What a ride!


US President Donald Trump has put on display for the American public and the world at large, a dizzying array of policy reversals and utterances. Where and when will this roller-coaster ride stop? asks Dr. P.M. Kamath.

US President Donald Trump completed 100 days in the White House on 30 April 2017. To mark the day he gave a speech in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – a swing state that helped him to get the presidency. In the post-World War II period, Trump is a unique man in the White House with absolutely no political experience as a senator, a governor or even as a city councillor.

Most winning candidates know when electioneering ends and effective governance begins. But not Donald Trump, whose speech was in ‘campaign style’. He continued his vicious attacks on media calling them ‘incompetent and dishonest.’ His contempt for the media is such that he chose not to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington, DC., giving Hasan Minhaj, an Indian-American stand-up comedian an opportunity to make fun of the President and at the same time laud American commitment to the freedom of speech!

Successes claimed
In his speech, President Trump claimed a few successes in the foreign policy and domestic policy areas in his brief period of administration. He had angered China, by talking to Taiwan’s President. (China is irrationally sensitive on the issue – irrationally, because though it has trade, economic and investment interests in Taiwan and the latter has also invested in mainland China, it objects to any other nation keeping in touch with Taiwan, particularly the US.)After taking an assertive stand against China and accusing it of manipulating currency, self-interest made Trump reverse his stand and publicly commit to One China policy. He found soon after his ascending to the Presidency, that China had stopped manipulating Yuan’s value to enable it to compete with the US goods, which he had accused China of doing during the campaigns! Trump invited Xi Jinping for a summit meeting on April 6-7 at his Florida golfing resort, Mar-a-Lago where he hailed the US-China bilateral relationship. Trump then went on to claim how he has successfully handled, North Korea, another serious security threat, with the help of China. Trump offered an anti-missile system to South Korea and after it became operational, also offered to meet North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un.

He has translated his campaign promise to keep all American jobs for Americans, under his slogan ‘America First’. After assuming office, he imposed a tax on companies shifting jobs outside the US. H1B visa restrictions affect the Indians most because allegedly, Indian companies based in the US hire work force from India at a lower salary, instead of hiring Americans.

Tried and failed
Trump, the candidate was very critical of Muslims. Just seven days into the office, on 27 January, he issued an Executive Order debarring travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days, all refugees for 120 days, except civil-war torn Syrians, who are debarred indefinitely. Trump had defended his order as necessary to protect the US from Islamist militants. Ironically, while banning nine Muslim countries for safety from imaginary terrorism, he missed out Pakistan, which more than one American President in the past has considered as the epicentre of global terrorism; its hand was there in the failed WTC attack in 1993, and later in the 9/11 attacks. Trump’s Executive Order was challenged in a lower court on the ground that it discriminated the seekers of US visa on the ground of religion. Two days later, a three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of appeals upheld the lower court order. Trump has held a threat to move the Supreme Court.

Yet to be tried
There were other promises he made during the campaign one of which was to abrogate NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) between the US, Canada and Mexico. Now, it is reported by Trump himself that the Canadian PM has mooted a proposal to renegotiate it, which he has agreed. He was committed to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Treaty. Trump blamed China, Russia and India stating that these countries stand to gain everything, without contributing to the promotion of it. But now reports are that within his administration there are pro and anti- treaty groups, and a decision might be taken in the G7 summit on May 26-27. He had also spoken about making Europeans pay for NATO protection.

During the campaign he had come up with a most preposterous proposal of building a border wall between Mexico and the US to prevent illegal immigration from that country; and he said he would make the Mexican government pay the cost. However, studies have revealed that there has been a considerable decline in illegal immigration from Mexico.

However, the question looming large is: Is it ever possible to reverse the globalised economy into a nationalised economy with American protectionism as a dominant philosophic impulse? President Trump is without any political philosophy; the only philosophy he seems to have is ‘maximise profit and minimise losses!’, as is evident in his China policy. As The Economist pointed out in its special report recently, China used Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner with Chinese business links, for Alibaba (an e-commerce giant) to announce China’s intention to create one million jobs in the US; the Chinese also cleared long-pending Trump’s applications to protect trademarks which were suddenly granted! This has gone a long way to make China a ‘friend!’

During the campaign period he appeared as a small time Chanakya or Machiavelli – small time, because he had not shown a Nixonian geopolitical sense or a global vision. The Trump presidency has been utterly unpredictable so far. He called District judge James Robert of Seattle, as a “so-called judge.” He called Hawaii District judge’s decision setting aside his banning Muslims’ entry into the US “terrible.” Hence, I have conferred the title of ‘The Terrible’ on Trump. It is not meant in the sense of Ivan the Terrible, the 16th century Russian Tsar who transformed Russia from being a medieval state to an empire. However, Ivan had a complex personality, given to instant rage. He killed in rage his son who was intelligent; thus accidentally making it easier for his incompetent son to succeed him. Trump of course will not resort to killings, but will certainly sack high-placed officials in a hope to protect his reputation as the President of the US. He has already sacked five of them, the fifth and latest being James Comey, the FBI Director who initially helped him to get elected!

So what future does Trump ensure? Having shown to his blue collar and middle class supporters that he has implemented all promises made during the campaign period and later, he will take a big U Turn on most of the policies with the exception of 15 percent tax cut to rich, before the second year begins. His alibi will be that all his international interlocutors, multinational corporations and domestic companies have accepted his policy directions making America numerouno in world politics!

His current public rating is as low as 36. If he can still mesmerise his voters with the help of Russian President he may win a second term or go down in the history text books as another one-term President, like Jimmy Carter or George T. W. Bush!


Dr. Kamath

Dr. Kamath was a former Professor of Politics in Mumbai University, where he taught among other subjects, American Government & Politics, and American Foreign Policy. Currently, he is Chairman and Hon. Director, VPM’s Centre for International Studies Regd.), which is affiliated to the Mumbai University.