Any hopes that the US political system would be able to work around a destructive president look foolish now. Expect more direct confrontations in the new year
At first sight, Donald Trump’s presidency might seem to prove that, in the end, people can get used to anything. Mr Trump’s election two years ago was an enormous shock to the American system. Soon, however, many persuaded themselves that the system would find ways of working around the Trump threat. There was much talk of “adults in the room” in the administration who would protect American values, interests and alliances from the interloper. On Wall Street, financial markets took a similar bet. However reckless the president, they concluded, he would not be permitted to make policy that would affect share prices and corporate profits.
Two years on, it is clearer than before that this was a complacent view. In the Trump White House, the once vaunted grownups, some of them from the military, have all been shown the door – most recently the defence secretary, James Mattis, who quit this month over the president’s unilateral decision to withdraw US troops from Syria. Now, it has become clear that the markets also called it wrong about Mr Trump. For days the White House has attacked the Federal Reserve over interest rates, and then, when the markets plunged, has rushed to reassure them that the Fed chairman, Jerome Powell, is safe in his job. The mayhem went on on Thursday. There was a 1,000-point recovery on Wall Street on Wednesday after a 600-plus point fall in the Dow Jones index on Christmas Eve. But the index is still down more than 3,000 points this month amid the continuing confusion.