Trump hits the ground running
U.S. President Donald Trump got down to business after his inauguration on Jan. 20.
During his swearing-in ceremony, he heralded that the age of politicians who talk and complain a lot but never actually get anything done had gone. As if to prove his point, as soon as he set foot in the Oval Office, he made a quick start by signing a number of orders designed to win the hearts of the electorate. In so doing, he showed that he was – in his own estimation – a man of action.
Trump based his election campaign on a promise to destroy the legacy of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and his initial directives suggest that he will stay true to his word. The newcomer went first for Obama’s healthcare plan, known as Obamacare, abolishing penalties against institutions that do not fulfill their obligations as part of the insurance program, thereby making the project effectively dysfunctional. But because no insurance alternative to Obamacare has yet been presented, up to 20 million Americans are looking on in concern as to the fate of their insurance premiums and whether they will succeed in obtaining medicine.
Trump’s other first order of business was to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which he characteristically described as “another disaster done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country” during the campaign trail.
The TPP was to include 12 Asia-Pacific nations that together account for 40 percent of world trade. It would not only have ushered in the elimination of customs taxes and the free movement of goods, but also permitted the free movement of ideas by promoting digital freedom and internet.
Obama signed the treaty following long-running negotiations, but never managed to have it ratified by Congress.
The abolition of the treaty effectively means abandoning regional countries to the influence of China. Still, one has to admit that we are going through extremely interesting times. While the U.S., which has defended free trade since its inception, has begun embracing the language of economic nationalism, it was fascinating to watch Chinese President Xi Jinping describe economic protectionism as “seeking protection by imprisoning oneself in a dark room devoid of light or air” during the World Economic Forum in Davos. Emphasizing that no one will emerge victorious from a trade war, Xi issued a direct message to Trump – even if he didn’t mention him by name. Trump, however, has already contacted Canadian PM Justin Trudeau to discuss renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.
If we look more closely at Trump’s first business day, one can perceive his orders to cut funding for NGOs that support abortion and halt hires at all federal institutions – apart from the army – as a nod to religious and conservative Republican voters, as well as fellow GOP voters who defend the principles of “low taxes, low public expenditures and small government” in the economy.
Like us, the rest of the world is attempting to deduce Trump’s priorities and aims now that he has come to power, with global leaders trying to schedule visits with Trump to get the lay of the land.
It’s still early, but it’s possible to say that we will witness an administration that champions economic protectionism, focuses on internal political priorities and avoids unnecessary adventures in foreign policy. At the same time, the fact that every administration takes some time to adapt means that there could be a number of missteps during this transition. And with Trump known for his impulsive nature, his seemingly insatiable appetite for Twitter could produce diplomatic crises before long.
The ultimate direction of U.S. foreign policy under Trump will also depend on how much of a balance is formed during the confirmation process for his cabinet.
So far, only Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have been confirmed. Alongside Mattis, however, the figures that are expected to shape foreign policy, such as National Defense Adviser Michael Flynn and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, favor different approaches on important foreign policy issues like Russia, China and NATO. This situation could provide a positive sign that there will be a balance within the administration.
In fact, the lack of any step to announce the transfer of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in spite of speculation that Trump would do so in a telephone call with Israel’s PM might indicate that this balancing mechanism is already active.
Let’s wait and see: Will Trump be able to stay true to his word? Most importantly, which mutually contradictory promise is going to come first? And while we’re busy waiting for all this, the new president, a man who categorically can’t take criticism, is forcing “alternative facts” – a charitable way of describing lies – upon the land of freedom while picking a fight with the press.
He’s certainly going to test the strength of U.S. institutions in a number of ways over the next four years.