JON SOPEL tells why he savoured every day of Trump's presidency

JON SOPEL tells why he savoured every day of Trump's presidency
JON SOPEL tells why he savoured every day of Trump's presidency

It was early March this year. The inauguration of Joe Biden had taken place a few weeks previously and on the streets of Georgetown, one of the power-hubs of Washington, I ran into a senior European diplomat I knew well. 

Very quickly I steered the conversation to the new administration. 'What's it like dealing with them?' I ventured.

'It's fantastic,' he told me. 'There is order, discipline, process and a chain of command again.'

'And what's the downside compared to the Trump administration?' I asked.

'There is order, discipline, process and a chain of command…'

The Trump years really were the Wild West. And as I step down, after seven years as the BBC's North America correspondent, I can't help but reflect on quite how drama-packed every day of his four years in office was. It was unlike anything I could have imagined.

When Trump held his first presidential news conference, he famously called me 'another beauty' because I had had the temerity to ask about the mayhem that ensued when he had tried to introduce his travel ban from mainly Muslim countries

When Trump held his first presidential news conference, he famously called me 'another beauty' because I had had the temerity to ask about the mayhem that ensued when he had tried to introduce his travel ban from mainly Muslim countries

In the early days I would find myself typing, almost hyperventilating, that today, this Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday… history was made when Donald Trump said/did/tweeted this or that. But by Friday I would have all but forgotten what those epoch-making moments were because we had been through so many others in the interim.

It was 1930s Berlin rolled up with the decadent end of the Roman Empire. Every day was a Bacchanalian orgy of stories, backbiting, sackings, leaks, fury and indignation. And chaos.

You could wander (literally) into the West Wing of the White House with the security pass I had been issued, run into various officials and before you knew it you had some juicy story to report. For journalists, it was like shooting fish in a barrel.

When Trump held his first presidential news conference, he famously called me 'another beauty' because I had had the temerity to ask about the mayhem that ensued when he had tried to introduce his travel ban from mainly Muslim countries. 

For diplomats who were reporting back to their nation's capitals, it was the best of times, too – churning out endless exciting telegrams.

For the diplomats and journalists, policy wonks and think-tankers who inhabit Washington DC's beau monde, life changed under Biden overnight from a daily fix of crack cocaine to a half of lemonade shandy once a week (if you're lucky)

For the diplomats and journalists, policy wonks and think-tankers who inhabit Washington DC's beau monde, life changed under Biden overnight from a daily fix of crack cocaine to a half of lemonade shandy once a week (if you're lucky)

OK, maybe not the best for our former ambassador, poor old Lord (Kim) Darroch, whose candid and supposedly confidential assessments of the Trump presidency were leaked to The Mail on Sunday, and The Donald bit back in inimitable style, leading to Kim being declared – in effect – persona non grata. 

Had anything like that ever happened before? No. But even that episode – colossal at the time – was, again, very quickly yesterday's fish-and-chips paper.

And so I found myself repeatedly looking at the thesaurus for words other than 'unique', 'extraordinary' and 'unprecedented'.

But now Biden has arrived. And along with him process, discipline and a chain of command came roaring back into fashion. And by that I mean, total dullsville. 

It's a reality I was reminded of last week with Trump back on our screens in his punchy interview with Nigel Farage for GB News.

For the diplomats and journalists, policy wonks and think-tankers who inhabit Washington DC's beau monde, life changed under Biden overnight from a daily fix of crack cocaine to a half of lemonade shandy once a week (if you're lucky).

Biden as a communicator has always seemed to follow the maxim of that great American writer Mark Twain: 'I'd have written you a short letter, but I didn't have time.' In other words, why use one word when a hundred will do.

He is slow and long-winded and while he always was to some extent, it seems even more exaggerated today.

To put it at its kindest, he is every bit of his 79 years. I was told the story of when he came over to London as Vice President to Barack Obama.

Nick Clegg – then deputy PM – was to take him to meet our National Security Council. Biden's people say he's able to stay 15 minutes. Over an hour later, Biden is still telling stories, and no one else has managed to get a word in edgeways – his staff are acting out eye-roll emojis. 

Indeed, to sit through a Biden speech is a test of your powers of concentration, as he fumbles his way through the text; with Trump you just knew he wasn't going to stick to the words on the printed page (if there were any).

I often look back on my time in the US and wonder what would have happened back in the spring of 2014, when I went for the job, if I had said to the chin-strokers sitting across the table from me at New Broadcasting House: 'I think Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States.'

I am sure there would have been muttered conversations about what to do with Sopel: the man has clearly lost it.

But there were three lightbulb moments for me as I travelled the length and breadth of this great country that convinced me Trump was an unbelievable force.

The first was at the beginning of August in 2015, and I was in Dallas, Texas. Trump – and remember we were still 15 months ahead of the presidential election – was speaking at a rally in the city. 

He had rented the American Airlines arena, capacity 20,000. It is more usually associated with the biggest basketball and ice-hockey games.

There were three lightbulb moments for me as I travelled the length and breadth of this great country that convinced me Trump was an unbelievable force

There were three lightbulb moments for me as I travelled the length and breadth of this great country that convinced me Trump was an unbelievable force

People queued for hours, in all manner of home-made costumes – it was stars and stripes galore.

Inside it was packed. Try to name any other politician who could get such a crowd well over a year out from an election. They loved him. They took him seriously but not literally. They knew he exaggerated, and told the odd fib. But they would laugh at him – and with him.

I then saw this play out across the US at any number of his rallies, people queuing in sub-zero temperatures or driving through

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