POLITICS: HOW AMERICA WAS TRUMPED

On January 20, 2017 when Donald J. Trump took oath as the 45th President of the United States, the world looked on full of scepticism and pessimism about his future ambitions as the ruler of the superpower. One year down the road, Trump is widely held as a racist, hawkish and unpredictable leader who has consistently proved people’s doubts and suspicions correct.

Trump utilised his first year in office confronting his own Republican party members sitting in the House of Representatives and the Senate. He engaged in a constant tug of war with the media specifically over Muslim and immigrant bashing; he espoused an anti-environment rhetoric and expressed chagrin against Obamacare — a healthcare scheme to provide affordable health facilities to the poor and vulnerable sections. Instead, his tax cut proposals benefitted the rich, and American defence expenditures raised to 700 billion dollars were at the cost of social security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Foreign policy has not been Trump’s forte to put it mildly. In his inaugural speech he said: “For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidised the armies of other countries … and spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.” Within eight months after assuming office, however, in his policy speech on South Asia on August 22, 2017, Trump changed his mind about withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan. By proposing long-term US military commitment in Afghanistan and enhancing America’s defence budget, Trump negated his own commitment to the American people.

January 20 marks a year since Donald J. Trump assumed office as the 45th president of the United States. It has been a year of controversy, ridicule and American decline

With a debt of 0.1 trillion dollars owed by the US federal government and a defence budget of 700 billion dollars passed by the Senate, it is not possible for the Trump administration to spend adequate resources on modernisation of infrastructure. Unemployment and poverty were yet more civic issues that were dealt with abysmally. Middle and lower middle-class American voters who elected the multi-billionaire as their leader should have questioned why he would support them instead of benefitting those belonging to his class — which he did by presenting a 1.5 trillion dollars tax-cut plan for Congress.

A wave of resentment and discontent against the policies of the Trump administration prevails across the US. The widespread rejection by Americans for Trump continues and protest marches across America, particularly by women also indicate strong dislike for him. Amidst such a hostile background, Trump had to assert after taking oath: “I am the President.” In August last year, dozens of protests marches took place in Charlottesville, Virginia against the city’s plan to tear down Confederate monuments, particularly a statue of Confederate Gen Robert F. Lee. In one incident, a white supremacist drove his van into a counter-protesting crowd. President Trump’s lukewarm condemnation of the incident sparked widespread protests against his racist inclinations.

On the issue of tax cuts which is termed as reforming American economy, Trump is facing severe criticism. For instance, as mentioned in December 8, 2017 issue of The Guardian Weekly in its report entitled, “Tax cuts race through Senate” Senate Democratic Party leader Chuck Schumer laments that, “The Republicans have managed to take a bad bill and make it worse.” Mitch McConnell, the Republican Party leader in the Senate defended the tax bill, stating, “We have an opportunity now to make America more competitive, to keep jobs from being shipped offshore and to provide substantial relief to the middle class.”

In reality, with a trade deficit of 500 billion dollars in 2016, a federal debt of 20.1 trillion dollars, defence expenditures of 700 billion dollars and proposed tax cuts of 1.5 trillion dollars, Trump’s vow to bail out the middle-class and revitalise American economy by expanding exports is nowhere close to reality. Despite Trump’s resolve to bring back jobs and American offshore companies, no significant change has taken place in the US balance of payments. Balancing the budget, which was done in the second term of President Bill Clinton, is unthinkable during Trump’s era.

History reveals that fiscal deficit and defence expenditures have always sharply increased during Republican administrations. Trump is only perpetuating the antecendent which bodes to make the lives of an ordinary American miserable. Second, there is more negative than positive transformation of America as far as the world is concerned. Trump’s poor performance during his tour of Europe, the Middle East and East Asia made it clear that there is a serious image problem as far as Trump is concerned. His decision to shift the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem caused an international uproar as not only Arab-Muslim countries but also US allies in the West refused to endorse such a policy. With just one decision he deepened a sense of alienation and hostility prevailing in the Arab-Muslim world against the US. This month he brazenly declared African nations, Haiti as well as El Salvador as “s***holes”. The statement elicited formal reproach.

Despite Trump’s resolve to bring back jobs and American offshore companies, no significant change has taken place in the US balance of payments. Balancing the budget, which was done in the second term of President Bill Clinton, is unthinkable during Trump’s era.

Trump’s snub of British Prime Minister Theresa earlier in May while defending his anti-Muslim and far-right tweets telling the prime minister to deal with the threat of radical Islamic terrorism is another example of Trump’s deteriorating relations with US allies. He cancelled his visit to the UK in Februaury fearing mass protests and insisted he would visit only when he had gathered support.

Yet, despite Trump’s crude and offensive way of doing things, he will not be given a free hand by the US political and constitutional order. The American political system is based on checks and balances. Trump’s unpopularity will have an impact in mid-term elections due in November 2018. Already, the Democratic Party won the governor’s election in Virginia in November 2017 and the Senate seat in Alabama. Issues like erecting a wall along the Mexican-American border, ban on travel from six Islamic countries, anti-welfare steps like curtailing social security and health facilities may result in an electoral routing of the Republican Party in mid-term elections.

The vote in the UN General Assembly on December 21 against Trump’s decision to shift the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the threatening tone of Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, that countries voting against the US will be cut off from American aid is another evidence of Trump’s insanity as far as foreign policy is concerned. Earlier, out of the 15 members of the UN Security Council — 14 including American allies — had voted against Trump’s decision. Belligerency and hostile behaviour of the US President against countries unsupportive of his decision will further deepen anti-Americanism and isolation of the US at the international level. It is the height of meanness on the part of the Trump administration to threaten to cut-off American aid to countries voting against it. Such an insane approach has further exposed Trump’s unrealistic and irrational behaviour and is tantamount to blackmailing tactics against countries which had voted against his policy or who do not affirm his handling of foreign policy matters. Through such an act he is trying to give a message to the world that those who do not support his policy of shifting the capital to Jerusalem are against the US.

With his non-serious, unpredictable, insulting and aggressive behaviour that is counter-productive in the civilised world, the president of the US has made himself a veritable laughing stock, before world leaders as well as the people they lead. As pointed out in an editorial by Klaus Brinkbaumer in the German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel (May 19, 2017), “Donald Trump has transformed the United States into a laughing stock and he is a danger to the world. Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States. He does not possess the requisite intellect and does not understand the significance of the office he holds nor the tasks associated with it. He doesn’t read. He doesn’t bother to peruse important files and intelligence reports and knows little about the issues that he has identified as his priorities. His decisions are capricious and they are delivered in the form of tyrannical decrees.” Never in the modern history of the US, has there been a president who is so controversial and so disliked in his country and outside.

The only way the process of negative transformation under Trump can be reversed is by seeking change in the White House by congressional impeachment. This would require anti-Trump members of Congress belonging to the Republican Party seeking consensus with their Democratic counterparts on framing charges against Trump of misconduct, and alleged Russian involvement in 2016 American elections with Trump’s connivance. His re-election in November 2020 presidential elections would mean an end to the US as the world’s bastion of knowledge and power.

Trump’s rhetoric marred his inaugural speech after taking oath of office. For instance, he asserted, “January 20, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. … But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealised potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” But once in power, he failed to meet the great expectations of his vote bank: primarily the unemployed, high-school dropouts and disgruntled white population.

The writer is Meritorious Professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi.

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