By Alistair Lyon
American voters have installed a thin-skinned, deeply ignorant, misogynistic bully with a disturbed, narcissistic personality in the White House. It is hard to overstate the magnitude of the risks for his country and the world, since not even he knows what he will do. He makes it up as he goes along, in Tweet after petulant Tweet.
At his inauguration, Trump portrayed himself as the only man who can clean up alleged “American carnage.” The absurd prayer intoned at the ceremony suggested that he was God’s chosen president.
But just as he spurns intelligence briefings, he is unlikely to feel a need for divine guidance.
He pledged allegiance to the U.S. Constitution but shows no respect for its values or the institutions it has produced. He has assaulted everyone’s grasp on reality. As the row over crowd numbers at his inauguration demonstrates, he defines this as whatever he says it is.
Welcome to the world of what his own camp has described as “alternative facts.”
This is worrying given that the new president holds the keys to nuclear Armageddon.
Trump has no time for international institutions based on cooperation, such as the United Nations, NATO or the European Union. Or for treaties negotiated by the United States and its partners on free trade, Iran’s nuclear program and climate change. He seems bent on undermining America’s previous global role and upsetting the order established after World War Two.
No one can be sure they will not feel the whiplash.
Of course the United States has always pursued its own interests. For decades it has propped up dictators, overthrown elected governments and invaded countries at will – in Iraq’s case, on entirely false pretexts. It has ignored or manipulated the United Nations. It has often trampled on its stated commitment to freedom, democracy and human rights.
Yet however tarnished its record, many countries, particularly during the Cold War, have looked to the United States to uphold those ideals. Others have prospered under the U.S. military umbrella.
Now Americans have a leader who speaks the naked language of power, just like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, a man he admires and who worked to promote his election victory. In Trump’s “America First” mindset, others will have to give way, pay or be punished, whether the scheming Chinese and Mexicans or the free-riding Japanese, South Koreans and Estonians.
Some foreign leaders still hope that having gained the Oval Office, Trump will quietly drop his rhetorical excesses and conform to certain standards of diplomacy and rational behavior. But he is not a normal politician, and such a personality overhaul seems unlikely.
Trump ran a campaign advocating protectionism and curbs on migration to bring back jobs to America. He would “drain the swamp” in Washington, but this self-proclaimed defender of the working man has filled his cabinet with the super-rich.
Sooner or later, Trump’s over-blown promises and off-the-cuff policies will run into trouble. He is not likely to reconsider them or doubt his own rectitude. He is more likely to seek scapegoats at home and abroad, as he has all along.
No one in America or the rest of the world can be sure they will not feel the whiplash. Some will be inclined to whip back.
Alistair Lyon is former Middle East diplomatic correspondent for Reuters. During three decades at the news agency he covered conflicts as well as political and economic news in the Middle East and beyond. He began in Lebanon and headed bureaus in Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan/Afghanistan and Egypt/Sudan. He spent five years in London as Middle East diplomatic correspondent and five in Beirut as special correspondent, Middle East.