Trump’s governance faces strong headwinds

By Shen Dingli Source:Global Times Published: 2017/10/29 20:58:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Donald Trump's attempts to bring about changes within and outside the government has led to the US seeing many twists and turns since he took over as US president.

Bipartisan politics in the US improves governance, but can also be an impediment to efficient functioning. However, Republicans and Democrats have the same stance on foreign policy, based on people's similar understanding of US external interests.

Reaping full benefits of globalization, the US has achieved unprecedented capital growth. American investors have over the decades reaped huge profits, far higher than domestic returns. Consuming cheaper imported goods also boosts the value of people's income.

However, the country has suffered steady decline in export industries and increasing technological drain due to manufacturing outsourcing. In addition, the employment rate in its export-driven manufacturing sector becomes sluggish and the distribution of social wealth becomes increasingly unfair, confusing people about the country's future.

American politicians have sharply different views on governance in the new era. After the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US, the George W. Bush administration took pre-emptive measures against Iraq without any proof of collusion or UN authorization, and toppled the Saddam government through military strikes. 

Then former president Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2009 just due to his campaign slogans like "Change we can believe in." But he ordered the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 without ensuring alternative security and social order in the war-ravaged country. This led to the rise of Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria, dealing a heavy blow to Middle East security.

Americans are longing for change as prickly issues beset the nation. However, US politicians have failed to frame policies that unite the nation. Trump also followed traditional approaches such as boosting exports to increase employment. He put forward slogans like "America First" and "Buy American, Hire American."

US interests would come first once such populist slogans became a reality. Trump claimed to expel all illegal immigrants, bar nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries into the US, build a wall all along the border with Mexico, force outsourcing manufacturers back to America and impose high tariffs on so-called currency manipulators like China, Japan and Germany. He promoted international cooperation within a certain range and announced the withdrawal of the US from the UNESCO, the Paris climate agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He initiated the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and US-South Korean free trade deal, triggering a torrent of complaints at home and abroad.

The Trump administration has gained fruitful results. Japan announced in February that it would invest $150 billion in the US over the years, which could generate 700,000 jobs. Taiwan enterprises have also ramped up investment in the US. Alibaba Group has offered the company's e-commerce platform to help US businesses sell products to Asia, with the potential of creating up to 1 million American jobs.

As Trump threatened to slap double-digit tariffs on US goods made overseas, some companies promised to create more jobs in the country.

The past few months after Trump assumed power have seen increased chaos and frequent surfacing of White House shenanigans. But he is adept at appointing retired generals to defend national security, for instance, James Mattis as secretary of defense, H. R. McMaster as national security advisor and John Kelly as White House chief of staff. These former senior military officials are good at advising Trump during critical times and politely differing with the president in public, so as to restrain his temperamental style and ensure that he does not deviate from the mainstream stance on sensitive issues including the North Korea nuclear crisis.

Despite Trump opposing policies of the Obama government, his administration finds it hard to reverse them and introduce major legislative changes. At present, Trump has failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare with a better health insurance act. His travel ban on Muslims is foundering.

Besides, he often makes indiscreet remarks on ethnic issues and gun control, sparking outrage among the public and even his cabinet officials. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson allegedly called him a "moron" after a Pentagon meeting. The White House was even derided as an adult day care center.

Trump's populist rule causes more damage despite bringing some benefits to US business. Both Bush and Obama decried the US political landscape without mentioning Trump by name, indicating deep bipartisan concern over the nation. Hence, Trump's impulsive nature is being reined in by the country's powerful institutions, which function as part of the power balance between the White House and the Congress, party restraints, media supervision, and even restrictions from administrative departments.

Trump has constantly made compromises. This can be seen from his tough words but slow deeds toward the North Korean crisis, his stance on the Iran nuclear deal, and his adherence to the one-China policy. It is believed that the US institutional system is resilient, so that Trump's eccentric style of governance doesn't go too far.

The author is deputy dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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