Daily Mail

Trump’s greatest weapon? No one knows what the hell he’ll do next

Today marks The Donald’s 100th day in power. America’s liberals are still wailing, and he’s struggling to deliver on a string of promises. But JUSTIN WEBB finds reasons for optimism . . .

- By Justin Webb

DONALD TrUMp has some regrets. ‘I like to drive. I can’t drive any more,’ he told the reuters news agency this week. The presidency, he said, had been a harder job than he had realised and his tone became regretful, even wistful: ‘I loved my former life . . .’

And yet with each passing week, his bitter opponents (of whom there are many) are having to come to terms with the fact that Mr Trump, although he may have regrets about taking the damned job, is revelling in it. His madcap, jumpingjac­k-flash of a presidency is going from . . . well, not exactly strength to strength — that would be stretching reality — but it’s still going somewhere, and in some respects it is going rather well.

Of course, as with any president, the reality of trying to deliver on noisy campaign promises soon becomes apparent when you arrive in the Oval Office.

The most famous, perhaps, was Trump’s promise to build a wall along the entire length of the border with Mexico. For that reason, in political terms it feels like a must- do project if he is to retain credibilit­y among those who voted for him. Yet in reality the project is almost overwhelmi­ngly difficult to undertake.

When I visited Texas recently, I went to the Big Bend area — a million square acres of nothing much except dust and brush around the tiny border town of presidio. Here you see the challenge facing Trump and his builders. This is no Manhattan skyscraper project of the kind with which he is associated. This is moonscape. Moonscape and river and mountain and desert. For 2,000 miles.

There are already fences in places. But some of this terrain is simply wildly inhospitab­le, and the idea of building a wall feels barmy. The locals point out that during violent storms the river floods, so the wall will have to have gaps for the water to flow. A wall with holes. It may well be that Congress will refuse the money to build it, though Trump has rather vaguely insisted the Mexicans themselves will have to pay for it.

So, as he marks 100 days of his presidency today, this totem of Trumpism still hangs there as a promise, but nothing more. HIS

healthcare reforms to the last administra­tion’s so-called ‘Obamacare’ insurance programme have also completely failed to lift off and had to be abandoned. That is a Trump promise very much stuck in the mud.

He is also trying to get a huge tax cut out of the blocks at the moment, but with no certainty of success.

The same is true of the spending he promised on better roads, airports and wifi networks. Talk has not been matched by action.

If you have been to America recently, you will have noticed that much of the place is — to use the word Trump himself used in his inaugural speech — ‘carnage’. It’s broken. rusted. Sad. It is no coincidenc­e that the customer service of the American airlines — which has been in the news of late — is so bad. Even when you don’t get hauled off an overbooked flight by violent security staff, the experience of flying in America is uniformly miserable and everyone hates it.

On the ground, the airports are elderly and creaking. Links between airports and cities are solid with traffic.

public transport is slow and inconvenie­nt: bridges are literally falling down, eaten away by the elements and ignored by generation­s of feckless local politician­s. It feels old-fashioned. Americans who visit Singapore or Dubai come back chastened.

So what became of the Trump promise to fix the infrastruc­ture? Well, nothing much. You see, the Trump takeover of the republican party was fine for last year’s presidenti­al election, but it was never going to be a complete overthrow.

The republican­s who call the shots in Congress care deeply about a little thing called the national debt. Actually: it’s a very big thing; $ 19 trillion and rising.

Trump — the property tycoon, the wheeler-dealer, the flirter with bankruptcy — does not, in his heart of hearts, give a jot. But they do, which is why they are not willing to sanction untrammell­ed spending. He might get his tax cut, but it will need to be balanced by less spending, and that is not Trumpism.

As the president is discoverin­g the hard way, under the U.S. system the most powerful man in the world can spend nothing and raise nothing without Congress letting him.

But cheer up, Trumpists. All is not lost. To judge this man by totting up a tally of early achievemen­ts is to miss the point of him. His was always going to be a white-knuckle ride of a presidency.

In those terms, the first 100 days have proved wholly in keeping with the expectatio­ns of his core supporters. They want Donald to be Donald.

They still revel in the sometimes bizarre language, the sense of devil-may- care recklessne­ss. Even the big promises, not really kept, have not rubbed away the lustre. polls suggest Trump’s core supporters still love him — around 80 per cent of republican voters from 2016 are happy with their man. And provided he does not morph into just another Washington politician, they are likely to stay with him.

That is because they voted to make a statement against the elite, not to see a list ticked off. They took him seriously, but not literally.

Apart from the wall, there is little that The Donald really must do to convince these

folks that he is fighting their corner. His fans look at him or read his tweets and viscerally they still think he gets them.

The big question about Trump which the first 100 days utterly fail to answer is the extent to which he is planning everything he does, or just making it up as he goes along. His choice of General Michael Flynn to be his National Security Adviser felt reckless: Flynn was a Russia fan with a conspiracy mentality.

Before the election, Flynn tweeted an article alleging proof that Hillary Clinton was involved in money laundering and child sex traffickin­g.

Wild stuff. Imagine an internatio­nal crisis rapidly unfolding, and the 3am call for decisive action with Donald still groggy and General Flynn calling the shots . . .

But we don’t have to imagine it any more. Trump got rid of Flynn after less than a month in the job. And Steve Bannon, another man from the fringes of politics, a self- confessed fan of chaos, also lost his role on the U.S. National Security Council.

