KT Edit: Trump’s absence a big presence for the incumbent president

The news cycles were beholden to Trump during the four years he was at the helm


Sreenivasa Reddy

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Published: Wed 17 Nov 2021, 9:21 PM

Do any of us miss Donald John Trump, who was the 45th president of the United States? Yes, a lot of us do, whether we liked him or not. It has been three months since he reluctantly left the centrestage of international politics, leaving behind bittersweet memories and a legacy that will echo through the years.

The news cycles were beholden to Trump during the four years he was at the helm. He kept them busy with his non-stop venting on Twitter. Good copies and good headlines flowed effortlessly. Fake news was the catchword with which Trump dismissed the media, especially the likes of CNN and The New York Times. Much as he may have disparaged the so-called fake media, he thrived on them. He fed them with his wacky and out-of-the-world stories and they, in turn, propelled him to fame in a made-for-each-other relationship.

In the span of just four years, Trump left behind humungous footprint on American politics in particular and the world arena at large. He has occupied the mind space of people that a two-term president would envy. He amassed fame (infamy if you may call it) that even a Barack Obama or Ronald Regan would find it difficult to match. This may sound like exaggeration, but I believe it is true.

So what is it that we miss about Trump? It is that he has put out all humanness — all his weaknesses and strengths — front and centre. He has a connect with a section of the population and rabidly cultivated it from the pulpit of the presidential office. He never fought shy of it and has a certain brutal honesty about it. I have commented on this trait of his forcefully in these columns before. But it is precisely this quality which endeared him to people who do not necessarily agree with his ideology and his uncanny ability to rouse the emotions of his base. He gave the impression of being a person who you see in the street with all his imperfections.

The single-term Republican president earned all the infamy for the manner in which he chose to leave the office. He summoned a rally of his fanatic supporters and instigated a riot that resulted in the storming of the Capitol. He got banished from the social media and was ostracised on the Web. But he was unrepentant, and contrition is certainly not his forte. But this did not diminish his appeal to his base and he is still a force to reckon with in the Grand Old Party. The high and mighty in the party are still paying obeisance to him. Mitch McConnell, senate minority leader, got an expletive-laden tongue-lashing from Trump for not standing by him.

The going was all good for Trump until the coronavirus pandemic struck. His administration appeared distracted and non-serious when the unforeseen tragedy was claiming hundreds of lives. His distrust of experts and scientists shone through his umpteen press briefings with him at once suggesting household disinfectants should be pumped into human bodies to cleanse them of the virus. This was the ultimate faux pa that shaped the public perception of his administration’s response. He was pinning all hopes on vaccines to fix the problem and did put in a robust production and procurement strategy named Operation Warp Speed. Unfortunately, vaccines did not arrive in time to save his presidency. The present incumbent is reaping the fruits of his work and setting records in vaccinations. Politics sometimes is an handiwork of chance and luck.

Trump’s style is made starker by the unassuming and methodical style of incumbent President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. He is a textbook president who fills in all the dots before making a policy speech. He is more rigorous than the stellar intellectual president Barack Obama under whom he worked as vice-president after several stints in Senate and unsuccessful runs for presidency.

Joe Biden has a calculated, thoughtful and calibrated approach. He does not let emotions dictate his style. Even when he is required to show emotions because of demands of a situation, he would put up a very thought-through show so that nothing goes wrong.

At the moment things are going good for President Biden. But there is an odd discordant voice heard here and there from his own camp. The ultra left has a preponderant influence in the Democratic politics and the criticism is rife that the president has become hostage to their agenda. They ratcheted up noise on immigration with some of them insisting on a sort of open border policy. Sensing an opportunity, Latin American cartels are pushing hundreds of immigrants through the Mexican border. There is whole vibrant industry specialising in shipping the migrants illegally via the porous border. The endless stream of children and pregnant women is rankling Republicans and even some Democrats.

One can oppose Trump’s border wall idea but that does not necessarily mean one is supportive of an open southern border. Biden seems to be buckling under pressure from the rabid far-left ideologues who insist on rolling out a red carpet for Latin American refugees, citing conditions in their respective countries. Thomas L Friedman, the celebrated New York Times columnist and a supporter of Democratic Party, in a recent column, castigated this open-door policy and called for a strictly legal immigration policy based on well-formulated principles. He says the lax policy is a shot in the arm for the Trump camp who can use it to inflame passions. It remains to be seen how Biden will navigate this treacherous terrain where a policy flop can fuel a far-right campaign.

Trump is present by being absent as the incumbent president tries not to be his predecessor. One writer in these columns noted in the run-up to the election last year that Biden derives his legitimacy from not being a Trump. The president’s agenda is solely focused on creating a world where there is no Trump. Creating a Trump-less world is his trump card.

— sreenivasa@khaleejtimes.com

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