Will 2019 be the year of reck­on­ing for Trump?

The Guardian Weekly - - The Big Story -

At first sight, Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency might seem to prove that, in the end, peo­ple can get used to any­thing. Mr Trump’s elec­tion two years ago was an enor­mous shock to the Amer­i­can sys­tem. Soon, how­ever, many per­suaded them­selves that the sys­tem would find ways of work­ing around the Trump threat. There was much talk of “adults in the room” in the ad­min­is­tra­tion who would pro­tect Amer­i­can val­ues, in­ter­ests and al­liances from the in­ter­loper. On Wall Street, fi­nan­cial mar­kets took a sim­i­lar bet. How­ever reck­less the pres­i­dent, they con­cluded, he would not be per­mit­ted to make pol­icy that would af­fect share prices and cor­po­rate prof­its.

Two years on, it is clearer than be­fore that this was a com­pla­cent view. In the Trump White House, the once vaunted grownups, some of them from the mil­i­tary, have all been shown the door – most re­cently the de­fence sec­re­tary, James Mat­tis, who quit last month over the pres­i­dent’s uni­lat­eral de­ci­sion to with­draw US troops from Syria.

Now, it has be­come clear that the mar­kets also called it wrong about Mr Trump. For days the White House at­tacked the Fed­eral Re­serve over in­ter­est rates, and then, when the mar­kets plunged, rushed to re­as­sure them that the Fed chair­man, Jerome Pow­ell, is safe in his job.

Those who al­ways de­spised Mr Trump are en­ti­tled to point out that this is what they said all along. But this is not just an­other Trump shock mo­ment. The sig­nif­i­cant thing hap­pen­ing in Amer­ica right now is that the un­de­cid­eds are be­gin­ning to come off the fence.

Two other events of last week need to be seen in this con­text. Mr Trump’s first, typ­i­cally bump­tious visit as pres­i­dent to Iraq (in which he re­fused to meet Iraqi lead­ers or leave the US air­base) was a clas­sic de­base­ment, topped off by the Trump trade­mark of an out­right lie about a pay rise to the mil­i­tary and by the shame­less claim that the US, which uni­lat­er­ally in­vaded Iraq, are “no longer the suck­ers”.

Mean­while, the bud­get im­passe with Congress that led to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment shut­down last month is a clas­sic Trump dis­trac­tion, in which the only con­sis­tent thing about the pres­i­dent’s ran­dom daily com­ments is that they are in­vari­ably un­true.

This is not just the dis­rup­tive Trump pres­i­dency that many voted for and some at first de­cided to put up with. It is a dif­fer­ent phase in the Trump era, in which the stakes are higher. Mr Trump now faces both the cli­max of the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion and, from this week, the Democrats’ takeover in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Both have the po­ten­tial to put the pres­i­dent un­der le­gal and po­lit­i­cal pres­sures that, un­til now, he has not had to cope with. Mr Trump’s in­creas­ingly er­ratic bel­ligerency is not sim­ply a dis­play of his own con­tin­u­ing un­suit­abil­ity for the pres­i­dency. It is the be­hav­iour of a pres­i­dent who sees the threats fac­ing him and whose in­sta­bil­ity is such that he may try to pull the tem­ple down with him

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