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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 21-11-2020 08:42

The finish-line is in sight

It has certainly been a rough ride, but the finishing line is in sight and there are feeble signs that Republican legislators are questioning, although not yet challenging, Trump’s leadership of the party.

A shameful chapter in the history of the United States is finally drawing to a close, but the news that President Donald Trump considered bombing Iran as a farewell gesture is a warning that the madness is not over until it’s over. 

The surmise that the Trump presidency could still end, not with a whimper but with a bang, stems from a report in The New York Times saying the president “asked senior advisers in an Oval Office meeting on Thursday [November 12] whether he had options to take action against Iran’s main nuclear site in the coming week.” The newspaper said that the report was substantiated by four current and former US officials. 

Trump was apparently talked out of launching a military strike by his senior advisers, including Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the recently appointed Acting Defence Secretary Christopher C. Miller and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff General Mike A. Milley.

The president has refused to concede defeat despite his undeniable loss at the polls, though the sycophants around him have started to distance themselves from a leader whose time is almost up. However, The New York Times reported that Trump may still be looking for ways to strike Iranian targets. 

We will have to hold our breath until January 20, when Joe Biden is inaugurated.

That the lamest of lame-duck presidents was prepared to risk starting a war so that he would not appear to be a loser seems incredible, yet everything about the astonishing rise and agonisingly slow decline of Trump has been hard to believe. Nevertheless, the report is credible – and he seems to think he can get away with anything.

Trump was talking about retaining popularity, not the fact that he could get away with murder, when he said: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” 

That now infamous claim came up in the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit last year when William Consovoy, a lawyer for Trump, was asked by the Manhattan district attorney’s general consul what could be done if the president actually did shoot someone: “Would we have to wait for an impeachment proceeding to be initiated?”

Judge Denny Chin followed up by pressing Consovoy on whether anything could be done if the hypothetical shooting were to be acted out: “What's your view on the Fifth Avenue example. Local authorities couldn't investigate? They couldn't do anything about it?"

Consovoy said Trump no longer would be immune once he leaves office. "This is not a permanent immunity," he said. Chin persisted, asking what would happen to a sitting president. “Nothing could be done? That is your position?"

Jaws surely dropped in the courtroom, when Consovoy replied, "That is correct. That is correct.”

Now, the big question is what can Trump get away with when he can longer claim presidential immunity. Writing in the aforementioned newspaper’s Sunday magazine, Jonathan Mahler examined the Republican leader’s potential criminal liability when he leaves office. He advised ‘Trumpophobes’ that “visions of Donald Trump in an orange jumpsuit were more fantasy than reality”  because putting  him “on trial for his conduct as president  would be tantamount to putting on trial the more than 72 million Americans who voted for his re-election.”

Mahler goes on to argue that accumulation of decades’ worth of lawmaking, legal theorising and historical precedent “has given the president almost total freedom from accountability,” yet he concludes that accountability is a necessity if the nation is to move on from Trump. 

It has certainly been a rough ride, but the finishing line is in sight and there are feeble signs that Republican legislators are questioning, although not yet challenging, the president’s leadership of the party. Regardless of party or political outlook, we are all suffering from Trump fatigue. 

Mort Rosenblum, an old friend who began a storied  career in journalism  as Associated Press bureau chief  in Buenos Aires, began his latest online column “Now What?” by recalling a column written by Russell Baker some 30 years ago: “Isn’t it terrible about this Trump story? All the attention it's getting? Newspapers, television, magazines all pumping out Trump gossip. They ought to be ashamed…”

Then, writes Mort on mortreport.org, Trump was merely “an ego-mad upstart clamouring for attention, building gaudy erections, conning people with serial scams, going bankrupt to stiff creditors and treating women like sex toys.” 

Mort ends his column: “Imagine if more of us early in life had looked up “trumpery” in the dictionary: “1. Deceit, fraud; 2. Anything calculated to deceive by false show; anything externally splendid but intrinsically of little value; 3. Things worn out and of no value… rubbish, nonsense.”

Sounds about right.

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Robert Cox

Robert Cox

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1968-1979).

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