By Kumar David –
Trump: Idiosyncratic harum-scarum or cunning impostor? Testing the limits of American democracy
“Come fly with us to America while you are still allowed to”~ Actual advertisement by Royal Jordanian Airlines
This tongue in cheek spoof by Jordanian Airlines would be funny but that America has elected a “pinch me, this can’t be true” wacko to the Presidency. The other side of the matter is that the guy is cunning, a compromiser who at least on this issue turned tail when he saw the obstacles. His aides have said that the threat to suspend entry visas for Muslims is passé, no longer relevant, and would be taken down from the Trump website.
Likewise on Obamacare he seems to have turned tail and capitulated on “pre-existing aliments” and “children under 25 on parent’s policies”. He will not dare touch the 20 million newly covered people unless he wants the streets to ignite. By conceding these he has capitulated on the core medical elements of Obamacare, whatever disguise he employs to con his base. There will be changes to the institutional aspects (Health Insurance Exchanges) by 2019 but this was overdue and had to done, Clinton or Trump.
There is more on the cards if one believes that what his aides say reflects what the big bad wolf thinks. One of his aides explained that the Wall was not intended as a physical structure but a “conceptual reference” to tighter immigration and border controls. Another leak is that a message had been sent to Japan not to worry about defence and the nuclear umbrella; “it will be business as usual”. A third is a specific campaign promise on which I reckon Trump will not dare to go forward, his threat to deport non-criminal undocumented Mexicans including children born in the US. If his Gestapo goes after millions of Mexicans, some have lived and worked without papers for years, there will be blood on the sidewalk. Having taken his faithful for a ride he now hopes to fool the liberals and the educated by playing softly-softly. The ruse won’t work; demonstrations are spreading and so far show no sign of abating. Isn’t it the winning side that should take to carnivals and rallies?
Dig in or capitulate?
An interesting dichotomy is will Trump compromise and capitulate so much that he seems like a continuation the last eight years with cosmetic variations, or will he persist with a sufficient number of his idiosyncrasies to plunge America and the world into uncharted waters? Apart from the points on which I see signs of capitulation (Obamacare, no visas for Muslims, deporting Mexicans and backing-off on the threat to Japan) there are others to a keep an eye on. If we tick this list as we go along the answer should be evident by mid-2017. Here is the check-list:
- Erecting trade barriers against China, Mexico and “foreigners who are robbing us”.
- Revoking the “worst trade deal in history” NAFTA, with Mexico and Canada; ending the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP); calling off trade deal negotiations with the EU (TTIP).
- Annulling the multilateral nuclear arms elimination agreement with Iran forthwith.
- Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement within 100 days.
You won’t need to wait 100 days, it will be palpable a lot earlier whether Trump rocks the boat or chickens out when he sees he is constrained by reality. For example a trade war with China and Asia will hurt US consumers, set off turmoil in Mexico and evoke retaliation from others. This will tip the world into recession more quickly than 2018-19, the prediction of sober economists. A knock-on consequence of recession will be that the dollar will come under pressure as the medium of global payments and the repository of global savings. There will be hard-landings, as the economists say, all round.
Trump is so intemperate and ill-disciplined that having swung from ‘damn Obamacare’ to ‘retain chunks of Obamacare’ he is capable of a reverse somersault. It is ditto on other matters. Republicans have the presidency and control of both houses of Congress and, this is important, this is the most reactionary right-wing Republican caucus in 25 years. The muddle doesn’t end there; Trump is a Mussolini style populist, an outsider, a pariah in GOP elite the inner circles. Conflict between the political elite on one side, and on the other side populism and the coterie of buddies and family members he has chosen to pull the levers of power, will pan out. His imagination is vivid Mussolini-infrastructure grandiosity, the GOP soul is “small government and non-intervention economics”. Prosaic GOP and quixotic Donald will grate against one another. Jekyll and Hyde; Preibus and Brannon!
Trump’s economic populism is at odds with the GOP’s staple diet. He plans to invest $1 trillion in a pseudo-Keynesian splurge, eliminate an annual budget deficit of $1 trillion in a neoliberal gasp and cut taxes – 7.5% for everyman, 15%+ for the rich and the corporations – all at the same time. Incredibly he says he will also erase the government debt which stands at $ 19.8 trillion. He promises to push the GDP growth rate, now a miserable 1.5%, up to 5% by the end of his term. And what is the number of jobs he has promised to create? 25 million! And these absurd promises are pronounced at a time when the economy is likely to tumble into recession within 3 years. America is on the cusp of tumultuous times!
Never before has the victory in an American presidential candidate been greeted so icily by its closest allies. Angela Merkel congratulated him and said “I offer the new President close cooperation on the basis of these values” and lectured that these values are “democracy, freedom and racial equality”. Her choice of words and stern tone put Trump on notice. Jean-Claude Junker, EU Commission President was downright rude: “He is upsetting EU-US ties fundamentally and structurally; we need to teach him what Europe is and how it works; two years will be wasted while Trump tours a world that he does not understand”. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Trump not to “go it alone”. So the era of easy US-European consensus seems to have ended unless Trump backs off.
Those who cheered his victory and exulted in Hilary Clinton’s defeat included French far-right leader Marine Le Penn, Philippine maverick Rodrigo Duarte, British far-right anchor Nigel Farage the first foreign visitor greeted with open arms, and of course his buddy Putin. This is strange territory for the Republican Party and complicates its relationship with a president who is not a Republican at heart or by habit. Better relations with Russia is good but Putin will drive a hard bargain with hither and thither Tump – ease sanctions, pull back nuclear deployment and back-off on Crimea and Syria’s Assad, he will say. Actually America has little room for manoeuvre beyond realities that constrained Obama. My money is that the policy framework in place for Syria-Iraq, Iran Nuclear Deal, South China Sea and NATO will be retained. There will also an ugly turn towards supporting the far-right everywhere and some dictators.
The anti-Trump America
Up to now everybody has been talking about the alienation and anger of white workers and the frustration and neglect of swathes of rural America. Mark my words, in the coming years the centre of discourse will shift to the revolt of the educated, the liberals and the technology engendered new working classes. The wave of demonstrations sweeping NY, LA, SF, Denver, Austin TX, Miami, West Palm Beach, Portland, Columbus, Minneapolis, Madison and Milwaukee is an upsurge of revulsion. It is deeper than rejection of an unsavoury individual; it is ignition of a divide in American polity. This wave may peak on 20 January and taper off and quieten for a while. However the deeper dynamic is that we have entered an era of conflict between modernised America, not just the liberals, and Trump’s Administration, unless he backs-off from his trade mark threats and policies.
Nationwide protests give notice that a divided nation is arming for a long war. It is not impossible that there will be blood on the sidewalks if Trump prunes wages, welfare or benefits, or goes ahead with unpopular measures like an abortion ban, deporting Mexicans, or curbing imports causing prices to rise. Another Vietnam War- Civil Rights Movement era in campuses and cities may be the Trump legacy. A fringe group called for independence for California; an anachronistic absurdity. But what this does point to is that there are in reality two Americas in economic structure, educational attainment and intellectual ethos. I do not contest that Trump has been constitutionally elected; my point lies elsewhere. A fraction more votes were cast for Hilary than Trump, his bizarre policies rejected by the modernised half of society, and his moral right to lead spurned. Crucially this has happened in an election like no other. It is this extraordinary dynamic that is now playing itself out.