How to understand the appeal of Trump

A year into Donald Trump’s presidency, the world has “not gone over a cliff”, says Roger Cohen in Der Spiegel. But the fact that the avoidance of nuclear war with North Korea must be considered an achievement is “testimony to how alarming” Trump’s “erratic belligerence” has been. His victory last November reflected a “blow-up-the-system mood” and he continues to behave principally as “the rabble-rousing leader of a mass movement”. Rising inequality has invited a jolt to the complacency of a globalised liberal elite. “But the question remains: how dangerous is Trump to the world and the American republic?”

So far, he hasn’t actually achieved very much, says Nash Riggins in The Independent. His “bigoted” Muslim travel ban has been “shot down” by the courts. His own party prevented him from repealing Obamacare, and Congress is refusing to rip up the Iran nuclear deal. There is still no sign of a wall on the Mexican border, the Nafta free-trade agreement remains operational and he hasn’t launched a trade war with China, adds Max Boot in the Chicago Tribune.

Trump has effectively been “castrated” by the “intricate web of checks and balances” put in place by America’s founding fathers, continues Riggins. They “compartmentalised” government powers to make sure that no individual could dismantle “democratic freedoms”. The US was “handcrafted to chew up bullies” like Trump and spit them back out. As long as we “place our faith in democracy and stand up for what’s right”, he will continue to “stumble through his presidency”.

There are signs that support is waning. His average approval rating has slipped to 38%, far lower than his predecessors’ one year into office (Barack Obama’s rating stood at 51%, George W Bush’s at 87%). But his real challenge will come next November, with the mid-term elections, says Ben Riley-Smith in The Daily Telegraph. Republicans currently have a majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, making legislation easier to pass (theoretically).

Yet if just three Republicans lost to Democrats, the Senate would “flip… ending any hopes of pushing through laws without the backing of political opponents”. And Trump has yet to pass a “single piece of legislation”, having relied increasingly on executive orders to get anything done. He has high hopes for tax reform, but if he hasn’t scored a win by this time next year, his credibility as a deal-maker will be seriously damaged.

In the meantime, Trump is a walking disaster, says Cohen, eroding America’s principles and damaging its reputation. America’s word, which has underpinned global security for more than 70 years, is “a fast-devaluing currency”. America is based on a fundamental idea: that it is a nation of laws, laws that establish “checks and balances designed to safeguard our freedom and our democracy and our decency” – values we “carry out into the world”.

Divorced from these principles, “there is not much left”, including America’s claim to leadership. “To all of this, Trump seems oblivious.” If he buys into anything, it is “macho authoritarianism” of the kind espoused by strongmen such as his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. This cannot be “waved away”. Millions of Americans may see him as a “charlatan, a fraud and a serial liar” and “hold him unfit for office”, but to millions of others, his appeal endures. It “demands to be understood”.

It does, agrees Molly Kiniry in The Daily Telegraph. Trump won the 2016 election because the “angry and disillusioned found someone who sympathised with their struggles, who promised them solutions”. And if Trump fails to deliver on his promises and provide solutions that are truly revolutionary, I do not believe that those who voted for him will “recede into middle America and disengage”. “Now that they have realised that they can wield fire, they are unlikely to give it back to the gods.”

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