A political neophyte who launched his presidential campaign by railing against Mexican "rapists' and "murderers' was never supposed to win, especially against a seasoned stateswoman backed by her party's establishment. Add to that unthinkable episodes, like his mocking a disabled reporter or the revelation of the infamous "grab ‘em by the p***y" recording, and a continued refusal to divulge his tax history. In a normal campaign, any single such element would almost surely have derailed his White House ambitions.
Yes, exactly one year after Donald Trump's stunning victory, on Nov. 8, 2016, over Hillary Clinton, the world is still asking how it happened. Twelve months and 2,400 "sulfurous tweets' later — to borrow a term from the French daily Sud Ouest — the world now also seems to ask itself how the brash billionaire is still president of the United States. No toning things down, no acting "more presidential," as many expected or at least hoped: Trump clearly has no intention to abandon his divisive, campaign-mode approach.
For the president's countless detractors, the past year has felt like a lifetime.
That, note analysts from around the across globe, is his strategy, and he's sticking to it. "Donald Trump has never changed his method," writes Frédéric Autran from France's Libération. "The billionaire thrives in chaos. It has served him." Key to the approach, Autran adds, is never apologizing. That, and responding to every bit of criticism with a counter-attack, usually via Twitter — at an average rate of six per day, various news sources have pointed out.
Needless to say, Trump's Twitter tirades and other off-the-wall antics are highly polarizing. They're also counterproductive — at least according to conventional wisdom. The president's overall approval numbers continue to decline, calls for his impeachment grow louder by the day, and even would-be allies in Congress are at odds with the oddball leader who has struggled to to pass basic legislation despite having Republican majorities in both houses of the U.S. legislature.
And yet, none of that seems to really bother Mr. Trump. As Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics told the Spanish daily El País, the U.S. leader is sticking with the same "divide and conquer" approach he successfully employed in the campaign: "Trump has abandoned the presidential tradition of reconciling the American people."
Andrew Selee, a former executive vice president of The Mexico Institute, notes that the President is "both a symptom and a cause" of U.S. political polarization. "He didn't create the country's ideological and ethnic divisions," Selee writes in Mexican daily El Universal. "But he's continued feeding and deepening them with his postures and statements."
Critics can take some satisfaction in Trump's low approval ratings and obvious failures on the legislative front. But they should be wary of dismissing him off-hand, warn analysts like Oliver Georgi, politics editor with Frankfurter Allgemeine. He's still the president, after all, and his impact, be it through executive orders or as an instigator of deeper political polarization, is undeniable. Trump's adversaries tend to "underestimate" him to a fault, overlooking the fact, for example, that he did follow through on threats to remove the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change and undo parts of Obamacare, at least by executive order, Georgi notes.
"From Promises To Reality, One Year Of Trump" — Publico"s Nov. 8 front page
The boastful business mogul also has the benefit of a booming U.S. economy, as Maximilian Cellino of the Milan-based financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore points out. "Not only have Wall Street markets risen 20%, reaching record levels and defying the laws of gravity of financial markets, but also the drop in the dollar and perilous rise in bond yields that some predicted have not come to pass," Cellino writes.
The Italian writer is among those who argue that the U.S. economy would have fared well with or without the new president, thanks to a strengthening recovery in Europe and continued low interest rates. Still, Trump is more than happy to take credit for the boom. And to the degree that American voters are swayed by the state of their wallets, positive economic indicators could translate into pro-Trump votes in the next election cycle and beyond.
Not that there's any way Trump could be reelected.
For the president's countless detractors, the past year has felt like a lifetime. Little wonder that hundreds of people are planning to "howl" their frustrations today in Dallas, Texas.
Still, the world should plan for at least three more years for Trump to serve the rest of his first term. But four more years after that? Impossible. Impossible? John Zogby, founder of the U.S. polling firm Zogby Analytics told Chile's La Tercera, Trump's approval numbers — between 37% and 41% — aren't good. "And he never had his post-election honeymoon period," the pollster explained. "But so far he's kept his base. And given that no one else on the national scene has better numbers, Trump could in fact be re-elected."