AMERICA UNDER TRUMP, How has the President fared so far?


With an unexpected run for the President of the United States of America in 2016, Donald Trump caused ripples across the global political scene. His win came as a shock to many, as most reputable polling sources — including FiveThirtyEight, the Associated Press and the New York Times — had predicted a landslide Democratic win; some giving Hillary Clinton a nearly 90 percent chance of winning. The atmosphere across the US and the world alike, therefore, evolved from confusion to frustration to anger as election results came along. This discrepancy between polls and election results was not unprecedented, particularly when a white candidate ran against an under-represented minority candidate – in this case, a woman. The tendency for voters to claim they were voting for the minority candidate but actually voted for the other, known as the Bradley effect, is well-documented in political theory.

In order to satisfy his ardent supporters and show the world he was capable of taking tough decisions to ‘Make America Great Again’, President Trump went on a spree of logic-defying executive orders and memoranda; ranging from imposing controversial entry bans to firing the Director of FBI and to unilaterally withdrawing from international commitments on climate change. The debate has been picking up whether the worst fears of an unpredictable US under a capricious Trump are coming true. A complete analysis of Trump’s imprints on the domestic and foreign policies would stretch beyond the scope of one review. Nonetheless, with more than six months in the Oval Office now, it’s worthwhile to have a glance at how Trump has fared so far and what has happened to America’s image, both within and without, and where the formidable world power now stands in comparison to some of its closest rivals.

One of the first ways a new president in the US is able to exercise political power is through unilateral executive orders. While legislative efforts take time, a swipe of the pen from the White House can often enact broad changes in government policy and practice. Executive orders, however, are limited in their power. While executive orders can be used to change how federal agencies use their resources, they cannot assign those agencies new funds or introduce new laws – both of those powers are held by the Congress. Although President Trump has wasted little time in taking advantage of this privilege, and while it may appear that he has used executive actions at an unprecedented rate, he signed about the same number as his predecessor, Barack Obama, did during his first weeks in office. Mr Trump has pulled ahead since.

It can be seen that the number of executive orders signed by President Trump isn’t staggeringly high as compared to Obama. It is, in fact, the nature and impact of these orders that has generated all the buzz. Trump’s executive orders included withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, imposing new travel bans, reversal of climate change policy, cutting business regulations, re-instating a ban on international abortion counselling, border wall and tougher stance on immigrants that includes revoking federal grant money from so-called “sanctuary cities” which refuse to deport undocumented immigrants, and pushing ahead with the construction of two controversial pipelines – Keystone XL and Dakota Access – that were halted during Obama regime due to concerns on climate change and huge protests by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe respectively.

President Trump hasn’t fared well in terms of his approval ratings, both within the US and abroad. When he took the oath of office on January 20, he did so with the lowest approval rating of any incoming president. According to Gallup data, while George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama were enjoying approval ratings of 62% and 65% respectively at around 100 days in office, Trump was just at 41% mark. He also had the highest disapproval number of 52% while 7% of the people surveyed gave no opinion.

US economy under Trump has so far remained somewhat at the same level it was during the last months of Obama presidency – without any significant gains or losses in any sectors. According to US Labor Department data, 601,000 private sector jobs have been created in the US since January and that the US unemployment rate has fallen to 4.3%, the lowest level since 2001. That’s good news, but the bad news is that job growth is slowing. The Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq indexes all reached record highs during President Trump’s first few weeks, in a partial sign at least that investors were encouraged by his planned infrastructure projects, deregulation and tax cuts. All three, however, saw their growth slowing down in subsequent months as it began to look like the mooted tax reforms might not happen quite as quickly as the Trump administration had previously suggested. S&P 500 index recorded a growth of 5.2% in the first 100 days of Trump as compared to 8.5% growth in the same period under Obama.

While the news from domestic front isn’t very bad, an America under Trump hasn’t been taken much too positively abroad. It’s not surprising, given the fact that the whole idea around which Mr Trump built his election campaign was that of presenting America as the victim of exploitation by the world in the form of stealing US jobs, extracting unjustified financial aid, unfair trade practices, politics and international commitments that according to him were disadvantageous to the American people and businesses. Most of his decisions since taking the presidency have been aimed at showing his voters that he is pulling America out of this exploitative setting. Low approval ratings within the US cited in preceding sections, however, show that his decisions have failed to improve his standing within the US. At the same time, the image of the United States has deteriorated sharply across the globe under President Trump and an overwhelming majority of people in other countries have no confidence in his ability to lead, a survey from the Pew Research Center released in late June showed. While it is no surprise that a fast-tweeting, pugnacious president, with little regard for diplomatic niceties or enthusiasm for treaty obligations, is not much liked outside his borders, the magnitude of the change in global opinions on America’s leadership since Trump took office is still remarkable.

