18 October 2018

Thursday, 11:50



A billionaire swept into power accidentally, or a leader taking the power in good time?



Exactly a year ago, on November 9, 2016, billionaire Donald Trump surprised the world by defeating Hillary Clinton, an experienced and extremely self-confident politician and presidential candidate. Despite millions of votes cast for the incumbent head of the White House, he still faces serious allegations of sexism, nationalism, anti-globalism, migrantophobia (especially regarding the migrants from Mexico) and so on. During 365 days of his tenure, the list of claims against Mr. Trump expanded making him the most unpopular president in American history. According to a CNN survey conducted by SSRS, only 36% of respondents are satisfied with president Trump, and almost 60% of citizens do not approve of his activities.

In fact, many prestigious American media are waging an undisguised war against their president, counting the days before Trump's departure from the Oval Office.


Different presidents, same agenda

During the past year, negative reactions to Trump’s presidency increased directly proportional to the number of his fulfilled campaign promises. The U.S., for instance, withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Paris Climate Accord, continued construction of oil pipelines previously frozen due to protests from Indians and environmental organizations, lifted restrictions on oil and gas production, and bans on the development of coal deposits.

On the other hand, the extremely favorable indicators of American economy sort of ‘spoil’ the general picture of discontent with Trump. Despite pessimistic forecasts on the collapse of financial markets and overall nervousness in business circles when Trump stepped into the White House, the stock market grew by $5.4 trillion, breaking the records of recent decades, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average increased by 28.5% for the first time since Roosevelt's re-election in 1944. Unemployment reached a record low 4.1% with some 1.5 million new jobs created, and GDP is growing steadily at around 3%. Although some analysts claim that the current state of affairs was laid down under Obama, these are the facts.

However, nothing changes for the ordinary people, who still support such wonderful and seemingly controversial things like health insurance, rights to abortion, migration, bearing arms, etc. Perhaps that is the reason these issues are never solved radically in the U.S. and remain the most relevant topics for political rhetoric of successive election campaigns occupying the minds of the electorate as irrefutable proofs of freedom in American society.

Thus, Trump has not yet managed to abolish the Obamacare, an action promised to be an important point of his election program. Incidentally, the Obama administration has inherited the infamous issue of health insurance from the preceding Bush administration, and so on. Presidents and their approaches change but the agenda remains one and the same. Just like the disputes that arise after each next incident as to whether the Americans should be deprived the right to bear arms.

Over the past few weeks, there have been two mass shootings in the U.S. committed without any particular cause and with demonstrative cruelty. On October 2, retired pensioner Stephen Paddock (64) shot from the 32nd floor of his hotel room killing 59 and injuring 527 people at the country music festival in Las Vegas. On November 5, Devin Kelly (26), a former airman fired from the USAF after assaulting his own family, killed 26 parishioners of a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, TX. It is evident that the victims of both crimes were mostly white Americans, country music lovers, farmers, Baptists, most likely Republicans. In other words, just an ideal portrait of the Trump electorate, who really liked his call to make America great again. No one will tell us whether both incidents were crafted intentionally or were a product of an evil coincidence. But there is a serious and obvious problem, yet everything fits to the customary framework.


Following the script

Is it possible that Trump follows an unusual course in foreign policy, which seemingly remains in a state of utter confusion? During his election campaign, president Trump was heavily criticizing China accusing it of currency manipulation. After becoming a president, however, Chairman Xi Jinping was one of the first leaders meeting with Trump. A year later, he concluded that cooperation is the only right choice for the U.S. and China. Trump agrees to follow the One-China policy to maintain peace and stability around the South China Sea, despite Beijing’s active military presence in the region. During his recent visit to Beijing, the American leader signed a number of contracts and agreements with China worth a record $250 billion. Both Trump and Xi announced that they were ready to coordinate financial and monetary policies, including the cooperation in military, cyber security, and humanitarian spheres. Surprisingly, everything seems quite well for the countries that have recently been expected to fight with each other.

