What next for Donald Trump?

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Trump easily avoided a guilty verdict in his Senate trial for abuse of power and obstruction of justice and, in the same week, was praised by Republicans for a State of the Union address in which he didn’t fall off the stage. Dr Martin Hirst reports.

IN THE END, only one Republican senator was able to summon up enough of an ethical conscience to vote “guilty” in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial before the U.S. Senate.

It was a “good week” for Trump on another front too — he got a good response to his State of the Union address despite a walk-out by a handful of critics and Speaker Nancy Pelosi tearing up a copy of his speech at the end. Trump immediately declared Pelosi’s actions “illegal”, but (no surprise) they’re not.

The “perfect” impeachment

Trump has been out doing a victory lap of sorts, claiming everything is still “perfect”, that he’s “done nothing wrong” and that those that sought to prosecute his impeachment are “horrible people”, “liars”, “dirty cops” and “evil”. He called the leadership of the FBI “the top scum” and typical Trump, he spewed out this trash talk while ostensibly leading Washington’s annual prayer breakfast.

He also (again) seemingly admitted to the charge of obstructing justice – the audience of loyal evangelicals simply cheered him on.

Had I not fired James Comey, it’s possible I wouldn’t even be standing here right now,” the president said at the outset of his remarks. The stunning statement appeared to admit, once again, that he removed Comey in order to obstruct the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. 

Trump also attacked the one Republican senator who didn’t vote for him. But, like Voldemort, his name could not be uttered.

It was Mitt Romney who broke ranks with his erstwhile colleagues who effectively voted to allow Donald Trump to do whatever it takes to win the presidential race in November. The problem is that at the moment nobody who has the power to do so is prepared to stop him.

Perhaps people have reason to worry. Within days of the impeachment vote, Trump was carrying out revenge hits on people who testified against him. Ambassador Gordon Sondliand was sacked and White House official Alex Vindman was marched out of his office along with his twin brother (who did not give evidence).

Criminal Don’s continuing crime spree

Trump may have dodged a guilty verdict thanks to the spineless Republicans in the Senate, but his legal troubles are far from over. We cannot ignore the litigation that Trump and many of his associates are deeply enmeshed in.

Some of these battles are political – aimed at stopping the President from carrying out potentially unconstitutional actions, or reversing his more vile executive decisions. However, some of them involve embarrassing civil or criminal actions that could derail his 2020 re-election campaign.

Other potential legal landmines in front of Trump include the House re-opening the Ukraine investigation with new testimony from former White House insider John Bolton. Bolton was a Trump favourite – until he wasn’t any longer – and he claims to have direct knowledge of Trump ordering the “quid pro quo deal over aid to Ukraine.

Trump is also facing court cases to do with what are known as ‘emoluments’ – in lay terms the president and his family profiting from his position. Trump’s Washington hotels and his many golf courses are raking in billions from foreign government leaders and officials keen to stay in his good books. According to Open Secrets.org, Trump entities have made more than $20 million from Republican-affiliated organisations alone.

The divided states of America

For Trump loyalists, the acquittal vote is a sign that their president has an almost god-like status. He retains support among gun-owning, evangelical rednecks and a certain Murdoch hack who earned a presidential retweet.

Trump is loved by Fox News and its satellites, but the polls tell a different story.

A poll that is generally favourable to Trump carries out a daily track of his approval and on Friday (7 Feb) it was right down the middle 49-49. That’s a long way up from the low approval rating of 35% in December 2017, but Trump has never reached the historical average for presidential approval of 53%.

A summary of polls carried out by the FiveThirtyEight number-crunching site has Trump at just under 44% approval and 52% disapproval  Trump also does very badly when people are asked to rate his truthfulness. A Reuters poll in February-April 2019 showed that only 26% of respondents believed he told the truth “always”, 31% “sometimes” and 43% “never”.

When it comes to polling about the 2020 presidential election, the situation is complicated because the Democrat nominee is not yet known, but in a bunch of head-to-head hypotheticals, the Democrat nominee generally beats Trump, but not in every state, and not every time.

Again, we must caution against a too optimistic interpretation of the polls. They were spectacularly wrong in 2016 and there’s a long way to go yet in the campaign.

Is Trump suffering from dementia?

Trump’s mental health has been a live public issue since before the election, but it came into focus with the publication of the book The dangerous case of Donald Trump in 2107, and a new edition, A clear and present danger in 2019. The basic argument from the 37 psychiatrists and psychologists who contributed was that Donald Trump had a malignant and narcissistic personality disorder which made him a functional sociopath.

However, in recent months, there has been a growing discussion – mainly on social media – that Trump may have a degenerative brain disease.

There have been a few times that the story has broken through into the mainstream media, including this piece in USA Today in April last year by John Gartner:

ƒusIf Donald Trump were your father, you would run, not walk, to a neurologist for an evaluation of his cognitive health. You don’t have to be a doctor to see something is very wrong. “He reminds me of Uncle Bruce in so many ways,” said my aunt, who nursed her brother through Alzheimer’s disease.

Other journalists have noticed his jerky movements, his poor posture and inability to walk in a straight line. Many have commented on his slurry speech, verbal tics and angry outbursts in public and behind closed doors.

There are Trump observers who say that his health is failing so badly that by the end of this year he is likely to be unable to walk or talk. Yes, it’s an extreme diagnosis but many medical professionals are speculating that Donald Trump is suffering from undiagnosed (or at least undisclosed) neurological disorder. The most educated guess: frontotemporal dementia (FD).

If you look at the list of symptoms outlined for FD, prepared by the Mayo Clinic, you will notice that many, if not all of them, apply to Trump’s erratic behaviour in recent months. One key sign is a verbal tic when the brain forgets the word or sentence that it is trying to form. Trump does this with increasing frequency.

Many doctors are suggesting that Trump needs a full neurological exam to test this theory, but his minders are not going to let that happen. They prefer to hide his medical condition under a patina of lies; like with his unscheduled visit to Walter Reed hospital in November 2019.

Whether Trump is going to flame out with dementia or not is the realm of speculation at the moment, but in more concrete terms, the United States of America is stuck with him until the election in November. If he is the Republican nominee, it is certainly possible he will be re-elected.

Judging by the vengeful, unrepentant, aggressive and arrogant Trump we’ve seen this week, that is a future that can only be contemplated with grim reluctance.

Dr Martin Hirst is a journalist, author and academic. You can follow him on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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