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Watergate 2: Why is Trump Playing the Blame Game?

If nothing else, Trump’s presidency is excellent entertainment. We’ve had gaffes galore, bizarre appointments, unconstitutional decisions – and the administration isn’t even two months old. The only consistency thus far has been Trump’s consistent yet seemingly random attacks on famous people or establishments. ‘Fake news’ has been a thing now since the campaign trail (who remembers the ‘Clinton News Network’?) But he certainly hasn’t toned it down since entering the White House. Particularly since his unscheduled press briefing a couple of weeks back where he berated essentially all of the media, Trump has hit harder and harder on the press. He denied access to a later press conference to a whole host of centre/left-leaning media organisations, has refused to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner – he even managed to be criticised by Fox News. He has also accused Obama of tapping Trump Tower prior to the election, comparing it to Watergate and called the former President ‘a bad (or sick) guy’, although he has yet to provide any sort of evidence for this. So it is fair to say that Trump has been far from quiet since his inauguration. But the real question is why? What benefit does he at least believe he is earning from these outbursts?

The problem with this analysis of course is that it is often quite difficult to understand anything Donald Trump does, but we can try. Many critics of Trump may simply claim that it’s in his personality to be so erratic and abrasive, and perhaps we have never seen a Trump that has not acted like this but equally there may be a motive behind it. For example, all this posturing does a great deal to distract from his own failures. His travel ban, for example, was embarrassingly shot down in the Supreme Court, but the media mostly chooses to report on the often unfounded accusations made by the President rather than the political blunders of rather more importance. If this is why he is saying all these things, then it is arguably a good political tactic, as it is clearly somewhat effective at deflecting attention away from his failures. Furthermore, his core support will believe his claims, furthering the ‘us vs them’ mentality and strengthening the near cult-like belief in Trump that has developed. This will help to guarantee him some votes in slightly under four years time. However, it isn’t a perfect strategy – most Americans do not trust Trump according to polls, and his disapproval ratings are still hovering around 50% – well above his approval ratings. Furthermore, more recent statistics show that it is specifically his personality that is keeping the country unsure about his performance.

Other explanations are often less complimentary towards the President. I have already mentioned the belief that Trump can’t help himself with these outbursts – that this is just ‘who he is’ – but there are also other suggestions. One theory is that Trump just cannot stand criticism. Despite the fact that he has regularly stated that he is entirely okay with ‘fair’ criticism, evidence would suggest otherwise. The news organisations he refuses to admit to his press conferences were exclusively media outlets less inclined to praise him.

His argument that Obama and the former administration tapped Trump Towers honestly seems like a wild justification for him not winning in a landslide last November. More recently, his decision to not attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner can easily be painted as a decision to avoid public criticism, especially considering he does not have a good record at these dinners – he was famously mocked savagely by Seth Meyers while he was in attendance back in 2011. So ultimately, Trump’s constant talk and wild activity might just be him attempting to discredit criticism that has occurred and avoid further attacks.

So what does this mean for the future? Well, thus far he has shown no signs of stopping his offensive style. These actions are honestly quite embarrassing – can the leader of the Western world truly take no criticism? It is relatively harmless so long as he attacks domestic organisations who are not liable to unpredictable responses. There are much greater things to worry about in the modern world than the odd outburst. However, if Trump chooses to turn his ire to the international theatre, these outbursts may become more problematic. An ill-timed attack on a figure like Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping could have genuine diplomatic consequences – a foolish way to cause the country difficulty, considering how avoidable it is.

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