Trump is warned that as soon as he renounced the ideas of globalization, China has become the number one contender for dominance in the global economy and that Beijing has systematically strengthened its positions in the IMF, World Bank and WTO, actively seeking access to new export markets and investing in IT and artificial intelligence. The objective of the Chinese One Belt, One Way policy is to establish new and strengthening old ties between Europe and Asia. In fact, Xi Jinping has significantly strengthened his power after the Congress of the Chinese Communist Party held in October. The Economist even called him the most influential person in the world. Currently, the share of Beijing in the total volume of world exports reaches 14%, while the U.S. remains the second runner with 10%. In short, the position and leadership of the U.S. seem to be under serious threat, although China is not eagerly anxious to take the lead as an arbitrator of international affairs without a set of ideological values such as democracy and freedom of speech predominantly exploited by the U.S. However, the main thing remains completely different. After all, the U.S. and China simply cannot have major arguments, as American securities tie them so strongly that ‘poor health’ of any one of them will have serious effects on another.

Trump’s attitude to NATO, which he calls an unnecessary and outdated organization, is about the same. In fact, these words do not mean anything. Not only because the U.S. and NATO are inseparable, but because NATO is the offspring of Washington and continues to fulfill its primary function, which is to restrain Russia. That is why European countries conduct military exercises and deploy additional American troops on their territories.

Incidentally, Russia is perhaps the most relevant item in Trump’s foreign policy agenda. For the first time in American history, the incumbent president is constantly accused of having close ties to Moscow. According to the polls, the number of Americans that believe in accusations is growing with 44% of respondents being ‘very concerned’ with these reports. In such a situation, the White House is unable to establish contacts with the Kremlin contrary to the expectations of positive changes in Russian-American relations a year ago. Over the past year, Russia and the U.S. have treated each other more unfriendly. During Trump's short tenure in the White House, Moscow and Washington have already exchanged several diplomatic scandals including the expulsion of diplomats, confiscation of diplomatic properties, and suspension of visa operations. The U.S. imposed new sanctions against the Russian Federation and resolutely intended to oppose Russian propaganda - the Russian RT channel broadcasting in English on the territory of the U.S. has officially lost its media status and become a ‘foreign agent’. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin could not even hold a full meeting at the recent APEC summit in Vietnam. But after all, relations between Moscow and Washington are still far away from being well and Trump's actions do not add anything new to encourage them.

What about the promise of the American president to refrain from interfering in the affairs of other states? On the contrary, Trump is closely involved in the North Korean issue almost reaching the dangerous line throughout the year. When Pyongyang promised to bomb American Guam, the U.S. president threatened North Koreans with a "fury like the world has never seen." Everything sounded so serious that the media warned about a nuclear war. In addition, Trump refreshed the Iranian problem, increased the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, and ordered to bomb Syria in April. In fact, these are just words – Trump has not started any war yet. His strategy for Pyongyang is completely unclear, as with regard to Iran, Syria, the whole Middle East, and Russia.


Three options

Who is Mr. Trump – a populist billionaire swept to power accidentally because of a system failure on the Capitol Hill? Or maybe he is the president who took the power in good time when the American establishment realized that it was unable to cope with all the burden of international affairs outside Washington, insoluble contradictions in the Middle East and was reluctant to carry some economic and trade obligations to Europe and other countries. Trump, for example, consistently opposes the climate agreement claiming that environmental protection draws jobs and billions of dollars from the U.S. He also supports measures to tighten or even restrict the entry into the United States for citizens of several Muslim countries. Could you imagine this done by preceding administrations of Obama or Bush? No. But now we have a president, who has an image so unpopular and unpredictable that all failures can be blamed on. In return, the U.S. authorities get a necessary pause, Trump writes his name to the history, at least guaranteeing personal benefits from the ongoing processes, and Washington is accumulating strength. The excellent state of American economy, by the way, is an eloquent confirmation of this thesis. Even Trump’s tweetomania can serve as a proof. On the one hand, emotional daily tweets can be regarded as a cheap provocation; on the other hand, it looks like an excellent strategy, as with his short messages, the president perfectly controls the agenda and the tone of discussions probing the popular mood.

Or maybe Trump is independent, cunning and building his own game? After all, there are opinions that Trump's diversity of personalities is a forced one helping him to prevent assaults of his opponents, who hamper many of his initiatives, both internally and externally.

In November 2018, there will be additional elections to Congress, where Trump can try to achieve the majority. Then, perhaps, the world will get to know another Trump. We still have a year ahead...