Trump’s disaster week sets bleak pattern
My year of reporting on Donald Trump ended with a week of mayhem that perfectly encapsulated his approach to governing the United States.
Mr Trump walked away from an extravagant summit with one of the world's most repressive dictators empty-handed, despite his obsequious flattery of a man known to have ordered the murder of family members, silenced dissenters in brutal prison camps and tortured a US citizen.
To the President, a former reality star with a keen eye for television gold, this was the stuff of a "fantasy movie".
His biggest concern was that explosive testimony by his former "fixer" Michael Cohen in Washington could outshine his ratings-grabbing talks, calling them "duelling shows".
It was a farce that could not be more appropriate in summarising Mr Trump's presidency.
While Cohen denounced his former boss as a "racist", a "cheat" and a "conman", the President schmoozed with Kim Jong-un and decided he "did not believe he would have allowed" American student Otto Warmbier to be tortured to death.
This breathtaking denial of a shocking crime against humanity has been Mr Trump's modus operandi. He has repeatedly ignored the opinion of his intelligence agencies in favour of trusting - or appearing to trust - autocratic leaders.
He refused to believe Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could have masterminded the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He stood with Vladimir Putin when the Russian president was accused of meddling in the US 2016 elections, in order to assist his win.
In fact, business always comes first for Mr Trump. During his presidential campaign, the real estate billionaire was pursuing a potentially highly lucrative Trump Tower Moscow project.
Rather than aborting the plan to avoid accusations of a conflict of interest, Cohen claimed this week that Mr Trump forged ahead and later lied about the timings.
"He lied about it because he never expected to win the election," said Cohen. "He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project."
Yes, we have repeatedly heard that even Mr Trump did not believe he could really win the presidency. "The campaign - for him - was always a marketing opportunity," said Cohen. "Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great. He had no desire or intention to lead this nation - only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Mr Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the 'greatest infomercial in political history'."
In this way, Mr Trump really is the leader we deserve. We live in an age when we are all obsessed with our own image, our brand, with cultivating the appearance of the perfect life on social media or through our business achievements.
Wealth, status and attractiveness are the ultimate goals, and Mr Trump - with his halo of blonde hair and orangey foundation - is a parody of these fixations.
The Twitter king has spent his time in office blasting his critics in aggressive, capitalised messages littered with misspellings and inaccuracies. He has attacked investigations into his alleged crimes as "witch hunts", a phrase invoked by Israel's president Benjamin Netanyahu as he faced corruption charges this week.
As for making ethical choices, whether on immigration, the climate, or guns, that does not appear to be a concern. The President believes the American people are just like him. They love television, fast food, cheaper bills, lower taxes and quite simply, more money.
To an extent, he is right. Americans, like the rest of the world, want to live comfortable lives. Many appreciate Mr Trump's simple and straightforward conception of a complicated existence. They don't care about his alleged affairs, his dealings with Russia or his tone-deaf remarks. They believe all politicians are corrupt, and probably unpleasant narcissists - some just hide it better than others.
The 24-hour news cycle has encouraged non-stop debate, a steady stream of scandal and intrigue and wild controversies, forcing voters to take up uncompromising positions, devoid of nuance.
The negativity and hate driving public debate means the 2020 election will be a bitter battle beyond anything we have seen yet. And Mr Trump may yet win another term thanks to the rage that has infected US and global politics.
There are people who want something different. There are many who hate this shallow, selfish idea of life in America. They could not be more conscious - and embarrassed - of their position in the eyes of the world.
Mr Trump is the punchline, so the punchline is them. These are people who want a responsible, ethical leader, but need to find an individual who can bridge the stark divide between urban, liberal America and rural, conservative strongholds. It's never been more pronounced.
The question is whether the US can meet in the middle, can find a leader who calms the raging seas and steers the ship so disagreement can exist without a repeat of the "MAGA teen" storm, or the white supremacist Charlottesville rally that ended in violence and fatalities.
With mass shootings still ravaging the country, these really are life and death issues.