US President Donald Trump signs one of his many executive orders in August 2018. (Shealah Craighead/White House)

Criticizing Trump but Then Following in His Footsteps

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, July 18

There is no doubt that Donald Trump is an atypical figure, especially in comparison to the other 43 presidents who sat in the White House. This anomaly may indeed be the reason for the extraordinary and often violent political rivalries we witness under his rule. In elite circles, especially in Europe, bashing Donald Trump is perceived as a sign of intellectualism and intelligence. In a recent interview on the BBC, I found myself an outcast among three American and European colleagues, as well as the presenter of the program, just because I said that Trump might not be responsible for all the mistakes in the world. The truth is that hardly a day passes without major media outlets in Europe and the United States descending into hysteria as a result of something Trump said or did. Within the United States itself, bashing Trump has turned into a rite of passage among political elites. Some of those opposed to Trump have become so angry that they seem to have lost historical context. American linguist Noam Chomsky, for example, described Trump as “the worst criminal in history.” Chomsky seems to have forgotten about people like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, who had the blood of millions of innocent people on their hands. Trump is certainly an unusual figure. Of the 44 US presidents [one served non-consecutive terms, so Trump’s is the 45th presidency], 33 had a military background, including at least 12 generals. Trump never wore a uniform. Similarly, among the presidents, 24 were lawyers. Trump’s only understanding of the courts is through the wide range of lawsuits filed against him. Trump is one of few presidents to come from the corporate world. It is true that four other presidents had a background in business, but they arrived at the White House after long periods of time in politics. In contrast, Trump had no experience working in any sector of the government. Even Barack Obama spent two years as a senator despite his young age. Thanks to a television program in which Trump played the presenter as a side act, he is also the first American president with a media background. Ronald Reagan was a movie star but worked as a politician and governor before running for president; Warren Harding worked in the press before he set foot in making US policy. Although Trump may exaggerate his wealth, he may also be the richest man to enter the White House. Trump is, perhaps, the first American president to provoke so much anger and exasperation, especially outside the United States. European elites revered John F. Kennedy and treated Obama like a rock star even before he won the presidency. In Europe today, policymakers loathe the politics represented by Trump. John Bercow, the former speaker of the British House of Commons, claimed that a Trump speech in parliament would be a shame to the institution’s rich history. And Sadeq Khan, the mayor of London, refused to welcome Trump on his official visit to the city. Nevertheless, Trump’s topics continue to creep into the center stage of global politics. Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping often associate their rhetoric with national themes propagated by Trump. In India, Narendra Modi’s fans call him “the Indian Donald Trump,” while in Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro seeks to portray himself as the Trump of South America. In Central and Eastern European countries, local Trump supporters are on the rise. In the campaign for last Sunday’s presidential election, opponents of Andrzej Duda called him the Polish Trump. Surprisingly, he won. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson won after pursuing a campaign based on strengthening British national identity and industrial recovery. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a permanent critic of Trump, is now talking about the need for a bigger defense budget, restricting globalization and Russia as a threat. All of this is to say that members of the Democratic Party will not be able to defeat Trump without sober criticism of his policies. Instead, they will have to emulate Trump’s rhetoric in their own favor. And finally, they must remember that Trump’s removal is easy but risky. Even if he is defeated in November, he is unlikely to retire and play golf for the rest of his life. He may very well run again for the presidency in 2024 when he is only a year older than Joe Biden is now. – Amir Taheri (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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