Comment in the Swedish daily Expressen, April 29, 2017


After a hundred days, President Donald Trump has accomplished a lot. Not by making anything, or getting anything done (rather a record of not getting anything done) but by undermining some of the foundations of American democracy. The authority of the Presidency has been gambled away on a faint twitter account for the nightly production of alternative facts and shameless lies. The President’s oval office has been remade into a TV-studio for the making of the daily reality show, "The President signs another historic document to make America great again", against a interchangeable backdrop of constantly smiling and applauding yes-men (and an occasional woman) - like in any banana republic. The independence and the disinterestedness of the office of the President he has without a moment’s hesitation sacrificed to Mammon, or more precisely to the ability of the Trump family to enrich itself by using the power of government to promote its private businesses – like in any banana republic.

No former American president has so shamelessly transgressed so many ethical barriers against the conflation of public power with private.

Many of the barriers have, in fact, seemed so obvious that they have remained unwritten, since the Founding Fathers were not able to imagine that a person who had so openly flagged such contempt for the integrity and impartiality of the Presidency could ever be elected President. The worst they could imagine, and thus thought should merit a clause in the Constitution, was the receipt of undue paybacks and gifts from foreign heads of state.

What they could not imagine was a president who would use the power of the presidency to give paybacks and gifts to himself and his family, who would turn the White House into a display window for the family’s brands and business empires and who would nominate as his most trusted advisors close family members with intimate business ties to himself. As in any banana republic.

Donald Trump’s presidential court for meetings with foreign heads of state has now relocated to his own private golf resort in Florida, Mar-a-Lago, where the astronomical fees for membership go straight in his pocket while the astronomical costs of moving his court back and forth must be borne by the US taxpayers.

No, such a thing the American founding fathers could not imagine.

Nor that an American president would display such open contempt for the two other pillars of US democracy, Congress and the Judiciary. The federal judge who first declared as unconstitutional Trump's travel ban was derided as a "so-called judge" and the court ‘s decision was dismissed as "ridiculous". The Congress, now completely dominated by his own party but as yet unable and unwilling to abide by his every whim and demand, he has mocked and castigated.

With relentless recklessness, Donald Trump has devoted his first hundred days to seriously vilifying and harassing what in the United States is commonly referred to as the Fourth Estate, i.e. the press, the media, the publishers, accompanied by libellous attacks on named media companies and journalists. At the same time, he has managed to strike a tone of injury and self-pity, as if the President of the United States, a multi-billionaire and the most powerful politician in the world, is the weak and vulnerable party, while the low-life publicists, “the most dishonest people on Earth” are the strong and almighty.

To the extent that Americans were previously inclined to distrust the institutions of American democracy, they have in Donald Trump elected a president who during his first hundred days has worked hard at undermining and weakening all of them. Those who had calculated that the brutality of the Trump election campaign would be tempered by the encounter with “political reality”, had done the wrong calculation. The alternative reality of Donald Trump just moved into the White House, and his hired spokesman could immediately announce that the sun was shining on the president's inauguration, although on everyone who happened to be there it actually rained.

During his first hundred days, Donald Trump has managed to aggravate his country's relations with its largest neighbour, Mexico, its main ally NATO and its main trading partners, China and the EU. He has elevated impulsiveness and unpredictability to strategy in Syria and North Korea, and he has for the foreseeable future poisoned the relationship with Russia by giving cause for crime suspicions and congressional investigations of undue interactions between the Trump Campaign and the hackers and agents of Vladimir Putin. [This was written before the sacking of FBI-director James Comey].

The most discouraging in all this, however, are the many spines that Donald Trump has managed to bend after his access to power. Leading Republicans who before the election did not hesitate to express their disgust at Trump's behaviour and statements, turned into spineless sycophants as soon as it became clear Trump had won, bending over backward to ingratiate themselves with the new Emperor. They all must clearly see that the Emperor is both naked and mad, but few leading Republicans have so far been brave enough to say so. And the longer Trump remains in power, the greater the risk that people will getused to the blatant lying, the authoritarian recklessness and the mind-boggling corruption, and what only recently was unthinkable will become the normal.  

The question is: How long can this last? How much damage will Donald Trump be able to do to the institutions of American democracy? How lasting will the damages be?

I believe that Congress and the Judiciary eventually will be able to muster the necessary constitutional counter-weight to the Trump presidency. I also believe that “political reality” will strike back at Trump’s most extreme and freakish (and plain dangerous) ideas and suggestions. The American society is too large and too diverse and too decentralized to be bullied into obedience by a never so authoritarian president in Washington DC.

This does not diminish the fact that Donald Trump during his first hundred days has demonstrated how fast the political climate of a democratic society can be poisoned, and I fear that the poisonous effects will be felt long after Donald Trump, in one way or another, has been made to leave the White House.