Monday, February 20, 2017
WASHINGTON: It is important to remember that although Donald Trump was the Republican nominee in the 2016 United States presidential election, in reality he is an independent billionaire who likes to act alone.
He demands absolute loyalty from those who depend on him.
Throughout his business career, Trump befriended politicians on both sides, including Bill and Hillary Clinton. He is emotional and picks personal fights easily.
In this year’s election, he took on the Republican Party’s machinery and defeated it in the primary campaign to snatch the nomination before winning the presidency against Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent.
Trump’s victory was made possible by a white middle-class backlash in rural America and a ceaseless right-wing campaign of vilification against President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and immigrants of Muslim and non-European heritage.
The acronym MMM (Mexican, Muslim, Misogyny) described the core of his campaign. Many leading Republicans dissociated themselves from Trump. But his tactics clearly worked, thus confirming deep-seated prejudices in parts of America.
Much is being made of the fact that the United States will have a Republican-controlled Senate, House of Representatives and the White House for the first time in more than 30 years. To what extent will there be unanimity between the executive and legislative branches after the initial period is by no means certain. Congress takes its constitutional responsibility in the system of checks-and-balances very seriously.
President Trump will face challenges from Capitol Hill and other quarters after he and the Republican-controlled Congress have reversed many of President Obama’s executive orders and begun moves to overturn legislative acts of the Obama presidency.
Senator Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton’s challenger in the Democratic primary campaign and a politician of substantial grassroots following, has already warned. Sanders said: “To the degree that Mr Trump pursues policies that improve the lives of working families, we will work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has threatened to see Trump in court if he tries to implement his policies which the organisation has called not simply un-American and wrong-headed, but unlawful and unconstitutional.
These include Trump’s proposals to forcibly deport about 11 million undocumented immigrants; ban on the entry of Muslims into the United States and heavy surveillance of those in the country; punish women who seek abortion; re-authorise torture, including waterboarding; and change libel laws and restrict freedom of expression.
These, the ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said, violate several amendments to the US Constitution. For instance, the First Amendment (free exercise of religion and freedom of speech), Fourth (protection against unreasonable searches and seizures), Fifth (protection against self-incrimination), Eighth (imposition of excessive bail, cruel and unusual punishment) and 14th (equal protection under the law).
Challenges to Trump will also come from ordinary citizens. Within hours of the election result becoming clear, anti-Trump demonstrations had erupted in towns and cities across America.
In the light of his pledges, President-elect Trump is going to have a big agenda. Reversing all of President Obama’s executive orders can be done immediately, but dealing with the consequences will require a lot more. If Trump attempts to start mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, many of them living in America in shockingly poor conditions, there will be court battles for years. Questions will arise about their children born in the United States, with citizenship rights. And there will be long court battles over access to abortion for women.
President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act gave insurance cover to an estimated 20 million American citizens and residents for the first time. Trump has pledged to repeal the law, but that pledge is vague. A hostile Congress, determined to erase the Obama legacy, has already made more than 50 unsuccessful attempts to repeal the law. The coming Trump administration may well succeed. But what will replace the Affordable Healthcare Plan? Failure to find an alternative would cause a social crisis affecting the poorest and most vulnerable sections of American society.
Trump’s promise to rebuild America’s infrastructure will cost an estimated one trillion dollars. The country’s national debt is nearly 20 trillion and Congress has many times blocked President Obama’s spending proposals, raising fiscal objections. How will President Trump manage to borrow more, cut taxes for relatively affluent people, and keep Congress happy, all at the same time? Trump says he is impatient to move quickly. Congress takes its own time.
Changes on the international scene will be dramatic, blunt and palpable. Trump is a climate change denier. He has promised to sweep away the Paris climate accord which came into effect only a few days ago; and Obama’s emission reduction policy, painstakingly put together during his presidency. Trump’s description of global warming as “bullshit” and a “Chinese-invented hoax” explains it all. Leading climate researchers say it may become impossible to stabilize planetary warming below dangerous levels.
Donald Trump’s recent comments on NATO, and his admiration for Vladimir Putin, have sent shock-waves throughout the Western alliance. Article 5 of the NATO treaty says that an attack on any member-state will be treated as an attack on the whole alliance, and will trigger an automatic collective response.
Trump has said that he would defend NATO member-states from invasion only if he deemed that they had “fulfilled their obligations to us”. In another remark, he went further, suggesting that NATO was obsolete, and he would not mind if the alliance broke up.
Trump wants to invest in building the US armed forces in his drive to make America great again. He would leave allies to fend for themselves. He has suggested that it would be fine if Japan and South Korea developed nuclear weapons to deter China and North Korea respectively. Such a policy would be a recipe for uncontrolled nuclear proliferation. Trump has also said that he and Vladimir Putin are stable mates; that “highly respected” Putin has done great things for his country; and he would get along fine with the Russian leader.
Beneath all the diplomatic niceties, worries in Britain and the rest of Europe are mounting, because Europe’s and Trump’s visions are at odds in crucial areas. Trump admires Putin and Russia, Europe fears them; he regards NATO as obsolete, Europe sees the organization as indispensable for defence; Trump is a climate change denier, Europe sees global warming as a threat; he is a protectionist who wants to “bring back jobs” from abroad, but Europe believes in international trade; Trump would impose heavy tariffs on Chinese imports and confront China, Europe wants free trade. The list of disagreements is long.
Successive British governments have laid emphasis, too much at times, on a “special relationship” with the United States. President-elect Donald Trump has just put that relationship in a more realistic context that ought to trigger a serious revaluation in London and in other European capitals. Only when had Trump spoken to 10 foreign leaders (those of Mexico, Ireland, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, India, Australia, Japan and South Korea) did he find time to take a congratulatory call from Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom.
Those who thought that Ronald Reagan’s and George W Bush’s presidencies were periods of great upheaval would be wise to brace themselves against much more in the coming Trump presidency.
(Deepak Tripathi is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. He is currently in the United States.)