POST TIME: 7 September, 2018 00:00 00 AM
While Teflon Trump might cause grievance, the alternative is worse
Sholto Byrnes

While Teflon Trump might cause grievance, the alternative is worse

When Donald Trump was campaigning for the presidency, he promised that if elected, he would win so much that the American people might even tire of winning. Something he has certainly won at, and “bigly” (or “big league” – the precise adverb he habitually used has never been clear), is getting away with more than any US president in living memory.

His Teflon qualities became apparent during the campaign when, to widespread astonishment, the release of the Access Hollywood tape on which he was heard bragging that he could get away with sexually assaulting women failed to tank his candidacy.

Since then we have had “alternative facts”, a bewildering turnover of key White House staff, public fights with and puerile name-calling of, some of America’s most prominent former office holders as well as foreign leaders, a string of former Trump associates taking plea deals after legal investigations, accusations of obstruction of justice and lurid stories of bizarre and outrageous behaviour by the president and members of his circle.

“Fear and fury” has, to a certain extent, become normalised, not least because one cannot continue to be shocked when someone who is bound to shock lives up to expectations. The result is that the bar for what Mr Trump can do and still continue to occupy the Oval Office has been raised so high that the recent brushfire of suggestions that he might be impeached are completely wide of the mark.

Any other president would have had to resign if a fraction of the same allegations had come out, including breaking campaign finance laws.

Not, however, Mr Trump. The former reality TV star, the implausible contender who could never be elected president until he was, appears to be a cartoonish character, whose misdeeds belong in a parallel universe in which he could, as he once said: “Stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

This is partly because that sense of shame that would have reduced others to a state of mortified embarrassment appears to be completely lacking in Mr Trump. It’s also because many of his supporters recognise him as belonging to an entirely different class of leader, in which breaking the boundaries of what was previously thought acceptable carries no penalty.

As the Fox News commentator Dan Gainor put it: “Americans don’t want to impeach a president for something he might have done that they don’t care about and happened before he ever took office.”

The writer is a senior fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia