly about how smart he is, than any other person. He claimed he knew everything – more than the experts, yet he failed to realize that there is global warming. American allies he thrashed throughout his presidency were stunned when he unilaterally pulled his country out of the Paris Accord.
Trump alienated US Allies. In fact, he bullied them and preferred the company of despots and was described as a puppet of Vladimir Putin of Russia. It was unheard of that a US president would be under the armpit of the leader of an enemy nation.
In Europe, Trump made himself unpopular with his brash, unconventional approach to diplomacy and his “America first” slogan. He made international relations transactional. He shocked European leaders by unilaterally pulling out of the Iran deal, entered into by his predecessor, world powers and the Islamic country, in which Iran agreed to eliminate its stockpile of medium enriched uranium, cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98%, and reduce by about two-thirds the number of its gas centrifuges for 13 years, among other things.
In fairness to Trump, amid the torrent of criticism, some of the administration’s accomplishments are often forgotten. In North America, he pushed through a United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement that closed serious loopholes in the previous North American Free Trade Agreement and improved worker protections. Not to mention his success in getting a few Arab states to sign peace deals with Israel.
That said, the Trump experiment was a disaster for his country, the world and his Republican party, unmitigated by the acquiescence of former senate leader, Mitch McConnell and top republicans in Congress, who unwisely became vocal members of the president’s echo chamber. They approved of everything he said and did, and were afraid to anger him in any way. The result was that under his watch, their party lost the House, the White House and the Senate.
Despite Trump’s shortcomings, he had three opportunities to redeem himself, at least his legacy. They were the coronavirus pandemic outbreak; the Black Lives Matter protests and the outcome of the presidential election.
With the first, even with poor management, all he needed to do was to be transparent and show empathy, which was badly missed throughout his presidency. He may, in fact, have won reelection if he had shown support for the Black Lives Matter movement, even if he did not sincerely mean it. A fake support would have sufficed. Rather, he chose to talk of it as a threat to America and resounded his law-and-order stance.
Lastly, history may not have been that harsh on Trump if he had acknowledged Biden’s win and paved the way for a smooth, peaceful transition, like all presidents before him had done. He overheated the polity with his stolen election claim and fed the nation with lies that almost consumed its democracy. This he continued to do even after he had exhausted all legal avenues to overturn an election he was roundly beaten. He eventually crossed the redline when he invited rioters to defile the Capitol – the most sacred sanctuary of American democracy.
Trump bemoaned the American carnage in his inaugural address and promised that the country, under his leadership, will continue to win and win until it gets tired of winning. That has not been the case; he destroyed the good economy handed over to him by Obama, due mainly to his poor handling of the pandemic. Unemployment was worse than when he took office. He left his country at war, not with aliens, but with White supremacists he emboldened. The Capitol is now a fortress, with over 25,000 national guards, mobilized to create a green zone of safety at the seat of power – to enable a safe swearing in ceremony for president-elect, Joseph Biden and vice-president-elect, Kamala Harris, who made history as the first woman and the first woman of colour to be elected to that office.
Trump, twice impeached as president, is leaving office in disgrace, as a deserted man avoided by many like a leper, including his fiercely loyal vice-president, Mike Pence, who snubbed his sendoff before he was choppered across to Joint Base Andrews in Marine-One, on onward journey to his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, where he is not even welcomed by his neigbours – leaving behind a shameful legacy of self-aggrandizement, corruption, hate, division, violence and sedition. There, he will spend the first days of his post-White House time, waiting to see how may indictments would be slammed on him.
Biden is inheriting a debacle, a COVID-19 mess, corrupted government agencies and a bad economy, where inequality has been worsened by the realities of the pandemic. As a child, he dreamt of being president. In pursuance of that dream, he inquired about what people did to become president. He found out that they mostly studied law. He did and was eventually elected by the State of Delaware as the youngest senator. He went on to spend 36 years in the United States before serving for eight years as vice-president under the Obama administration. Before then he had taken a shot at the presidency twice and failed.
Biden finally realized his dream, thanks to the failure of Trump, his lack of empathy and his toxic rule of setting Americans against each other. He cried while giving a farewell speech in Delaware as he left for Washington to be sworn in as the 46th president. Americans never saw that in Trump in his four years in office, nothing moved him – not even when Americans were killed on the streets as chickens by racist cops. Or while thousands of his citizens died of COVID-19. Trump rather spent time playing golf with friends, as if nothing was happening. In times of national mourning, he miserably failed in his role as comforter-in-chief.
Biden said shortly after he won the election that “America is back”. He sent the first signal when he remembered all those that died of COVID-19 at a solemn sunset ceremony on the eve of his inauguration at the Lincoln Memorial – as he bore the pain of a grieving nation. It was something Trump, an unrepentant pandemic denier, refused to do. During his presidency, he mocked those captured in war as losers and suckers, and it seemed that he believed exalting the COVID-19 dead was to acknowledge his failure.
Be that as it may, the task before Biden is herculean and unenviable. Trump handed him a severely divided nation in crisis. On his first day in office, he will swing to action, as he labours to pull his country out of the doldrums, signing about 17 executive orders that reverses his predecessor’s orders on immigration, climate change, and handling of the coronavirus pandemic. And to restore the United States to the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization.
Biden promised to bring the nation together and be a president for all, as he rebuilds. That won’t be easy after years of Trumpism, etched in conspiracy theories, alternate facts and lies. The wound inflicted by Trump on the American Nation will take years to heal and it would be naïve to expect that Trumpism would easily vanish with the exit of the inflamer-in-chief.
Trump lied thousands of times, more than any president before him. Most times, needlessly. He was a liar-in-chief. In years to come parents would tell their children the story of Trump and admonish them not to be like him when they grow up.
He was a man who believed in nothing, except himself. He was allergic to integrity, honour and decency, such that he became the first president, since the reconstruction 150 years ago, to dodge the inauguration. He also lacked the grace to invite the Bidens to a pre-tour of the White House, as was traditionally the case, and like Obama did for him.
In any case, there is palpable relief around the world that the unhinged man in the White House is gone and a curtain drawn on an experiment, on his era that posed a danger to his country and the free world. It is a new dawn; its a new day in America and across the world.
*Follow the author on twitter @charlesofoji