Ignore the usual bleating about Trump having ‘lost control’ and not being ‘fit’ for the presidency following his attention-grabbing speech in Arizona. Trump has never been fit for the presidency, if we accept that ‘fitness’ for high office means anything at all. His political career has never really been controlled by anything other than wild ego. We all know this, but we sometimes pretend not to.
In fact, Trump’s speech in Arizona shows he is still aware of what makes his movement tick. His speech demonstrated a political nous that has been lacking of late — an awareness that a president needs supporters. In recent days, the Trump administration appears to have lost touch with the movement that put him in power. The slow ousting and then sacking of Steve Bannon, the torchbearer for American nationalism in the White House. The return of ‘mission creep’ in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, in defiance of his campaign pledges to not stop foreign entanglements. The failure to make much legislative progress on any of the issues he promised to address before becoming president, whether it be immigration or healthcare. Trump and Trumpism have been drifting apart.
Last night, however, like an errant husband who’s been misbehaving in Washington, Trump told his base in Arizona everything she wanted to hear. He promised, again, to build the wall even if it meant shutting democracy down to do so. He hinted that he might pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio – ‘I think he’s going to be just fine.’ Sheriff Joe has become something of a cause celebre among Arizonan border hawks, after he was sentenced to jail for defying a court order about racial profiling. Trump further accused the evil media of spreading lies about Charlottesville.
All the hits, in other words. It was the Trump campaign reunion tour, part 45. It was Trump signalling to Bannon, whose Breitbart website has been vigorously critical of his ‘neocon’ administration over the last week, especially towards National Security Adviser H R McMaster and the proposed troop escalation in Afghanistan, that he still knows how to hold a populist tune with or without him. And the funny thing is it carries on working. If Trump continues to rile the media, his fans stay loyal to him, no matter what he is doing or not doing in office. But how long can the act keep up? How long can Trump carry on doing nothing towards achieving his oft-repeated campaign vows before his fans just realise he is, like all the other politicians they so hate, deceiving them?