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‘Without precedent:’ Trump drama enters Act Two

US President Donald Trump meets with rapper Kanye West in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, October 11, 2018. PHOTO AFP

– Tear up the rules –

From day one, Trump’s playbook has been to tear up etiquette, disrupt, speak his mind even if it means offending, and never, ever apologize. Or, as he said in 2015, apologize in the “distant future, if I’m ever wrong.”

The turmoil began right at the inauguration with a weird row over Trump’s claim to have drawn a far bigger crowd than appeared in photographs.

From there, Trump never looked back, alternately sparring on Twitter with pornographic actress Stormy Daniels and lashing out against the Mueller “witch hunt,” or claiming that America faces “invasion” by Central American killers.

On the international stage, he got on famously with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and found an easy rapport with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, fueling chatter back in Washington about his marked sympathy for dictators and strongmen.

There was also a strong personal bond with China’s Xi Jinping, or there was until Trump unleashed a trade war he believes other presidents should have started years ago. “He may not be a friend of mine anymore,” Trump now says of Xi in his typically undiplomatic fashion.

America’s oldest allies, meanwhile, fared less well.

Trump left the Group of Seven shaken after angry exchanges with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and he sent alarm through Europe when he repeatedly attacked NATO as a dinosaur sucking up US resources.

And those interacting on a daily basis with Trump in Washington got the roughest ride of all.

“Dumb as a rock,” “Stupid,” “Horseface” and “lowlife” are just a few of the hundreds of jibes leveled at those around him or getting in his way while in office.

– ‘People need ego’ –

Americans can’t say they’re surprised, not when Trump boasted gleefully in mid-campaign that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

Although new to politics, he’s been a fixture in the country’s consciousness for decades.

First came the legend of his real estate prowess, a giddy tale of skyscrapers, private jets, ruthlessness and high living celebrated in the hit TV reality show “The Apprentice.”

Then came his “birther” obsession, claiming that Barack Obama was not born on US soil and therefore could not be a legal president. The relentless campaign — seen by many as thinly veiled racism — essentially got Trump’s foot in the presidential election door.

Whether the carefully tended image matched reality is an open question.

“Apprentice” participants now say that the cool, decisive tycoon portrayed by Trump on the show was largely a fiction created by editing.

Another pillar of the Trump mythology — his self-praising autobiographical book “The Art of the Deal” — was in fact penned by a ghost writer, Tony Schwartz.

Schwartz has since spoken regretfully about “the monster I helped to create.”

Even Trump’s much touted fortune may not be quite what it seems. According to a New York Times investigation, Trump is no self-made billionaire but rather the lucky benefactor of dodgy tax schemes and inherited money.

At the same time, there’s a remarkable consistency to Trump that neither the decades nor the presidency have changed.

Go back to the 1990 Playboy interview and you have a preview of today’s aggressive trade policies targeting everywhere from China to old allies in Europe and Japan.

“I’d throw a tax on every Mercedes-Benz rolling into this country and on all Japanese products, and we’d have wonderful allies again,” he said, at that point still a quarter century from becoming president.

His love of bragging hasn’t changed much either.

“Nothing wrong with ego,” he said. “People need ego, whole nations need ego. I think our country needs more.”

– Presidency changed forever? –

Trump’s easy ride in the first two years of his administration ended with Democratic victory in midterm congressional elections, meaning he now faces an opposition with teeth. That and the looming Russia probe report signal fierce battles to come.

Although Trump constantly dismisses the Mueller investigation as a “hoax,” it has already proved to be anything but, unearthing solid evidence of Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election and a multitude of contacts between Trump’s team and Russian representatives.

Trump may survive and get reelected, or not, but whatever his fate he has already left an outsized mark on the highest office in the land.

Back when a successful Trump presidential run still sounded like a joke, comedians used to speculate on him transforming the elegant White House into another gaudy, Trump-branded palace.

That hasn’t happened. But has the US presidency itself been permanently altered?

Allan Lichtman thinks not, saying “Trump has not shifted the goalposts forever.”

Or at least not yet.

“If Trump is reelected,” Lichtman says, “then all bets are off.”

 

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