A leader less than Nero

As Donald Trump’s unsuitability for the US’s highest office is ever more cruelly exposed, does he has any chance of re-election?

07 June 2020 - 00:00 By NADINE DREYER
This week, as protesters peacefully demonstrated in a park opposite the White House against the police killing of George Floyd law enforcement officers, using flash-bang grenades and pepper bombs, suddenly pushed them back a block, clearing the park. In what many saw as an act of sheer hypocrisy, Trump emerged with an entourage and walked through the park to St John's Church, where he posed with a Bible handed to him, and put his fingers to his lips as if calling for quiet.
This week, as protesters peacefully demonstrated in a park opposite the White House against the police killing of George Floyd law enforcement officers, using flash-bang grenades and pepper bombs, suddenly pushed them back a block, clearing the park. In what many saw as an act of sheer hypocrisy, Trump emerged with an entourage and walked through the park to St John's Church, where he posed with a Bible handed to him, and put his fingers to his lips as if calling for quiet.
Image: REUTERS

Hamlet dithered and muttered to himself like a crazed lunatic. Othello paid too much attention to other men bad-mouthing his pulchritudinous spouse. And as for Macbeth, he really should have put a sock in the cakehole of that missus.

Every kid who has studied Shakespeare knows that his main characters have loads of good qualities, but then they slip on fortune’s banana peel and are totalled by one fatal flaw. This literary technique, known as hamartia, goes all the way back to Aristotle.

But what about the other way round? A sort of reverse hamartia? What about looking for good characteristics in the nasty guy? Like the president of the United States?

Google “good” and “characteristics” and “Donald Trump” and the pickings are slim, some would say virtually nonexistent. So, moving swiftly along …

The 45th president of the US is often likened to Richard Nixon, who jumped before he could be impeached in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Hunter S Thompson, one of the greatest political commentators and Nixon’s nemesis, wrote that he had “the integrity of a hyena and the style of a poison toad” and absolutely no sense of humour. “I couldn’t imagine him laughing at anything except maybe a paraplegic who wanted to vote Democratic but couldn’t quite reach the lever on the voting machine.”

Trump repeatedly made fun of a disability that political rival John McCain had suffered as a captive for five years during the Vietnam War. He continued mocking the senator’s inability to raise his arm fully even after he died of a malignant brain tumour. (Trump never served in Vietnam but has declared that he could have made “a good general”.)

Trump’s personal vanity is the antithesis of the ideals cherished by his core supporters, white working-class males.

Political commentator Windsor Mann says Trump behaves in ways that many working-class men would ridicule: “He wears bronzer, loves gold and gossip, is obsessed with his physical appearance, whines constantly, can’t control his emotions, watches daytime television, enjoys parades and interior decorating, and used to sell perfume.”

Trump feels no compunction at hurling personal insults at adversaries, particularly women. This despite his own odd appearance. Mama Mary Anne rode around New York in her rose-coloured Rolls-Royce collecting coins from her husband’s laundromats and in later life sported a blonde bouffant similar to the one her son would embrace as his gravity-defying hairdo.

Donald clearly wasn’t spanked enough as a kid. Lying is as easy as breathing for him. David Markowitz, an assistant professor at the University of Oregon, calculates that Trump has told 18,000 porkies since being president and the lies had increased since the coronavirus pandemic. He also had less compunction telling fibs in public and on the record.


Apparently the golf fanatic, who installed a state-of-the-art simulator in the White House living quarters, even cheats at his favourite pastime. Sports journalist Rick Reilly wrote that the “Commander-in-Cheat” boasts he has a handicap of 2.8, which would put him in the top 5% of golfers who keep a handicap.

Trump is an equal opportunities guy when it comes to being rude. White House cleaners are not allowed to touch his toothbrush or pick up his shirts. “If my shirt is on the floor, it’s because I want it on the floor,” Trump instructed his staff, according to biographer Michael Wolff.

