Donald Trump’s supporters have a new rallying cry in defence of the American president: “Let Trump be Trump!”
I am a U.S.-born linguist, an expert in Caucasian languages and also politics, and someone who advised the Bill Clinton White House on Russia at various points in my career. And so I feel justified in arguing the opposite: Trump must stop being Trump.
Trump’s short time in office has been a reflection of his lack of insight, lack of control and lack of judgment. He has failed to meet the needs and duties of his office. He shows no signs of ever meeting those needs or fulfilling those duties. Instead, he is too busy fulfilling his penchant for excess — also known as Trump being Trump.
Trump being Trump, in fact, is prone to political self-immolation. His narcissism clouds his eyes. Rather than being exceeded only by Lincoln in presidential qualities, as he himself recently bragged, Trump is the least presidential figure to hold the office in American history.
He seems to be devoid of political sense of any sort. His recent impulsive announcement of a prohibition against trans-gendered service people is a good example of a presidency wallowing in incompetence and moral squalor, not to mention political blindness.
Apart from the distraction offered by the pronouncement, Trump seems to have expected some sort of ringing endorsement for this action from conservatives. But even Sen. Orrin Hatch, about as conservative as they come, felt compelled to defend trans-gendered service personnel.
Here’s another example of Trump being Trump: He’s set up a voting fraud investigation. The likely outcome is that he will find that he actually lost the popular vote in the 2016 election by an even wider margin to Hillary Clinton. Conceivably, even the Electoral College tally might stand in need of adjustment. Trump is politically daft and arrogant enough to believe that the investigation may magically unearth a larger margin of victory for him.
Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, has threatened to fire everyone in the White House to stop leaks. He expects that to be a simple fix, but the leaks will keep coming, because I suspect many are coming from Russia or from Russian plants within the United States. Causing chaos in the White House was one of Russia’s goals, after all, when it meddled in the 2016 presidential election. From the Kremlin’s viewpoint, the leaks have been a resounding success.
The appointment of Scaramucci came at the expense of outgoing White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was the next to go, fired by Trump, as Scaramucci predicted.
This is not a simple shift in personnel. Spicer and Priebus are “deep” Republican figures, devoted to the party. They served as mooring lines between the GOP establishment and a president whom most of that establishment views as a renegade of convenience. With Scaramucci severing the last of those mooring lines, the GOP establishment will soon consider Trump no longer controllable or containable. Trump does not understand that he serves at the pleasure of the GOP in Congress. If they lose control of him, they will remove him.
Meantime, Russia is signalling it no longer holds hope of improved relations with Trump as president. By supporting him and holding him hostage via a rumoured treasure trove of kompromat, the Russians hoped he could ease economic sanctions against them in the aftermath of their annexation of Crimea. Having an autocratic system themselves, they overlooked the power of Congress, and seem to have been surprised by the recent imposition of new sanctions, approved by margins that rule out a Trump veto. In response, Putin just announced that the American diplomatic mission in Russia would have to cut its staff by 755 employees.
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The Kremlin now realizes that Trump is of little use to them, although he did serve their interests in Syria by cancelling U.S. support for the rebels. I predict now that Russia will soon leak more compromising material on Trump and his family (perhaps why Ivanka, hitherto supposedly blameless, just hired a lawyer).
Trump probably never thought that his recent chatter with Putin at the G20 might have been recorded by the Russians. Most surely it was. And some of it will be of interest to a wide audience. It is possible that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s current funk is due to what he heard at the first G20 meeting with Putin.
Putin’s best option now is to assist in the removal of Trump. I predict he’ll approach American officials and offer help in exchange for two things. First, that the U.S. must treat Russia with respect as a major power, because Russia effectively put Trump in power and will now help to take him out. Second, Russia’s assistance in Trump’s removal must be seen as a friendly gesture, one that will make some amends for its meddling in the 2016 election.
Of course, these matters will take place in an environment of horse-trading, so to speak, with the goals of easing some sanctions or quashing some prosecutions against Russia.
In turn, I predict Trump will ignore advice and fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then attempt to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, who’s investigating his Russian ties. There’s already a move afoot to make Mueller untouchable. Congress will then turn on Trump and introduce a bipartisan bill of impeachment, if they have not already impeached him under the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, also known as the “crazy clause.”
Trump’s nomination of Brian Benczkowski for director of the Criminal Investigation Unit of the FBI, a man who has recently been a consultant for Russia’s Alfa Bank, has only added to concerns that Trump is a stooge of the Russians and a serious security risk to the United States.
An aside? Because of the Trump domestic drama, no one is watching Syria, but Trump’s cancellation of funding for the rebels is an example of serving the interests of Russia, and not the U.S. It’s also a move that will compromise American security because it will strengthen both Russia’s and Iran’s influence in the Middle East.
Substantial damage to America’s status on the world stage has already been done. More surely looms ahead as Trump proudly indulges in his favourite pastime: being Trump.
This article was originally published on The Conversation
John Colarusso works in the Department of Anthropology at McMaster University