Anyone following the saga cannot come away with the impressions that CNN's treatment of Donald J. Trump is but a deliberately determined single-minded dissection it is not going to retreat from, and that Trump himself has 'blood' of some sort on his hands. Dramatic though the setting, it repeatedly conjures an equally dramatic Shakespearean phrase from Macbeth. "Will all the great Neptune's ocean wash this blood/ Clean from my hand?" the isolated king bemoaned. There is no actual 'blood', of course, in the Trump context, but not even the most emphatic negative reply can wash off the biggest global news not grabbing ample headline coverage as yet: Trump irrevocably damaging the 'US brand' from inside his own bluff cocoon.
Currently at stake is the Trump administration's alleged 'collusion' with Russian agents to hijack the 2016 presidential election. In the wake of Robert Mueller's first indictments and associated resignations, given how all the unfolding counter-lawsuits and legal sidetracks will delay the final verdict for eons, scattered snippets predict an ugly ending. On the one hand, are CNN's persistent and ruthless analyses leaving a trail of the tiniest of details, and on the other, Trump is successfully dubbing these as 'fake' news to a sizable and gullible chunk of the voters, the so-called 'base'.
Nevertheless, addressing the puzzle whether this 'base' will remain steadfast until the November 2018 mid-term congressional election after Richard Gates, Paul John Manafort, Jr., and George Papadopoulos were placated, CNN did not find the 'base' wilting or weakening. Trump even expects those minutiae as strengthening the 'base' by turning mainstream voters off.
At a broader level, however, where the 'US brand' is only surfed over, not probed, this has been damaging, exposing how this 'devil is in the details' exercise can be very disruptive. In the first place, the souring of extant and routine divisions within the United States have reached a zero-sum, sine qua non trajectory, evident in the Charlottesville showdown and Puerto Rico hurricane relief disparagement, among others. The United States will need more than a combination of Cesar Chavez, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Gloria Steinem, among other civil-rights champions, to recover from the breaking socio-cultural fabric.
From another angle, whether this is 'collusion' or not, cozying up with the Russians, who were the deadliest adversaries of the United States in the entire 20th Century (in addition to being the longest), emits a message of slime and slipperiness directly challenging other loftier messages the United States has laboriously harnessed from the very beginning: 'In God we trust', 'land of the free and home of the brave', the 'Four Freedoms', the 'New World Order', and so forth. Though there are plenty of warts all over its practice, democracy nevertheless sprawls across a wider spectrum now than ever before, an accomplishment at ill amid such unsavoury practices, especially when associated with a democratic election. Contrast Hillary Clinton, the victim, who is a staunch symbol and supporter of the most core US values, against Vladimir Putin, the centre of Trump's adulation, who is nothing but a pygmy of a leader in any value-based discourse.
Dallying with dictators is not a Trump innovation. It was at the heart of the US Cold War alliance system, from Augusto Pinochet in Chile to Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, from the Shah of Iran to Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, from Park Chung-hee in South Korea to Ayub Khan in Pakistan, thence to Humberto de Alencar Castello Branco in Brazil, and Argentina's Jorge Rafael Videla. Many names on that list were angrily torn out of history pages by an incensed public, showing the bad company the United States was keeping. How they were prompted and prodded by US connivers may be less well known than how the rest of the world repeatedly excused the United States for some very shameful policy actions and intentions. Why they did so may be because of the occasional 'sunny' US appearances, as when John F. Kennedy strode to the Capitol podium on that cold January day in 1961, or Jimmy Carter raised human rights into a US vital interest, and George H.W. Bush put a 'New World Order' manifesto at the pedestal. These 'human beings matter' instances took a turn towards permanency with the emergence of the first post-World War II presidents, Bill Clinton, whose light-hearted demeanour was such as to outweigh his flaws (and impeachable ones, too), and Barrack Obama, whose lofty reaches almost always fell short, but not for a lack of effort.
Trump, as a person, undermined that, appearing as much of a misfit to be the president as, indeed, were Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, and George W. Bush. Even worse, with his 'base' representing one-third of US voters, the Cold War image of the United States as the 'ugly American' being both revived and institutionalised as a global image.
Ultimately the hallowed place where friendship lies has also been desecrated. From Canada to Mexico to West Europe, Trump has managed to pull the rug from beneath the friendliest of relations his country has cultivated. Its largest trading partner, Canada, faces unbelievably hostile policy posturing and official rhetoric from its southern neighbour across what the two countries made the world's longest open border over the better part of the 20th Century. That it must also open its doors to many more US residents/citizens fleeing Trump's 'America' is a reminder of a time when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's father, Pierre, adopted a 'third' option as prime minister to downsize Canada's ostensibly sole option, dependence on the United States only, throughout the 1970s.
Mexico must now brace with a more impregnable mental wall than the physical wall that began creeping up even before Trump's bashing began. Ironically, this is the very country wherefrom one-third of mainland US territory was seized, yet which today provides a bulk of the fastest-growing US minority (Hispanics overtook Afro-Americans as the largest US minority in 2005, and are on pace to represent one-third of the country's population by 2050). Until recently the second-largest US trading partner, Mexico, much like Canada, has begun structuring trans-Pacific trade to compensate for the fading 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement; and with a replacement population growth-rate increasingly sliding into negative territory, Mexico's inability to supply US farm hands and factory workers, as well as household staff and janitors, means US citizens and residents will have to do their own 'dirty' work for themselves, or recruit even more perceptually incompatible workers from overseas.
Even worse is the transatlantic relationship. Contempt was evident when Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Washington, President Emmanuel Macron speaks frequently against US policies, and even the original ebullience of Prime Minister Theresa May has ebbed appreciably.
In short, the United States stands more alone on the global stage and with fewer domestic policy mandates to stir the world than it did last century. There have appeared many occasions like this before, but the world always showed a softer side. That magic is fast evaporating. Trump alone stands responsible. Whatever the Mueller verdict, the sinking 'US brand' will bear its stamp.
Dr. Imtiaz A. Hussain is Professor & Head of the newly-built Department of Global Studies & Governance at Independent University, Bangladesh.