He’s not only infatuated with porn stars. Trump gets crushes on strongmen and dictators. He told a rally that North Korea’s Kim Jong-un “wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters”. He added: “We fell in love.” (The red roses are on their way.)

He acts on impulse no matter how devastating the consequences. Americans were shamed by Russian television footage of a former US military base in northern Syria — a base that was abandoned so hastily that American soldiers left food and personal belongings behind. The president had ordered the immediate retreat in October last year after just one phone call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In one impulsive act the US betrayed their long-time Kurdish allies and exposed them to slaughter by the enemy.

(You’ll be relieved to know that the “red telephone” doesn’t actually exist. Emergency communications between Russia and the White House go through a series of protocols that include encrypted text messages. The nuclear alternative to the late night tweet is diminished. Whew!)

For three years the first US president with neither a background in politics or the military skated through by the seat of his pants. He could live in his cartoon world with a grasp of complex issues as insightful as the homily inside a bubble-gum wrapper and the emotional empathy of a golf ball. A normal work day entailed tweeting and watching television and tweeting and watching television.

Hell, the economy looked good, so a second term seemed a dead cert.


It has taken the present set of crises to reveal the depths of his self-absorbed abdication
Robert Reich, former US labour secretary

But then in the fourth year the Furies rose from the Underworld. Trump’s unsuitability for employment, let alone the highest office in the world, has been exposed in cruel detail.

Nobody can blame Trump for the coronavirus pandemic, the implosion of the economy or the agonising death of George Floyd, but his reactions have been gob-smacking.

He deflected blame for his administration’s lagging ability to test Americans for the coronavirus, blaming Barack Obama instead. “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

“It has taken the present set of crises to reveal the depths of his self-absorbed abdication — his utter contempt for his job, his total repudiation of his office,” writes former labour secretary Robert Reich.

Even Nero had the sensitivity to at least pick up his fiddle while Rome burnt.

Last Monday evening was a sight that defined the Donald Trump presidency. The leader of the free world and his lucky-dip gang of groupies gathered for a photo opportunity outside St John’s Church, opposite the White House. America had been struck by fire, death and pestilence and a gesture from the president was overdue.

In order for the presidential entourage to leave Chez Trump and cross the road, peaceful demonstrators outside the White House had been brutally cleared with teargas and flash-bang grenades. (Being the serial Pontius Pilate that he is, Trump later washed his hands of any responsibility for this savagery.)

Outside the historical St John’s Episcopal Church, the US equivalent of Notre Dame, there was no person of colour in the presidential entourage. Ivanka carried in her white Max Mara handbag (which cost $1,540 — around R26,000) the Bible Trump later brandished. There were no heartfelt exhortations, no symbolic washing of a wounded nation’s feet, no compassion for the pain wrought by 400 years of black servitude. Instead, the president held up the Bible as if it were a foul-smelling object that he wanted to distance himself from as soon as possible.

Asked by a reporter if the prop was his Bible, Trump responded “It’s a Bible.” (“I just wish he would open it once in a while,” his presidential rival Joe Biden remarked later.)

In the lead-up to the 2016 election Trump frequently named the Bible as his favourite book. At a rally in Michigan he asked supporters how many had read his own book, The Art of the Deal.

“It’s my second-favourite book of all time,” he said. “Do you know what my first is? The Bible! Nothing beats the Bible!”

There you have it, chapter and verse.

He went on: “As much as I love The Art of the Deal, it’s not even close. We take the Bible all the way.” (We can confidently assume a future presidential library will be the size of a dachshund’s kennel.)


The Friday night before the St John’s photo opportunity there was the episode of the Big Bunker Bolt that subsequently had #BunkerBoy trending on Chinese social media.

Trump only grasped the scale of the anger provoked by the killing of George Floyd — choked to death by a white cop holding him down for eight minutes and 46 seconds — when Secret Service agents rushed him into the White House bunker as hundreds of protesters demonstrated outside the presidential residence’s gates.

