US President Donald Trump’s attempts to shake America (which, to him, is equivalent to making America great again) have persisted with no end in sight. In less than two years in public office, he has managed to rankle politicians, the media and the people with his views on long-standing policies, alliances and trade agreements.
Trump has questioned the two pillars of the US-led, post-war new world order: Nato and free trade. In the past, US diplomats in Pakistan believed that there was never a dull moment in Pakistan’s politics. There was always something happening. This view now holds true for the US, where tweets from the president set the agenda for television debates, providing an opportunity for policymakers to react and Trump’s supporters to defend his stance. Despite large demonstrations against him, Trump still enjoys support from 45 percent of America’s white population.
People in developing countries and who have witnessed dictatorial regimes used to fear the wrath of their leaders. Now, people in the US express concerns about their president in the same way that the people of Pakistan feared General Ziaul Haq’s approach towards women’s right, minorities and the constitution. They remain anxious about what he will do next. Analysts and media gurus are finding it difficult to describe Trump’s agenda – foreign and domestic. Some elements in the Democratic Party believe he is a ‘Russian agent’.
At a rally in Washington DC against separating migrant families who are seeking asylum in the US, a female activist commented that: “[The] American people should have [the] right to call [out] the Congress when it fails to perform… a constitutional amendment is needed”. She added that “this electoral college is a big farce… the Senate [is] unequal and has more power than common citizens”.
The issues that she raised are at the centre of the debate over how the current electoral college disenfranchises millions of voters, mainly in large cities where Republicans have a limited support base. Many people are left speechless when they are asked about what they think about Trump’s presidency. They view it as an “awkward movement” for the US and its values.
Trump has not crafted a new way forward for American foreign policy and security alliances. He has openly questioned the post-WWII alliance and free-trade agenda, which has been furthered through the globalisation process. It seems that the world’s largest economy and military power isn’t making any gains from free trade-centric globalisation and its security alliance – mainly Nato.
Others are looking for a method to Trump’s madness. “[We] believe [that] he is a deal-maker, successful business man [who will] do [the] best for the US”, remarked a worker in Wisconsin who was laid off by US manufacturer Harvey Davis, which is shifting its business abroad following sanctions imposed by China, Canada and the EU.
Many believe the Republican Party has become the ‘Trump party’ and has lost its support base to him. Whoever gets Trump’s endorsement has a chance to win the elections. Some key leaders – like Bob Corker from Tennessee – who don’t see eye to eye with the president have decided to end their political careers, fearing their defeat without Trump’s support. The Republican Party is losing some of its stalwarts. House Speaker Paul Ryan has already announced his decision to retire from politics.
The US won’t go into isolation. This is absolutely out of the question. Its production and consumption is deeply dependent on multilateral trade agreements as 25 percent of its GDP comprises imports and exports. An economy that exports $2.3 trillion cannot sustain itself and grow without foreign markets. The US imports $2.8 trillion worth of goods and services – higher than any other country or regional groupings.
Interestingly, Mexico, Canada and the EU have retaliated to Trump’s trade tariffs. They aren’t following a policy of collectively punishing the US economy, but are instead targeting products made in states where Trump’s support base remains high. Wisconsin, which voted for Trump, has suffered as motorbike manufacturers are moving factories abroad and laying off workers. So, the reaction to Trump’s trade tariffs has been politically calculated. Many view these tariffs as ‘Trump-era phenomena’, not a long-term American policy.
There is no evidence to suggest that Trump’s trade tariffs are aimed at reducing US trade imbalance and bringing jobs home. It is also an interesting dichotomy that immigration is opposed by those white-majority states where the presence of immigrants is limited in comparison with large cities. Trump’s overtures have already scared investors. Foreign direct investment has witnessed a 32 percent drop in 2017. Europe alone accounts for 61.2 percent of total foreign investment into the US, amounting to $1.92 trillion in an economy of $20 trillion.
Trump’s trade tariffs against allies are seen as disputes. But there is no evidence to suggest that these tariffs were ever raised as disputes with Canada and countries in the EU. These are instruments of the trade war, which Trump is using to seek concessions and supposedly reduce the rising US trade deficit that grew last year by 12 percent to $566 billion – and this wasn’t due to steel and aluminum imports.
For example, a recent study revealed that consumer products and automobiles are the primary drivers of the trade deficit in 2017. The US imported $602 billion worth of generic drugs, television, clothing and other households items while its exports of consumer goods stood at $198 billion, resulting in a trade deficit amounting to $404 billion.
Democrats and the US media have attached great importance to midterm elections in November. The midterms are their only hope to alter the Republican majority in the Congress and possibly prevent Trump from destroying security and free-trade regimes – which, from an American standpoint, have produced seven decades of stability and economic prosperity. The Democrats need 23 wins in the House to gain a majority. Although this will be difficult to achieve, it might very well be possible given the divisions within the Republican Party and Trump’s low approval ratings.
But didn’t the ratings during the 2016 presidential elections also predict otherwise? The US stands at a crossroads and tensions run deep. Regardless of whether the midterm elections change anything or if the country has to face two more years of Trump, there won’t be a dull moment in the US in the coming days.