The survey spanning 37 nations showed US favourability ratings in the rest of the world slumping to 49% under Trump from 64% at the end of Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House. But the falls were far steeper in some of America’s closest allies, including US neighbours Mexico and Canada, and European partners like Germany and Spain. Just 30% of Mexicans now say they have a favourable view of the United States, down from 66% at the end of the Obama era. In Canada and Germany, favourability ratings slid by 22 points, to 43% and 35%, respectively. The survey, based on the responses of 40,447 people, showed even deeper mistrust of Mr. Trump himself, with only 22% of those surveyed saying they had confidence he would do the right thing in world affairs, compared to 64% who trusted Obama. Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping – leaders from two nations that have historically remained at very low approval levels in western countries – with confidence ratings of 27% and 28% respectively, scored higher than Trump. Globally, 75% of respondents described Trump as “arrogant”, 65% as “intolerant” and 62% as “dangerous”. The only two countries where ratings improved compared to Obama were Russia, where confidence in the US president surged to 53% from 11%, and Israel, where it rose 7 points to 56%.

President Trump’s low popularity has not remained confined to the people of foreign nations rather it has also permeated the leadership from across the globe, it appears, as has been reported in the media from the 2017 G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, early July. Chris Uhlmann, the political editor of the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation, described Trump as “isolated and friendless” at the G20 leaders’ summit, and said his disastrous foreign policy had “pressed fast-forward on the decline of the United States”. “He was an uneasy, lonely, awkward figure at this gathering with no desire and/or capacity to lead the world and you got the strong sense that some of the leaders are trying to find the best way to work around him. He is himself the biggest threat to the values of the west” Uhlmann said in ABC’s political program Insiders.

While Mr. Trump had continued to take jibes at Mexico, China and Muslims throughout his election campaign, in months following his presidency, a new country seems to have joined this axis of evil: Germany. The deterioration of transatlantic relations seemed to begin in March, when he refused to make eye contact with chancellor Angela Merkel, let alone shake her hand, and Merkel responded by proceeding to fact shame Trump about the US’s trade deals with Germany. The feud escalated again during a meeting with European Union leaders in Brussels, where he reportedly declared German trade policy “evil” before going on to tweet about how “very bad” our friends in Western Europe truly are. Merkel hasn’t restrained from hitting back in a classical German fashion, with cold, hard facts. At a conference leading to the G20 Summit, she said “the fact that we have 10 times as much direct investment from Germany in the United States than there’s American investment in Germany has, of course … a strong effect on the many jobs we create (in the US). One should also take into account that BMW has its largest production site not in Germany, but in the United States, and exports more cars from there into third countries than Ford and General Motors combined.” The Germans had also taken strong exception to repeated assertions by Trump administration on economic woes facing the euro zone, saying the world leaders should look beyond euro zone and focus on strained US budget too.

President Trump’s first foreign visit was to Saudi Arabia and Israel and as soon as he concluded the visit, a crisis surfaced between Saudi-led group of Gulf countries and Qatar, whereby the former have put a blockade against the latter, alleging Doha for terror financing. Many attribute the crisis to Mr. Trump and there are good reasons for such attribution. The timing of crisis coming out in the open and Trump’s decision to back the blockade of Qatar – even as US diplomats have sharply criticized the embargo – have only strengthened his assailers. Moreover, there has been no shortage of references to decades of private business dealings by the US president with the countries leading the charge against the small Gulf nation.

Trump has also been disapproved by US and international media for his surprisingly soft stance towards Putin-led Russia. The first meeting between Trump and Putin at G20 Summit only deepened this disapproval as a considerable section of media, while interpreting the body language of the two great apes, declared that Putin, with his posture of sitting back calmly, conveyed dominance, that he was owning the space, while Trump with his posture of perched eagerly forward suggested submission. During the handshake, Trump said it was an “honour” to meet Putin, while Putin merely confessed himself “delighted.”

In the final analysis, it follows that after running a presidential campaign that, improbably, turned out to be successful, Donald Trump has struggled mightily with the job of actually being president. Considering he entered the Oval Office with no relevant experience, that probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, but his inability to do basically anything his job title entails, and refrain from doing things it doesn’t, has still been magnificent to behold. He will have to revisit his approach in order to gain the lost ground at both national and international levels, else it only gets harder from here on.

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