Andrew Vine: Will car crash president Donald Trump put the US on a road to ruin?
That sense of unfolding catastrophe, the inevitability of wreckage, the scattering of debris – it has all been eerily reminiscent of the trajectory of Donald J Trump towards the White House.
Has there ever before been an incoming US president who appears so certainly doomed to ignominy by his own character flaws as this one?
Not even Richard Nixon, that byword for criminal dishonesty and deviousness in the world’s most powerful office, exhibited anything like the disturbing traits that Trump does.
The seeming petulance, vindictiveness, lack of judgement and boorishness of the man makes Friday’s inauguration a moment of trepidation when it should be one of optimism and hope.
Trump was always unfit for office. That much was plain from his election campaign that thrived on prejudice, lies, insults and sheer nastiness.
This was a candidate who went to great lengths – and expense – to try to stand up the ridiculous conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born a US citizen and was therefore ineligible for office.
Bad enough in itself, but everything that has happened since has only deepened misgivings about a Trump presidency.
The brief hope kindled in his election victory speech that he would abandon inflammatory rhetoric and seek to draw America together rather than aggravating its divisions was swiftly extinguished.
Barrages of angry tweets sent at all hours of the night saw to that. If it were not widely-known that Trump is teetotal, they could be the outbursts of a chippy drunk who has sunk a skinful and wants to vent his rage at the world.
But so much worse has followed. The likely hacking by Russia of the Democrats’ campaign, which gave Trump an unwitting advantage, undermines his credibility.
So do his noisy insults of the US intelligence agencies. Any national leader has to place trust in intelligence, and it is difficult now to see how Trump can develop a relationship with them that will help to safeguard his own country or the wider international community.
The lurid allegations about links to Russia may or may not be true. But the incoming president’s strangely conciliatory attitude to the aggressive and militaristic Vladimir Putin is cause for concern, as is his contempt for Nato.
Those who suggest that the Russian president has some sort of hold over Trump and could effectively blackmail him are probably venturing into the murky world of conspiracy theories.
Far more plausible to suggest that Trump sees in Putin an image of the leader he would like to be – the strong man beyond challenge and adored by masses of his countrymen.
Whether or not the Russian intelligence services really have anything on Trump hardly matters, because the damage has already been done.
The furore created by mere allegations, and the friction between him and the US intelligence community has been enough to leave the new President compromised and America looking weak.
Mud sticks. Throughout his time in office, the world will now wonder if there is any truth in what has been alleged.
An old KGB hand like Vladimir Putin knows the value of destabilising political opponents, and finding Donald Trump in office must seem like a dream come true.
That is because Trump hardly needs any outside help when it comes to undermining his own authority.
As if the charge sheet isn’t already long enough, wait for the conflicts of interest between Trump’s business interests around the world and the office of president.
It is inconceivable that he will not retain a controlling interest in his empire, however much he insists that he has no involvement, potentially demeaning the office of US President to the level of that in a fly-blown banana republic where the incumbent uses power to enrich himself.
Then there are the law suits – currently 75 pending against him, the claims including fraud, unpaid bills, libel, contract disputes and sexual discrimination.
How can he possibly claim any moral authority, or champion new laws, when he is being sued left, right and centre?
There hasn’t been a leader of a western democracy as sleazy as this since the repellent Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, with his slavering pursuit of women young enough to be his grand-daughters and dodgy business deals.
But the occupant of the Oval Office matters infinitely more to the democratic world than any Italian president ever could.
Trump isn’t just America’s problem. He’s a problem for the entire western world in an era of danger and uncertainty, all bluster and bombast when a calm and rational statesman is required.
It will be little short of amazing if he avoids either impeachment or being forced to resign before his four-year term is up.
Friday ought to be a new dawn. Instead it feels like night is about to fall.