The Tragedy of the Trump Presidency

An American businessman surveys the wreckage from Asia

By: Gregory Samson

The United States at one time offered an alternative vision to the thuggery that often passes for government in much of the world. And even if commitments to freedom and democracy for all were often tarnished or abandoned completely during episodes like the Iraq War and the Vietnam War, the example of a functioning global power that preserved its government through a system of checks and balances was an encouraging reality in Asia and elsewhere. There was a better place across the ocean.

The US effectively obliterated Japan and then helped to rebuild the country as a wealthy democratic force. Germany and in fact all of Europe also returned to health via the famed Marshall Plan under American tutelage after World War 2. In Vietnam, after decades of the blunders and terrors of war, Washington offered refugees a home and soon rebuilt diplomatic and trade ties with Hanoi, as it to apologize for what it had done. In US domestic politics, we could point to an inveterate crook like Richard Nixon who was ultimately undone by our system.

But after what happened in the US Senate this week, it feels as if the America that was once an example of something for others to aspire toward, is gone. A Republican majority has stopped an impeachment process that by any stretch of the imagination should have found him guilty of attempting to blackmail another country into helping him get dirt on a prospective US presidential election rival.

A crook, a thug, a liar, a misogynistic oaf and a man who uses the machinery of the state as his personal toy box has been set free to do as he pleases. Donald J. Trump and his plutocratic allies in the Senate have wrought havoc on a constitutional legacy that has survived countless stresses but remained more or less intact. Is Trump guilty? Even many of his defenders agree that he is and yet say it does not matter. What kind of example is that?

What would one say to those Filipinos who despair of the misdeeds in office of President Rodrigo Duterte? "Oh, we have one of those also. His base loves him." Is there any basis to discuss democracy with Thailand's military-backed royals? After getting all cozy with Vladimir Putin, does Trump have any moral edge over Xi Jinping's ruthless China? Don't look for help from the US, Hong Kong.

Trump and his craven friends have squandered whatever "soft power" edge the US once had in the world. In the process, they have wrecked 70 years of diplomatic and economic links with Asia and opened the door to China’s dominance of the region. Washington is now just another nasty kid in the world's sandbox, only better armed than the rest of the toddlers.

As an American, I am tired of trying to answer a question that I hear constantly: "What happened to your country?" Donald Trump, ignorance, corruption and lying happened. Just as it has in many countries where authoritarian manipulators achieve power. I fear Trumpism may not soon be undone by a system now controlled by leaders with no morals, followed by millions of Americans with no clue.

Decent people may yet be the majority in the US -- Trump is a minority president after all -- but it seems harder and harder to imagine that a better reality will prevail.