Since his assumption of office, Donald Trump has been consistent about two aspects -- “America First” and instant nontraditional responses to serious situations through Twitter.
These factors have at times raised serious concerns within the international paradigm, and also created complexity within the matrix of governance.
These elements were reflected during his visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel, France, and China; and also during his inter-active participation in international meetings held in Europe, the UN, and in the Far East.
His visit to Davos, Switzerland however, marked a slight shift. For a change, the emphasis here and also during his State of the Union speech was on reading out of the tele-prompter. This was probably because the emphasis was on economics.
President Trump delivered his first State of the Union address on January 30. He climbed the dais in the Capitol with one of the lowest approval ratings for any first-term president.
This rating has since slightly improved, but his presidency continues to be clouded by investigations into his campaign’s ties to Russia.
In this context, Chris Cillizza of CNN referred to the fact that in his address, Trump, during the first hour of his 80-minute speech talked only about his domestic policy -- tax cuts, the economy, trade, regulatory reform, and immigration.
There was, however, little mention of America’s role in the international sphere. Trump heralded the economic successes of his first year in office, including a soaring stock market and low unemployment.
He trumpeted the large package of tax cuts he signed into law last year, and proclaimed that a regulatory rollback has allowed industries to thrive.
He also indicated that his financial market-oriented drive had been successful, and this had been reflected in GDP growth of nearly 3.2%, record growth in the share market as reflected in the DOW, S and P and NASDAQ and reduction in unemployment to 4.1%.
This interpretation by Trump of the US economic trigonometry has, however, been upset in the first week of February with plunges in US stock markets and rise in extreme volatility.
He also used this opportunity to deride former President Obama and the Republicans in the audience “ate it up.” Cillizza reported that he had already “jettisoned DACA, pushed for the repeal of the individual mandate, stripped out regulation after regulation put into place by Obama” and this time during the address announced his plans to keep the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba open -- a direct rebuttal to Obama’s long-made and long-failed pledge to close the prison. It may also be mentioned here that Trump has also re-introduced some sanctions on Cuba.
Political analyst Professor Julian Zelizer has, however, drawn attention to the fact that the Democrats should not get carried away with either a possible down-trend in Trump’s popularity or a possible implosion within the US Republican Party.
Whatever happens to him by October this year will also affect the fortune of the Republican Party in this year’s mid-term elections
He feels that there are signs that Trump is in the process of “mounting a political comeback,” and has noted that Trump’s approval rating has reached 42% -- up 10 points since December.
Confidence in how secure the US is from terrorist threats has also increased from 50% to 63%. Perhaps most important, consumer confidence is at a 17-year high.
Arguments are also being made that the stock market might have “slightly fallen” but it still remains at historically high levels.
It is also being mentioned that in the first quarter of this year, workers’ paychecks will grow a bit bigger as the new IRS tax withholding tables register the impact of the tax cut that passed in December.
Consequently, it is being argued that prognosticators need to be careful. They were wrong during the 2016 presidential election and need to take these signs of resurgence seriously.
Zelizer is suggesting that although the financial measures were extremely unpopular at the time of their passage, they seem to be paying off.
As a result, many are drawing reference to President Reagan’s approach in 1984 and his claim that it is “Morning in America Again.”
This gradual economic boom, the Republicans are hoping, will influence millions of middle and working class families ahead of the mid-term elections later on in 2018. Trump also appears to have created a degree of rift within the Democrats through his moves on immigration. It may be recalled that before he became president, the young children of illegal immigrants who entered this country were protected by the “Dreamer” program that President Barack Obama implemented through executive action.
However, in an effort to strengthen support for his hard-line restrictionist immigration plan, which remains the centerpiece of Trump’s New Deal, he created an artificial crisis by rescinding the entire program.
He baited the Democrats into making the legislative restoration of DACA some kind of a deal, rather than this being the president’s responsibility.
Democrats, who believe in government and governance, quickly buckled to a temporary budget that did not restore DACA.
Now, the president has raised the stakes by promoting a deal by which he would accept legislation restoring DACA, in a more expansive structure than before, in exchange for draconian measures on the rest of immigration -- from cutting off much the inflow of legal immigrants allowed by Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 legislation to the possible construction of his infamous Mexican wall.
As a result, Democrats now find themselves in the difficult position of being the deciding force as to whether DACA survives; despite the fact they don’t control any branch of government.
Through this effort Trump is pitting the Dreamers against the millions of other immigrants who might not be able to come to the US or be able to stay.
Through such an evolving action, Trump has taken off the table the possibility of a path to citizenship for all the illegal immigrants that Presidents Bush and Obama pushed forward relatively unsuccessfully.
This scenario has led many to question whether proponents of a liberalized immigration plan will have any leverage in the future. It is being suggested that if the Democrats cannot change the way this issue is being discussed, they might face a lose-lose situation.
Either they will be held to blame for being responsible for ending DACA, which will deflate the party’s base, or they will hand President Trump a massive legislative victory that could virtually cement his standing for 2020.
The president could then go into the mid-term elections claiming that he has been able to achieve the “grand bargain” which eluded his predecessors, with legislation that liberalized certain parts of immigration while giving the hard-line right everything else that it wanted.
He has campaigned on building a wall, and then he will be able to say that he has symbolically been able to deliver his promise.Despite this evolving potential, President Trump remains vulnerable politically.
The prospect of his comeback is also slightly fragile. Whatever happens to him by October this year will also affect the fortune of the Republican Party in this year’s mid-term elections.
In the meantime, Trump has decided on his own legacy by seeking necessary arrangements to have a large-scale military parade every year. This, he hopes, will re-affirm American leadership throughout the world.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]