Sunday 15 September 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'If Trump thought 2018 was bad, he ain't seen nothing yet - and you can bet it's going to be bloody'

U.S. President Donald Trump. Photo: REUTERS
U.S. President Donald Trump. Photo: REUTERS
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

These are testing times for Donald Trump. His staff are being interrogated, his former lawyer has been sentenced to jail, and the Mueller investigation into collusion with Russia is nearing its endgame, which could see him not just indicted, but arrested.

So, obviously, he decides to have a go at a TV sketch show.

On the recent episode of 'Saturday Night Live', the 'cold open' was a pastiche of 'It's A Wonderful Life', called 'It's A Wonderful Trump'.

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Portraying a world where Trump was never president, it was, as far as 'Saturday Night Live' sketches go, not that bad.

Matt Damon's brief appearance as controversial Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh was worth a minor giggle at least, which is about as much as anyone can expect from 'SNL' these days.

But if their sole desire was to get under Trump's skin, then it was one of the most successful pieces ever performed in the show's 43-year history.

Trump decided to go on the offensive, issuing a bizarre tweet which said that: "A REAL scandal is the one sided coverage, hour by hour, of networks like NBC and Democrat spin machines like Saturday Night Live...It is all nothing less than unfair news coverage and Dem commercials. Should be tested in courts, can't be legal? Only defame & belittle! Collusion!"

Even by the standards of his notoriously thin skin, the tweet was a masterclass in the kind of whiny petulance he would dismiss as snowflakery if exhibited by one of his many, many opponents.

It would be tempting for his supporters to claim, as some have already tried, that this is really just a masterful piece of deflection from a masterful media manipulator. Tempting, but in this particular instance, probably inaccurate.

No, he really is that sensitive to criticism, he really does resent people from his beloved New York ripping on him and, as a former guest host on 'Saturday Night Live', he sees, or used to see, them as his friends.

But he also sees Twitter as his modern equivalent of the more traditional presidential fireside chat, and a way of bypassing the hated, traditional mainstream media.

He is infamously paranoid when it comes to traditional news organisations but in this case, at least, such paranoia is justified - they really are out to get him.

But Trump's reliance on Twitter is a reminder that, for better or for worse, he is the first truly social media president.

Indeed, the real piece of presidential deflection, as opposed to more humble presidential petulance, came with his tweet yesterday that "the world is blowing up around us, Paris is burning and China way down, the Fed is even considering yet another interest rate hike. Take the Victory!".

But with, at the last count, 14 different strands of investigation into the Russian allegations, and more trouble coming down the pipe regarding allegations of misuse of funds by his inauguration committee, victory will be far from his mind this Christmas.

If he has any sense, while spending the festive season in his beloved Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, he needs to look at ways to stave off total defeat.

It was all so different a year ago.

When he celebrated his first 12 months in office in January, it looked like he was going to surprise his many critics, who had long abandoned most forms of rational analysis and simply resorted to calling him Hitler.

The economy was up, unemployment was down and the tax reforms had put significantly more money into people's pay packets.

That was all the people who voted for him had ever asked for.

At that stage, the investigations were mere muttered threats and were seen by many as just the 'swamp' trying to take the sheen off a surprisingly successful first 12 months.

But with the mass evacuation of senior White House staffers this year and the very real possibility that more of those close to him will take a plea deal to avoid getting caught in the splatter from an indictment or impeachment, there is the unmistakable sense that Mueller and his team are closing in on him.

We've been here before, of course, and that has actually served him well.

Barely a week has gone by since he took office without some new crisis hitting Team Trump, but he seemed to have a remarkable facility for taking the blows, and then either firing someone or announcing some new success.

But in many ways, perhaps the best course of action for his critics would have been to let him do the damage to himself.

Every hysterical attack, every fit of the vapours and wild exaggeration - as it happens, fewer people have been deported under Trump than his predecessor and far from being a war monger, he's actually an isolationist - has simply hardened his support and feeds into his own theory that the 'establishment' don't just hate him, they hate the people who voted for him.

But PR disasters, such as the chaos at the border and the awful optics of kids in cages - regardless of the actual facts behind that infamous image - have turned many of his former supporters against him.

One interesting barometer of this changing attitude came recently when Tucker Carlson, of Trump's favourite network Fox News, went on the offensive.

Dismissing Trump as "incapable", Carlson condemned the fact that, "his chief promises were that he would build the wall, defund Planned Parenthood and repeal Obamacare and he hasn't done any of those things. He doesn't understand the legislative process, hasn't surrounded himself with people who know how to get things done".

Coming from his own base, those comments would, presumably, have stung him even more than the predictable 'SNL' jibes, but it's far more damaging to see Fox stars turn against him than the usual echo chamber of sneering liberal condescension.

If 2018 started well for Trump and steadily became worse, he's now facing into a bad start to 2019 which, if the Mueller gets his way, could potentially see him removed from office.

One of the most common refrains from his critics is how did America end up with a president like Trump?

One explanation comes from PJ O'Rourke, who says: "When words had to be carved in stone, we got the 10 Commandments. When we had to make our own ink and chase a goose for a quill, we got William Shakespeare. When the fountain pen was invented, we got Henry James. When the typewriter came along, we got Jack Kerouac. And with the internet we get the president of the United States on Twitter."

Nobody knows exactly what will happen in the next 12 months.

But you can bet that it will be bloody.

Irish Independent

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