Max Boot: 'Trump has one saving grace - the man is incompetent'
On January 20, 2017, President Donald Trump delivered a bleak inauguration address that warned of "American carnage". He has spent the past two years turning those words into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So much has happened that it's hard to keep it all straight. Every week, the Trump administration produces more news than previous administrations did in an entire year. It's not all bad: We haven't seen a new war or a recession. Conservatives can be happy about judges and tax cuts. But at what cost?
A few stark themes have emerged from the past 730 days. Trump's presidency so far can be summed up with four bleak words: Racism. Authoritarianism. Incompetence. Megalomania.
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Racism: Trump said there were "very fine people on both sides" in Charlottesville, Virginia, equating neo-Nazis with their opponents. He insulted the intelligence of African-Americans such as Republican LeBron James and Democrat Maxine Waters, and referred to Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren as "Pocahontas" because she claims Native American heritage.
Trump said he wants immigrants from snow-white Norway, not from "shithole countries" in Africa, whipped up hysteria about Central American "caravans" of refugees, and pilloried African-American National Football League players who kneeled to protest police brutality during the national anthem.
He echoed the alt-right in expressing concern about the plight of white farmers in South Africa. He approvingly quoted Pat Buchanan, whom he once denounced as a "Hitler lover". His views are almost indistinguishable from Republican Steve King, stripped of his committee assignments for advocacy of white supremacy.
Authoritarianism: Trump fawned over foreign dictators. He said Russian President Vladimir Putin is "very much of a leader", Chinese President Xi Jinping is "a highly respected and powerful representative of his people", Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is doing an "unbelievable job", Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is "getting very high marks", and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is "very open and terrific". These are five of the planet's worst human rights violators.
Trump also tried, with mercifully limited success, to emulate their illiberal example. He claimed the "absolute right" to declare a national emergency to build a border wall Congress won't fund. He deployed troops to the border in a political stunt. He revoked the security clearance of a former CIA director who criticised him. He created a climate of rhetorical violence associated with mail bombs and a synagogue shooting.
He called the press the "enemy of the people", a term from Josef Stalin. Much of the reason Trump dislikes the "fake news media" is they call him out on his lies.
In 2018, he averaged 15 falsehoods a day. "What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening," Trump told his followers, echoing George Orwell's '1984': "The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command."
Trump is at war not only with the truth but also with the law. He fired the FBI director and attorney general to stop an investigation of his campaign.
Incompetence: If Trump has a saving grace, it is that he is so incompetent - a more cunning populist would be far more dangerous. His tweets are riddled with spelling, grammar and factual mistakes. (Remember the "smocking gun"?)
More significantly, he couldn't get a Republican-controlled Congress to approve a border wall or repeal Obamacare. He can't consistently break 40pc approval despite a booming economy.
Megalomania: If measured by conventional metrics, Trump's first two years have been a dismal failure. But if his chief goal is to be the centre of the world's attention, a president obsessed with TV ratings has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. (© Washington Post Service)