“The agents came in and weren’t messing around. It was serious,” Trump later told a friend. “Those guys aren’t going to take any shit.”

Trump and his family were rushed off to the secret underground fortress deep below the White House, the one built in the event of a nuclear or terrorist attack. Human-rights protesters don’t fall into the same category as Osama Bin Laden.

Dick Cheney and Laura Bush were spirited there on September 11 2001. (George W was out of town and thus bundled onto Air Force One, which flew around for eight hours until the military confirmed it was safe for the president to land in Washington.)

That night Trump sent out the incendiary “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” tweet. He called Minneapolis protesters “thugs”. The following morning he was boasting about the “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” that would’ve awaited demonstrators in Lafayette Square had they somehow breached the White House walls.

HBO television host John Oliver fumed at Trump’s constant reference to “thugs”, saying it was Trumpspeak for blacks.

“It is truly astounding how Donald Trump has managed to live 74 years with a remedial understanding of spelling, grammar, geography, science, civics, nutrition and child development, and yet he’s the f**king Library of Alexandria when it comes to racist maxims of the 20th century.”

The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz poked fun at the president. (Trump claimed he had merely inspected the bunker.)

“After conducting a thorough ‘inspection’ of the White House bunker on Friday night, Donald J Trump discovered that the underground facility was covered in dust because Barack Obama never used it,” Borowitz wrote.

Is Trump still in charge as the country he is supposed to govern spirals out of control? Is there any chance that he will win the election come November 3?

Reich, who served as labour secretary during the Clinton years, says that since moving into the Oval Office in January 2017, Trump hasn’t shown an ounce of interest in governing. “He obsesses only about himself.”

“Trump’s nonfeasance goes far beyond an absence of leadership or inattention to traditional norms and roles. In a time of national trauma, he has relinquished the core duties and responsibilities of the presidency.

“By having no constructive response to any of the monumental crises now convulsing America, Trump has abdicated his office.

“He is not governing. He’s golfing, watching cable TV and tweeting.

“He is no longer president. The sooner we stop treating him as if he were, the better.”

Biden is currently leading the polls and the latest figures show Trump is losing ground among his key supporters: white voters without a college education and Evangelists. After all, one in five Americans are unable to pay the rent right now.


Donald Trump is the first president ...  who does not try to unite the American people.
Jim Mattis, former US former defence secretary

Nixon’s “law enforcement” slogan worked in 1968 as America burnt in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King jnr. Trump is using the military to fight his political campaign. The art of the deal, right?


Trump has threatened to unleash federal troops on the streets to “restore order” where no chaos exists. This steady drumroll of war talk is reinforced by the administration’s warning of a “witch’s brew” of extremists. Cities are “battlespaces”. A White House spokesperson told reporters that “all options are on the table”.

So far, the most significant rebuke has come from Trump’s former defence secretary, Jim Mattis.

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us.”

Curiouser and curiouser. Announcing job figures on Friday night, Trump made the inappropriate claim that they would make Floyd happy. US unemployment declined to 13.3% and 2.5-million jobs were restored in May.

“Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country. There’s a great day for him. It’s a great day for everybody. It’s a great day for everybody. There’s a great, great day in terms of equality.”

The Biden camp would be wise not to underestimate their opponent, even with his back against the wall. This is Trump, the tangerine tosspot who brought down the Clinton dynasty against everybody’s expectations.

Hunter S Thompson described Nixon’s fighting instincts in his obituary: “He had the fighting instincts of a badger trapped by hounds. The badger will roll over on its back and emit a smell of death, which confuses the dogs and lures them in for the traditional ripping and tearing action.

“But it is usually the badger who does the ripping and tearing. It is a beast that fights best on its back: rolling under the throat of the enemy and seizing it by the head with all four claws.

“That was Nixon’s style — and if you forgot, he would kill you as a lesson to the others. Badgers don’t fight fair, bubba. That’s why God made dachshunds.”

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