Why Donald Trump is the new Teflon president that America needs now

Michael Chugani says the US president’s steady approval ratings, despite the scandals surrounding him, show he is not only telling people what they want to hear but that his policies have merit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 September, 2018, 2:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 September, 2018, 2:36am

What does it take for some dirt, even a tiny speck, to stick to US President Donald Trump? His name is synonymous with all things decent people abhor – racism, bigotry, blatant lies, and sexism. Never mind sordid revelations of his past, what he has said and done as candidate and president would have sunk any other president. 

Bill Clinton went through hell to survive revelations of his affair with a White House intern. Trump didn’t suffer a single hair out of place from countless scandals that include hush money to lovers, his boast about groping women, and interference with an inquiry into possible election-campaign-related collusion with Russia.

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Wasn’t Ronald Reagan supposed to be the ultimate Teflon president? Trump has not only snatched that crown away, he wears it with a gloat. Scandals slide off him without a serious dent in his approval ratings. It defies logic.

A Harvard-Harris poll survey showed 86 per cent of Republicans support him. And 46 per cent of Americans still approve of his job performance even though the poll came after his former lawyer revealed Trump instructed him to pay a lover hush money.

An ABC/The Washington Post poll showed 53 per cent strongly disapproved of Trump’s job performance and almost half favoured impeachment. But a Rasmussen poll showed 48 per cent approved of Trump and 50 per cent disapproved.

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What matters is not which poll you believe but why Republicans are so loyal to Trump and why his overall ratings haven’t tanked despite his stained presidency. Is he a Hitler-like demagogue who can fool all Republicans all the time and half of all Americans as well?

Trump says things about race, hate, trade and immigrants in a language people can relate to

Yes, he’s the closest thing to a demagogue in American politics today. But it’s not so much Trump fooling the people. It’s the people wanting to believe him, even when he spews lies. Does this make them stupid? No. It just means Trump says things about race, hate, trade and immigrants in a language people can relate to.

Reagan was dubbed the “great communicator’ for a simple but eloquent speaking style that inspired Americans. Barack Obama won his first term by uniting voters weary of George W. Bush’s Middle East wars and economic recession.

Trump doesn’t even pretend to be a unifier. He divides and rules with pugnacious words and deeds that delight his base but nauseate half the country. He knew in 2016 it was the only way he could win.

Obama, whom I voted for, was what America needed to repair the damage done to the country’s international image under Bush. It’s hard to say this, but Trump, whom I didn’t vote for, is what America now needs.

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Obama was morally honest and governed through compromise. But his presidency saw the rise of the liberal left, a growing trade imbalance with China and allies, and a decline in America’s global edge.

This infuriated patriotic working-class white people who believed America should always be number one. Not only had they lost manufacturing jobs, they also saw China’s economic rise as a threat. Trump turned China into a bogeyman, attacked allies for not paying their fair share for defence and blamed Obama for the tide of illegal immigrants.

His attack-dog style thrills his base but grates on those who say he demeans the office he holds. Famed journalist Bob Woodward quoted White House sources in his latest book, Fear, as saying Trump has the mentality of a fifth grader.

Yet if you look beyond his crassness, you’ll see his policies have merit. China has gamed the system since it joined the World Trade Organisation. It has easy access to US markets but restricts its own, hence its huge trade surplus, which it uses to compete with the US.

America’s North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies admit to an over-reliance on the US for essential defence capabilities. South Korea now cosies up to the North yet expects US protection.

A large number of illegal immigrants enter the US from Mexico. That’s why the world is listening when Trump says that the US will be the global sucker no more.

Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host