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Taming a triumphant Trump
November 12, 2016, 5:24 pm
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Legions of media pollsters and pundits got it wrong again. Businessman Donald Trump, a Washington outsider and underdog throughout the election campaign, surprised everyone by decisively trouncing veteran politician and crowd favorite Hillary Clinton to become the 45th President of the United States.

But there was no triumphalism in his victory speech where he promised to be a president for all Americans. Even when protesters, soured by his victory, gathered in front of the Trump Towers in New York, some holding placards saying, 'Not my President', or took out their anger more violently on the streets of Portland, Philadelphia and elsewhere, Mr. Trump calmly tweeted 'Love the fact that small groups of protesters last night have passion for our great country. We will all come together and be proud!'

Also, following his meeting on Thursday with President Obama at the White House, Trump called Obama a “very good man” and added, “We discussed a lot of different situations, some wonderful and some difficulties. I very much look forward to dealing with the president in the future, including counsel.” On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump and Mr. Obama had been at loggerheads on various issues, with the President referring to the president-elect as being “temperamentally unfit” for the White House.

These responses were quite uncharacteristic of the Trump that the world saw, heard and abhorred on the election trail and on the days leading up to elections. But then, that is the beauty of democracy. You can unleash vitriolic tirade against your opponent, make mudslinging into an art form, promise unfeasible plans, and nobody holds you accountable for those utterances in a democracy. If voters are gullible enough to be swayed by campaign rhetoric and believe that good governance will ensue by electing the loudest or most persuasive politician, this too is part of our cherished democracy.

It was the former Democratic governor of New York Mario Cuormo who said: “In politics, you campaign in poetry and govern in prose.” A politician's promises, vituperative language and tough pledges are usually the ingenious use of words that are intended for just one purpose – to win votes. The promises and posturing help sway undecided voters, while the strong denouncements and pronouncements energize the supporter base. The prosaic part comes later, when the elected are confronted with the reality of governance.

America’s new president-elect is rapidly realizing that campaigning to become president and becoming president are totally different worlds. On the election trail, Mr. Trump had said he would tear up the NAFTA free-trade agreements with Canada and Mexico. He was particularly scathing on trade ties with China and called for reforms, threatening to levy heavy tariffs on Chinese imports.

A day into his victory over Ms. Clinton, Mr. Trump seems to have mellowed his protectionist trade views. He said he wanted America to be open for business and that he was not against trade but was pro-business. The change in rhetoric maybe be nuanced but it is clear that the president-elect is, whether he calls it pro-business or pro-trade, he cannot ignore the fact that just in the month of September 2016, trade between China and United States was $416 billion and that Canada, Mexico and China together account for nearly 45 percent of the trade with the United States.

There are also another personal reason why the businessman Trump may find it difficult to implement many of the protectionist policies and immigration restrictions that he has promised as President Trump. His financial interests in more than 500 businesses, including luxury hotels and casinos, depend directly or indirectly on some of the policies he has undertaken to repeal or reform.

The president-elect, more than anyone else, is fully aware that business interests trump presidential tenures, any day. A president’s term in office is at best limited to two, four-year terms, and Mr. Trump who has made being egotistical and, acting and speaking before thinking, his trademark is decidedly unpopular with a large section of Americans, both Republicans and Democrats. The chances of him making an impeachment-level mistake and getting thrown out of office in the first term are therefore surprisingly good.

Even on his key bête noire, President Obama’s signature 2010 law on health insurance and medical care, the president-elect seems to have had a change of heart. During the election trail, Mr. Trump had described the government-run health insurance marketplace as a ‘total disaster” and “a catastrophe”, and had promised to repeal the law and provide Americans with “great healthcare for much less money.” To clarify to readers: In the United States, unlike in most other Western countries, it is private companies, rather than the government that provide health coverage for most citizens, often at exorbitant rates.

On Friday, in an interview on TV with the 60 Minutes programme, Mr. Trump conceded that there were parts of Mr. Obama’s signature legislative achievement that were worth keeping. He said that the ban on insurers denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, and, allowing young adults to be insured on their parents’ policies, were among the features in the law that he “liked very much”. However, the president-elect did not reveal how he would reconcile portions of the law that he liked very much, which depend on sections in the same law that he has condemned, such as mandating all Americans to be insured.

Another big campaign promise likely to bite dust is Mr. Trump’s preposterous call to build a wall along the border with Mexico, to stem the flow of immigrants. This plan will probably run aground even before the first bricks are laid because of the humongous amounts of money needed to build it.

Nevertheless, the president-elect’s even more ludicrous idea of getting the Mexican government to pay for the wall has some merit. After months of watching ‘democracy in action’ — the ugly political posturing, the demeaning debates, the often fanatic partisan crowds, it will be no surprise if Mexico agrees to pay for the wall — they would desperately want to keep the wild ones out of their country.

For the last eight years, the United States has had a president who has been relatively popular with the public and had relative support from Congress, but was to a large extent relatively ineffective. We can only hope that Mr. Trump, a decidedly unpopular president, who is unlikely to have support from even some of his own Republican colleagues in Congress, might somehow end up being a relatively effective president.

 

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