IT was as if a slogan generating machine had gone wrong and was spewing out any old nonsense. “TRANSITION TO GREATNESS” it burbled, followed by “THE REAWAKENING OF AMERICA”.

Then came a clue to the man who was behind the curtain cranking out the material: “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”.

Having tried out other campaign slogans for size on Twitter, the President of the US went back to where it all began.

It is an understandable impulse when nothing else seems to work. If there was a button marked “reset”, many millions of Americans might rush to press it. Erase the last four years, months, weeks, days, hours. Restore America’s factory settings, because something has gone catastrophically awry.

The duff sloganeering was not the worst offence the President committed on Twitter. By many a mile that title went to his musings on Martin Gugino, the 75-year-old who was shoved by police during a protest in Buffalo, New York, over the death of George Floyd.

Mr Gugino fell, cracking his head, and as his blood poured on to the pavement the police walked on by. The incident was captured on video. Two policeman have been charged.

The president’s take on this? Mr Gugino “could be” a hard left “provocateur” who was carrying a scanner to block out police communications (it was a phone). “I watched,” said Mr Trump. “he fell harder than he was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?”

Mr Gugino’s lawyer called this a “a dark, dangerous and untrue accusation”. If you wanted a response red hot with fury one could turn to Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York. He thought nothing the President might say on Twitter could surprise him any more. He was wrong. “How reckless,” he said of the Gugino accusation. “How irresponsible. How mean. How crude. If there was ever a reprehensible, dumb comment … and this from the President of the US.” Earlier, Mr Cuomo summed up the bewilderment of many when he asked simply, “How did we get to this place?”

Good question, depressing answers. The appalling treatment of African-Americans did not start with Mr Trump. Nor was he responsible for a virus that has cruelly laid bare the failings of the country, not least in healthcare, and the inequalities that persist.

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But as the President that famous buck has to stop with him. It would be a test of even the greatest American leader at any time. One can only wonder what a Johnson, or an FDR, would do. That it falls to Mr Trump to act, and in an election year, lays the ground for troubled times to come.

It has been a politically disastrous couple of weeks for the President. The events and images have been shocking. A man dying in the street at the hands of police. Peaceful protestors being tear-gassed and beaten so their commander-in-chief could walk from the White House and hold a bible aloft. A security fence erected in front of the White House, something that was not necessary during the worst civil unrest of the 1960s. Threatening to use soldiers against lawful protesters, and being castigated by a former Defence Secretary for doing so. Tales of a president fleeing to a White House bunker. All of it dreadful, much of it used against America by its opponents.

Even Mr Trump, a man who never met a setback he did not try to spin, has had trouble ignoring the plummeting poll ratings that have resulted. In a CNN poll published on Monday, 57% disapproved of his performance as president, with 38% approving. Those are the kind of numbers Jimmy Carter and fellow one term President George HW Bush racked up.

Overall, the incumbent is 14 points behind his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden. In what should be further cause for alarm, Mr Trump’s support among white voters without degrees is falling, and his problem with women has grown worse. In 2016 he was 14 points behind with women voters. A recent poll put him 25 points behind.

As ever with the defensive Mr Trump, his instinct is to go on the attack. That could signal more sackings, more likely it will mean getting back on the rally circuit, the place he feels comfortable and wanted.

His supporters argue the Black Lives Matter protests, which brought hundreds of thousands on to the streets, are a green light for the Trump rallies to restart. The president has suggested the first event could even be as soon as next week. This at a time when 113,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, and when the White House infectious diseases adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, has warned the pandemic “isn’t over yet”.

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Just when the US might benefit from devoting its considerable energies into tackling its policing and race relations crises, or even simply pausing for a period of reflection after a dreadful start to the year, the President will in effect be firing the starting gun in the race to the White House.

Judging by their advertising, both sides will be using the recent protests to boost their arguments. Mr Trump knows it worked for Richard Nixon in 1968, but he was not the incumbent. It is a tactic fraught with danger in as much as it risks fuelling further tension and division, the last thing the country needs.

We know from past experience the kind of candidate Mr Trump becomes when he fronts one of his rallies. Crowds chanting for Hillary Clinton to be locked up, the mocking of a disabled reporter, the harassment of the press; his rallies in the run up to the 2016 election set a sour tone for his presidency from the off. Who will be the scapegoats this time?

Mr Trump could do with some wise counsel at this point, but that looks in desperately short supply, not least from his own party. Too many Republican candidates are afraid to criticise Mr Trump lest his base turns against them. But as of now he has shown himself unwilling to listen to anyone else.

Whatever campaign slogan he settles on, Mr Trump will doubtless position himself as the man to save America. Who will save America from Mr Trump is the question his Republican colleagues should be asking themselves.

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