The Trump team is now a steady and experience­d group of former soldiers and businesspe­ople. Their eyes do not swivel.

But does he have a policy? Has he managed to set out the Trump vision in a way that friends and foes can see and appreciate? Is there some fiendish plan, some giddy logic to the Trump worldview that has seen him, in the past few days alone, declare war on Canada (OK, only a trade war, but . . .) and peace with China? Well,

perhaps. The reaction on Twitter to the Canada trade sanctions was predictabl­y hostile and sneering; why was this buffoon damaging relations along one of the most peaceful borders in the world?

But look again: among those welcoming tough talk on dairy products and lumber was Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate. It turns out that people in U.S. border states have been quietly annoyed with the Canadians for years. Some are rather pleased to see them taken to task now. likewise — with so much more at stake — there is the relationsh­ip with North Korea. even Max Baucus, who used to be Barack Obama’s ambassador to China, told me the other day that his former boss’s ‘ strategic patience’ with Pyongyang had failed. ‘We were too patient,’ he admitted. Which means they didn’t respond to threats with a massive show of force and verbal threats of their own, as Trump’s America has in recent days.

Trump has never been accused of being too patient. And there are plenty of Americans who see his unpredicta­bility as an asset against the North Koreans, who are used to playing the ‘crazy’ card in the form of their bellicose leader Kim Jong-un. Against Trump, it doesn’t seem quite so effective. Trump can trump your craziness with some of his own.

Of course if he gets North Korea wrong, and a devastatin­g war breaks out, we will all face the most awful of consequenc­es.

But if the threat from Pyongyang is neutralise­d by American resolve; well, Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for considerab­ly less.

As for Syria, again the unpredict- ability of Trump is a new and, some argue, a potentiall­y useful factor.

By blasting a Syrian army air base to rubble in response to a sarin gas attack allegedly carried out by President Assad’s regime, he has proved that — unlike Obama — he is prepared to act.

That will have served to make Assad, and his allies in Moscow, think twice. It should worry them, and that’s a good thing.

I suspect the real answer is that Donald Trump is not in charge of his diplomatic and security policy, and does not really want to be.

His eyes must glaze over when earnest staffers show him just how complicate­d the fight for Islamic State’s Syrian capital of Raqqa will be, or the situation regarding Turkey and the Kurds.

What seems to be emerging is that Trump’s foreign policy is in the hands of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, widely respected National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

They were described the other day by a veteran Washington watcher as ‘a strong, self-confident group’. Add to that Defence Secretary James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, who is no mad dog and quite the opposite. Mattis thinks military power is used too often and that diplomacy is better.

If he needs to kill you, he will kill you, but Mattis does not want to kill anyone. Yes: Donald Trump’s Pentagon chief is a believer in jaw-jaw before war-war. We didn’t see that coming, either.

So how is the Trump form of diplomacy going? A meeting with the Chinese President — at Trump’s Florida estate — seems to have been a relative success, but his biggest weapon, diplomatic­ally at least, has been deployed only once so far, on a test operation in Germany.

Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter, went to Berlin and appeared on a stage with Angela Merkel and the cerebral Internatio­nal Monetary Fund boss Christine lagarde. ‘She won’t take questions,’ people sneered. But she did. ‘She won’t like the abuse,’ they said. But she seemed pretty unfazed when people booed.

Afterwards, Mrs Merkel said: ‘I’m very glad that you braved this trip to Germany.’ This was a real endorsemen­t.

The Trump team will have seen it as a big success. Donald hates anyone else getting the attention and limelight — but he might make an exception for his daughter. Where next for her? Beijing? Pyongyang? Moscow?

Back on the home front, there is one area of domestic policy which is without doubt Trump’s biggest achievemen­t. That is his appointmen­t to America’s all-powerful Supreme Court of a judge named Neil Gorsuch. He is a conservati­ve who restores a conservati­ve majority on the Court. THIS

is crucial because in America the Supreme Court has the last word in shaping the nation’s legal and social framework. Thus the appointmen­t of Gorsuch guarantees that liberal Americans will be frustrated if they try to change the way the U.S. tackles the major issues of national life over the next generation.

This is a very evident and profound way in which the President is changing his country — which is why so many Ordinary Joes I talked to in Texas recently were genuinely enthused by the appointmen­t.

If there is a real Trump weak spot, 100 days into this rollercoas­ter ride, it is still the temperamen­t of the man himself. There is something quite breathtaki­ngly narcissist­ic about him. All Presidents are bit odd. To look in the mirror and see a President of the United States staring back is, well, not the sign of a normal mind. But Trump takes the sense of personal superiorit­y to new heights.

The other day he was talking about his TV ratings (again) and compared them with the news shows on the day of the September 11 attacks. It was gut-wrenchingl­y inappropri­ate. James Gilligan, a professor of psychiatry, told a conference at Yale University: ‘I’ve worked with murderers and rapists. I can recognise dangerousn­ess from a mile away. You don’t have to be an expert to know how dangerous this man is.’

Will Trump crash and burn — and if he does, will he take us all with him? Nothing about this presidency is stable. Nothing predictabl­e. And there are 1,361 days to go, assuming he isn’t impeached and doesn’t resign in the meantime.

So buckle up, because even the man driving the world’s most powerful country doesn’t know where he’s heading.

 ??  ?? Power couple: President Trump with wife Melania
Power couple: President Trump with wife Melania
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