Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots?

After the outcome of the US presidential election, media pundits fell over themselves to debate whether Mr Nasty had miraculously turned into Mr Statesman.

The full text of Donal Trump’s acceptance speech, like a Christmas pudding stuffed with thanks to anyone and everyone who might conceivably be of use to him in the near future, is worth returning to in four years’ time to see which promises have been kept and which reneged upon. Of course, it is a speech-writer’s text, a PR exercise intended to assuage all those whose toes Trump has not merely trodden on but stamped into the dirt over the past two years.

So it’s worth recalling what two leading newspapers were saying just before and just after Trump succeeded in pulling the wool over so many people’s eyes.

The Guardian view on America’s choice: Don’t vote for Trump. Elect Clinton” (7 November 2016) said unambiguously:

“Mr Trump is not a fit and proper person for the presidency. He is an irascible egomaniac. He is uninterested in the world. He has fought a campaign of abuse and nastiness, riddled with racism and misogyny. He offers slogans, not a programme. He propagates lies, ignorance and prejudice. He brings no sensibility to the contest except boundless self-admiration. He panders to everything that is worst in human nature and spurns all that is best.

First, it would mean a right-wing president governing with a right-wing Congress. Mr Trump and the Republican establishment have many differences, but they would find no difficulty cutting taxes for the richest or sparking an aggressive trade war with former partners. They would ensure, as a priority, that the conservative majority is restored on the Supreme Court.

Second, Mr Trump’s election would be, and would be seen as, a victory for white America over African, Hispanic, Asian and other American ethnic groups… Race remains America’s deep foundation sin, and Mr Trump will deepen it.

Finally, electing Mr Trump will make the world an even less safe place. It will threaten US commitment to international institutions, including the UN, and support for international norms. It will contribute to instability and set back efforts to solve environmental problems. It will encourage autocratic leaders in places like Russia, China, Turkey, North Korea and elsewhere.”

That’s the outsider’s point of view. For an insider’s, the damning words of the New York Times editorial “Donald Trump’s Revolt” (9 November 2016):

“We know Mr. Trump is the most unprepared president-elect in modern history. We know that by words and actions, he has shown himself to be temperamentally unfit to lead a diverse nation of 320 million people. We know he has threatened to prosecute and jail his political opponents, and he has said he would curtail the freedom of the press. We know he lies without compunction.

He has said he intends to cut taxes for the wealthy and to withdraw the health care protection of the Affordable Care Act from tens of millions of Americans. He has insulted women and threatened Muslims and immigrants, and he has recruited as his allies a dark combination of racists, white supremacists and anti-Semites.

When Mr. Trump has looked beyond our borders, he has said that he would tear up the agreement to prevent Iran from building nuclear arms and that he would do away with the North American Free Trade Agreement. He has said that he would repudiate last December’s Paris agreement on climate change, thereby abandoning America’s leadership role in addressing the biggest long-term threat to humanity. He has also threatened to abandon NATO allies and start a trade war with China.”

And yet the arcane workings of a flawed democratic system ended up placing Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in the White House. As Winston Churchill wryly noted in a speech to the British House of Commons on 11 November 1947, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” In this case, that’s no excuse.

The rest of the quotation from the Bible (Jeremiah 13:23 in its New International Version) often goes unnoticed. As far as Donald Trump is concerned, it’s a dire warning: “Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”

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