WARWICK ELSCHE. From as far away as Australia it is difficult to assess America’s Trump administration.

Sep 15, 2017

Reading as widely as possible and watching American news reports helps but does not altogether solve the problem. Indeed, many Americans, far closer to the action are finding themselves similarly baffled. The President of just eight months has, in his own words, given us a picture of a truly remarkable occupant of the world’s top office. 

He had, he said, won in a “landslide” with the biggest vote, he claimed, in more than 40 years. Equally impressive, he said, was the fact that he won despite the lodging of “between three and five million illegal votes” for his opponent Hillary Clinton. He won despite the fact that his campaign office was bugged throughout by his predecessor Barack Obama, and being spied upon by his own microwave.

Once elected, he sees himself making a spectacular start drawing “the biggest inauguration crowd in history”. No President had accomplished as much in his first 100 days as he had, and of previous occupants of this high office only “the late, great Abraham Lincoln” could rival him as a presidential figure.

There are, however, considerable grounds for disputing these presidential assertions. His claimed “landslide” for example. In the previous 58 US presidential elections only 10 winners had achieved victory with lower votes than Trump. His biggest margin in more than 40 years was in fact the biggest margin in just 4 years. Barack Obama’s winning margin in 2012 was comfortably larger. Photographs showed that his claimed record inaugural crowd, far from being the largest in history, was in fact one of the smallest.

Regarding his claimed massive achievements in his first 100 days in office, a Harvard study found that Trump’s mainstream coverage during the first 100 days of his presidency “set a new standard for negativity”. They recorded four negative stories for each positive one and no single major topic on which he received more positive than negative coverage.

Witnesses, photographs and statistics challenge his other assertions.

Somehow the President seems to have overcome these irregularities. But there remains one, potentially far more damaging, as yet unresolved – the links between this spectacular new administration and a nation still considered a hostile, Russia.

We have, of course, Trump’s denial. His repeated statements that there are and never were any such links; “there is nothing there” he has said repeatedly. Given the earlier record, just recounted, it hardly surprises that there is not immediate acceptance of the President’s denials.

How to explain then how every one of his closest political allies potentially involved with the Russians has been found conclusively to be lying about such contact.

Trump lost his National Security Advisor, General Flynn, for lying about his Russian relations. Trump’s son, son-in-law-advisor, Jared Kushner, and campaign manager, Manifort, were shown clearly by emails to have lied about the topic of a meeting with top level Russian officials. His Attorney General, and closest political promoter, Jeff Sessions, the nation’s top legal officer, lied about his own contact and was forced to relinquish any role in ongoing enquiries. If there is, as the President asserts, nothing there, why the need for lies?

The President himself added to the growing doubts about his claims with the sacking of the head of the FBI, James Comey, who was leading the investigation into the alleged Russian links. Trump added to this substantially by clearing a room in which a meeting with Russian officials had taken place informing them of Comey’s dismissal and asserting, “the pressure is now off”. What pressure? If there is, as the President assures us, nothing there why dismiss Comey to relieve what the President describes as the pressure.

There are a few theories on the exact nature of the possible Russian influence. One of the writer’s favourites goes back to 2013 when Trump conducted a Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Knowing Trump’s regard for women, particularly beautiful ones, and having personally experienced Russians secretly observing mere journalists during a prime ministerial visit to Russian many years ago, to the writer it would not be surprising that a high profile figure like Trump would attract at least equal attention. Knowing Trump, it would be equally unsurprising if their secret observations were more richly rewarded. In other words, there is a possibility that Trump’s behaviour was such that its revelation by the Russians could seriously damage his standing as the US President.

There is another theory perhaps worth considering. Throughout his presidential campaign Trump kept telling America how smart he considered Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, to be. In statements unmatched by any of his predecessors, he described Putin repeatedly as “very smart” and a fine leader.

Is it possible that, for once, Donald has got it right: that Putin is as smart as Donald asserts. Smart enough at least not to repeat the mistakes of 30 odd years ago when Russia discovered belatedly that it could not outpace America in an arms race. Smart enough also to appreciate the mutual damage resulting from a nuclear war, a war which Putin’s country was highly unlikely to win. Russian hostility to America, however, remains unabated. Could the super smart Vladimir Putin have decided to try to destroy America from within.

How best to do this? Do whatever they can to mar Hillary’s campaign effort and assist Trump, gauging, probably accurately, that this was probably just about as much damage as they could bloodlessly inflict on the United States.

If so, it’s working well so far.

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