Thank You, Donald Trump! (And you too, Fox News)

Only Trump’s own fatal character flaw can guarantee his defeat
US President Donald Trump. PHOTO: MANDEL NGAN/AFP

"I've never seen a campaign more mis-calibrated than the Trump campaign. 

"They're on the wrong issues. They're on the wrong message. They've got their heads up their a**es. … Your damn job is to get your candidate to talk about things that are relevant to the people you need to reach. 

"(Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's son) Hunter Biden does not help put food on the table. Hunter Biden does not help anyone get a job. Hunter Biden does not provide health care or solve COVID. And Donald Trump spends all of his time focused on that and nobody cares." — Veteran Republican pollster Frank Luntz


I can't believe I'm actually thanking Donald Trump.

Yet honesty demands I give the devil its due—and to US President Donald Trump goes the credit of doing his bit to ensure that he will be a one-term president. Because come November 3, all signs suggest that's exactly what's going to happen.

I am not sure the American electorate was up to the task to give him the boot. It will take Trump's pigheaded stubbornness to guarantee his defeat. 

The last debate on October 22 with his Democratic opponent Joe Biden is a case in point. 

At that point in the US presidential race, there was pretty much unanimous agreement among analysts that Trump was the underdog. Biden had led him consistently in national and most battleground state polls.

The final debate was Trump's last chance to do reset the narrative of the race.  This was especially true after Trump's scandalous, loutish behaviour in the first debate, where he created history. The new debate restrictions of the Presidential Commission on Debates are the first instance I know anywhere in the world where moderators have been forced to threaten to mute mics. 

Today, Americans are terrified of a pandemic virus whose infection rate has spiked up again. With just four percent of the world's population, the US already has a quarter of the world's Covid-19 deaths. 

This was a golden opportunity for Trump. For once in his life, had he behaved with empathy, wisdom and determination, who knows what would have happened? 

But that's like asking a shark to be a vegan. Trump was his usual wacky, obnoxious self, going down rabbit holes into obscure conspiracy theories only true Fox News aficionados are familiar with. 

This is where Fox News deserves some credit—if you want to call it that. The opinion broadcasters of this cable network have become so outrageously pro-Trump that even their news department gets occasionally fed up. This network has created a separate, fevered information ecosystem where dubious right-wing conspiracy theories with tenuous links to reality are treated like the gospel truth. 

Trump, an avid consumer of this drivel, got it exactly wrong. Instead of reassuring voters about managing the pandemic, he made repeated references to obscure non-scandals regarding Biden's corruption. It just did not work. The viewers he desperately needed to court to change the dynamic of the election were mostly regular folks. All this conspiracy mumbo-jumbo left them clueless. You can't make a strong case to somebody who has no idea what you are talking about.

What a contrast with 2016. In that presidential campaign, Trump made the media dance to his tune. He used his tabloid carnival skills to extraordinary effect, essentially getting a free ride from the media as he thrashed Republican primary opponents sitting on mountains of cash, then vanquished Hillary Clinton and her formidable campaign juggernaut. 

However, it wasn't just low cunning alone that won Trump the White House in 2016. There was a kernel of truth in all his outrageous bluster. Trump recognised the deep grievance of white working-class people who have suffered decades of economic ruin as manufacturing has cratered and communities have fallen apart. He focused on this grievance and made promises that were more populist than Republican. He promised a massive infrastructure programme to create millions of jobs. He would raise taxes on the rich, and replace Obamacare with a terrific and beautiful health plan. 

None of this ever came to pass, of course. Infrastructure week became a standing joke throughout his administration, and for all his populist talk, he turned out to be a standard-issue Republican friend of the plutocrats.

Then Covid-19 happened. It is one of the strangest ironies of American politics that where much ballyhooed political giants like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former New York Senator Hillary Clinton failed, a tiny, invisible morsel of an organism proved to be his undoing. 

The novel coronavirus is impervious to all of Trump's bluster, obfuscation and badmouthing. In addition, the killer virus seems to have a macabre sense of timing. As Trump bloviated about how we've just turned the corner on the pandemic, Covid-19 cases spiked in the Midwest, and key figures in Vice President Mike Pence's staff tested positive. 

No matter. Trump continues to hold rallies with scant attention to health safeguards. While Trump basked in an orgy of hyperbole, lies and hate, news trickled in about the Covid-19 infections left in the wake of the rallies.

Even in hyperpolarised America, the dissonance between this awful reality and Trump's claims has begun to sink in. 

What's scary about all of this is that it took a combination of a global pandemic and Trump's mulishness to bring Trump to the brink of defeat. What's scarier is that even now it's not a sure thing. A substantial part of the Republican electorate continues to be under the thrall of Trump.

Trump, I have said before, is just a symptom of a dreadful malaise in the Republican Party. That deep malaise of the party is something we shall have to contend with even when Trump is gone.

The legal affairs blog Lawfare had once said that the singular characteristic of Trump was "malevolence tempered by incompetence." For four years we have lived with the horrible consequences of his malevolence; now, as the November 3 election looms, one hopes that his incompetence will provide him the coup de grace


Ashfaque Swapan is a contributing editor for Siliconeer, a digital daily for South Asians in the United States.


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