Not long to go now before the sky falls in. January 20th. Black Friday. Dies Irae, dies calamitatis. It's the day Donald Trump is due to be sworn in as 45th President of the United States, an event that fills millions in America and around the world with foreboding, if not despair. Has there ever been a leader of the free world who is regarded by the liberal consensus with such loathing and contempt?

These are the people who see him as nothing more than an oafish blowhard full of crude rhetoric, a political loudmouth given to reckless and feckless promises, a naive amateur in foreign affairs, with an unhealthy admiration for Russia's Vladimir Putin. What's more, they despise him as a self-confessed groper and fear him too as a potential threat to global stability.

The contrast with Barack Obama is glaring. Remember the universal excitement and optimism that greeted his entry to the White House? No doubts then. This was his country's first black president, a leader with charm, brains and charisma, a man who seemed reminiscent of JFK, offering real change, real progress and the opportunity to heal America's unhappy racial divide. His campaign slogan: 'Yes We Can!' inspired a sense of genuine hope, both at home and abroad.

Yet what's the verdict now, eight years on? Perhaps the lesson of all this is that we should never jump to conclusions about how any presidency will turn out.

Consider Obama's record, a disappointment from beginning to end, illustrating only too clearly the gap between rhetoric and reality, promise and performance.

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January 20th is the day Donald Trump will be sworn in as 44th President of the United States Getty Images

At home, his flamboyant promises have come to nothing. Under this president, America's national debt has almost doubled, from $10.6trn to nearly $20trn. Meanwhile, the real wages of ordinary workers have hardly risen at all, while the lucky few at the top of the pile have grown even richer. To make matters worse, manufacturing jobs have been vanishing at the rate of a million a year since 2011.

On top of all that, his flagship social reform, ObamaCare was introduced so clumsily that half of all Americans absolutely hate it. Instead of offering hope to millions of poor citizens who can't afford medical treatment, it is seen as an expensive, intrusive, overly bureaucratic scheme that mainly benefits the insurance companies.

In foreign affairs, the record is even more disappointing. Theodore Roosevelt's advice long ago was that America should speak softly and carry a big stick. But Mr Obama seems to make a habit of speaking loudly while carrying a feather duster. And his inspirational campaign slogan? That begins to sound like the squawk of a pantomime dame. 'Oh Yes We Can!' now invites the response: 'Oh No You Can't!'

He is perceived as so feeble and indecisive that Vladimir Putin feels able to bully his way with impunity around the Crimea, Ukraine and the Baltic states. In the Middle East, meanwhile, America has become irrelevant. Mr Obama has not only managed to alienate his country's most important Arab allies, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but has infuriated Israel by refusing to veto a UN resolution condemning that country, thereby turning his back on the only true democracy in the region.

And so American influence in the Middle East has collapsed. Today the power-brokers in that tragic part of the world are Russia and Iran. It is they who will decide the future of war-torn Syria, they who will determine the military balance of regional power. Mr Obama is nowhere to be seen. He failed to grasp the slim chance of democratic progress during the Arab Spring. He pulled troops out of Iraq far too early, creating a vacuum to be filled by the terrorists of Isis. He warned Syria's Bashar al-Assad not to use chemical weapons but did absolutely nothing when Assad ignored him.

Still, there's at least one great achievement of the Obama years, even if it was entirely inadvertent. His clodhopping intervention in Britain's Brexit debate succeeded only in giving a massive boost to the Leave campaign. So well done for that, Mr President!

Yet to recognise the many failings failings of the last eight years doesn't necessarily mean that you have to welcome the accession of Donald Trump. Were I an American citizen, I'd cheerfully have ploughed my way through a snowdrift for the pleasure of voting against him. But since his election victory he has been much less strident. He has picked a range of seriously impressive operators to serve in his Cabinet. Some of his observations – for example the need for America's allies to spend more on defence – are spot on.

So as inauguration day approaches, a somewhat heretical thought begins to stir. In spite of all the doubts, is it really beyond the bounds of possibility that the blustering, charmless Donald Trump might turn out to be a better president – perhaps even much better – than the plausible, professorial, smooth-talking but fatally weak Barack Obama?


Michael Toner is a former Fleet Street political editor and co-author of a series of Bluffers' Guides on Europe.