Michael Clifford: Dazed and confused in the Trump world

Michael Clifford: Dazed and confused in the Trump world
Trump has done everything to ensure that he will be booted out at the next election, yet could easily return to the White House for a second term. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

When it all gets to be too much of an evening, there’s nothing like switching over to CNN. Sure, things are as bad, if not a lot worse, in America, but at least the news over there has a demented version of escapism in Mr Trump.

My favourite US news presenter is CNN’s Jake Tapper. Mr Tapper is professional and asks all the right questions. He is even-handed and polite in that exaggerated American way. Unlike the battalions of shock jocks who proliferate US media, he keeps his emotions entirely in check.

What sets him apart is his facial expression when the story at hand is the latest dispatch from the weird world of Donald Trump. While Jake’s questions calmly follow logic and facts, his face can’t stand it. He wears the look of a man who may be in some physical discomfort in the aftermath of a medical procedure.

And overlaying his pain is a visage of sheer and utter confusion, as if he can’t understand why the procedure hasn't gone smoothly, but instead left him in pain.

Last week, his pain took on a new dimension when the topic was Mr Trump’s use of the drug, hydroxychloroquine as a preventative measure against Covid-19. This was in the aftermath of the US cabinet giving the president their full backing in his use of a drug that is primarily prescribed for malaria. There is no scientific evidence that it can prevent or treat the virus.

In conversation with CNN’s political reporter, Kaitlan Collins, Jake had to pause every now and then, as if he really couldn’t fathom what was going on. Could you blame him?

It’s one thing to have a sociopathic buffoon running the most powerful country in the world, but quite another when everybody around him pretends that he is, as he would have it himself, a very stable genius.

Asked about one of the very few studies done on hydroxychloroquine which showed it had no impact on the virus, Trump responded: “And if you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape. They were very old, almost dead. It was a ‘Trump enemy’ statement.”

Scientists, like astronauts, housekeepers, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers, are all divided into two in Trump world. There are those who are pro Trump and those who are Trump enemies.

And so some scientists rounded up a collection of people at death’s door and subjected them to a clinical trial, the results of which were fixed, all to show Trump in a bad light. It’s a disgrace, as the man himself would say. Maybe even a beautiful disgrace.

“Belgium is a beautiful city,” he said a few years back. “We’re gonna have that big, beautiful door in the wall,” he said during the 2016 election campaign, referencing the beautiful wall he was going to build on the southern US border.

In Trump world, things are either beautiful or a disgrace.

The pandemic, impervious to Trump’s beautiful lies and spin, has been a disgrace because it could impact on his re-election prospects. At the end of March, as the death toll mounted, he was asked why things were so much worse than in South Korea.

“I know South Korea better than anyone,” he said, pointing out that the capital Seoul had a population of 38m. Seoul’s population is 10m.

So where did he get his sums wrong? Perhaps on Wikipedia, where it is noted that Seoul is 38m above sea level. Millions, metres, who’s counting?

Intelligence reports, economic analysis, science reports, who needs them when you have Wikipedia. Anybody could make such a beautiful mistake, even the president of the United States.

The current health crisis has been Mr Trump’s biggest challenge. People are dying at an alarming rate. In some cities of the wealthiest country in the world, there is a shortage of medical equipment. Unemployment is soaring and a huge toll of suffering has begun to mount up.

In such a milieu, Trump at times appears to have gone completely off reservation. He plumbed the lowest depth with a recommendation that people should ingest disinfectant to treat the virus.

“I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute,” he said, brimming with enthusiasm at his genius for science. “Is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside?”

He has also used the health emergency to encroach further on basic tenets of democracy. His attorney general, Bill Barr, ordered the dropping of a prosecution of Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

Friends of the president are thus officially above the law. This is a new departure in western democracy but the enormity of what was done is lost in the wacky stuff that attracts greater incredulity and bigger headlines.

President Trump has used the health emergency to encroach further on basic tenets of democracy.
President Trump has used the health emergency to encroach further on basic tenets of democracy.

Despite the man-child pantomime, Trump has a knack of weaving a magic spell over otherwise sane and intelligent people.

His personal GP prescribed him hydroxychloroquine. His attorney general, a lawyer, undermined the law in a manner that would have been a resignation offence — at the very least — pre-Trump.

His cabinet play the role of nodding donkeys to his latest wacky outrage. He has entirely captured the Republican party.

He thrives on their fear. They are expected to routinely feed his ego in private and public.

They are afraid of his penchant for firing anybody who disagrees with him, afraid of his power over sections of the electorate, afraid of his Twitter hand.

Without the tacit collaboration of people who not just should but do know better, he would be on the way out long before now. Instead, he has been elevated to the status of unassailable demagogue a short four years after he first put his name on a ballot paper for anything.

In such a world gone mad, you might have thought the other half of America would get its act together.

Instead, all they could come up with to take on Trump was Joe Biden, a decent man who is long past his prime, and even when he was on top of his game wouldn’t have cut an inspirational figure.

Trump has a fair to reasonable chance of being re-elected. If he is, it will represent an almighty victory. As the incumbent, he has done everything possible to ensure that he will be booted out at the next election.

To come back from that, and get enough people to vote for him while holding their noses would represent Trump’s greatest day.

If it does come to pass, it will put a final nail in the coffin of liberal democracy in a country that was once a beacon of hope for the world. No wonder poor Jake Tapper is looking so dazed and confused.

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