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From a ‘No Drama Obama’ to a Curser-in-Chief

While the Obama administration was far from scandal-free as insiders have been trying to portray it, it certainly did not devolve into spectacle. The next four years could more than compensate for that. If Trump keeps his campaign promises on his first day, and his first 100 days, that theatre will expand and the reviews won’t be very flattering

Donald Trump Presidency Updated: Jan 30, 2017 17:58 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Donald Trump

Gallery assistants pose, pretending to put the finishing touches to the hair and make-up of a waxwork of US President-elect Donald Trump, during a media event at Madame Tussauds in London.(Reuters)

Good morning and welcome to Trumpworld. The forecast is blustery with signs of storms brewing on the horizon and the possibility of golden showers. Here’s a prediction you can take to the bank, and if you don’t want to queue up, place this in your digital wallet — the next 48 months will be far from placid.

It may appear a lifetime, but Republican Donald Trump was elected president of the United States less than 75 days ago. Following that unexpected victory, Trump exhibited the kind of grace that no one could have predicted. He spoke well of the man he will succeed, Barack Obama, and even of the woman he bested, Hillary Clinton. That lull, though, lasted all of a week. Then he returned to regular programming.

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Over the past two months, Trump has been setting himself up to be America’s curser-in-chief. Just a cursory count of his Twitter tirades places the number of objects of his insults at over 40 in that short period, without taking into account his several allusions to the “dishonest media”. Among those have been Democratic Congressman and civil rights champion John Lewis; the director of Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan (“was this the leaker of Fake News?”); actor Meryl Streep (“Hillary flunky”); leader of the Democrats in the senate Chuck Schumer (“head clown”); rigged favourability polls and Saturday Night Live, the sketch television show. With his nuclear twitter trigger fingers and a penchant for launching misguided missiles, he will enter the Oval Office with an unrivalled record of 140-character assassination. So much for the transition.

This, of course, is just a preview of coming distractions. In the weeks ahead, there will be executive orders many annulling those signed by Obama. There will also be contentious confirmation hearings of his Cabinet nominees, including controversial choices like those for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson and attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

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That’s actually not unusual — in early 2009, one of Obama’s earliest backers in the primary process, former senator Tom Daschle, withdrew his nomination as health and human resources secretary as a matter related to unpaid taxes took its toll. Another nominee, Timothy Geithner, also had tax troubles, but was ultimately confirmed as treasury secretary. What will be different is that if a Trump pick gets panned, the president will go ballistic.

Over the last eight years, we have become accustomed to adult supervision in the White House. While many neutral critics, somewhat correctly, will not grade the Obama tenure particularly highly, what was evident was the courtesy with which charges were challenged. There was plenty for Obama to be chagrined over, beyond policy critiques. Questions were raised over his birth in Hawaii (“that Kenyan”), over his religion (“that Muslim”), and his ideology (“that communist”). These were personal assaults.

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However, he dealt with them in a manner that can fittingly be described as presidential. That calm may actually have won him the presidency. Those who recall the tumultuous days of the Wall Street meltdown and his opponent John McCain’s own knee-jerk reaction including threatening to withdraw from the first presidential debate of 2008, will remember that Obama’s composed demeanour was what was required in those days of disaster.

This again is a period of turmoil. Angst ruled 2016 among American voters and Trump was the winner of their discontent. Unlike Obama, though, Trump will pick at the scab rather than apply salve. That has been his political style and it has worked for him.

Read | Obama’s last day as US President: Bare walls, empty offices and a farewell call

While the Obama administration was far from scandal-free as insiders have been trying to portray it, it certainly did not devolve into spectacle. That’s a reason why the appellation “No Drama Obama” was deserved.

The next four years could more than compensate for that. If Trump keeps his campaign promises on his first day, and his first 100 days, that theatre will expand and the reviews won’t be very flattering. That, in itself, will add another ring to the circus, with Trump having every slight in his sights. And for that, he will have his cyber bully pulpit to stream his reality soap opera.

Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs

The views expressed are personal