Within just 20 months in office, Donald Trump has done what no American president could even think of in two terms. And the US itself could not have, in two decades. Trump came to power on the slogan, ‘Make America Great Again’. No one had a clue about what he would do to achieve it. Trump started showing the way forward—by using the power of America.
Just a few examples. The third day after he was sworn in as president, he terminated the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership. On the seventh day, he banned the entry of all refugees from Syria into the US and travel into the US from seven Muslim countries. In June 2017, he announced America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate deal. He took on the traditional US allies—Europe and even neighbours Mexico and Canada—and embraced long-time adversary Russia. He imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium imported from Canada, Mexico and the EU.
Trump unveiled a travel ban on certain people from Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen. He recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and decided to relocate the US embassy to that city. At the G-7 summit in June, he batted to reinstate Russia, which was suspended after it had annexed Crimea. The US president refused to endorse the traditional G7 communique and accused Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of making false statements at a post-Summit news conference. His threat to the Chinese to behave or face trade war and walking the tough talk; and his threat to North Korea to denuclearise or face destruction and getting Kim Jong Un to succumb, are some of the latest examples of Trump striding where angels fear to tread—and yet succeeding.
‘Strong’ and ‘arrogant’
Clearly, Trump’s presidency has changed America as its citizens knew it, and its ties with others, as the world knew it, perhaps forever. In a national survey to find the one word that describes him best, the responses appeared “chiefly driven by his personality and not by his policy or his ideology”. While 3 per cent called him “strong”, another 3 per cent called him “arrogant”. While some chose to describe him as “great”, “determined” and a “leader”, others berated him as “egotistical”, “idiot” and “narcissistic”. The sharp division in opinion shows how Trump polarised America before and after his election.
His ascent to the presidency shook America, its allies, its competitors, its adversaries and the world at large. It continues to shake them 20 months into his presidency, more and more and not less and less. Not just China—the trade adversary—even friends of the US like Canada and the European Union face his wrath. He accepts traditional rival Russia and alienates time-tested allies. He is at war with the liberals and the Left at home. His adversaries say under his watch, the USA (United States of America) has become the DSA (Divided States of America). While his adversaries thought he would be a disaster and wanted him to become one, he silenced them through sheer performance.
Trump vs experts in 2016
Trump was written off by the US elite and the world a month ahead of the presidential elections. But he recovered. Liberals were terrified at even the remote possibility of his win. Economists, bankers, businessmen, media—all trusted experts in the US—converged and predicted the collapse of not only the US stock market but the world economy as well, if he won. In June 2016, five months ahead of the polls, Obama’s chief economic adviser Larry Summers said, “Under Trump, I would expect a protracted recession to begin within 18 months. The damage would be felt far beyond the United States.”
In August, Citigroup warned that “A Trump victory could cause a global recession.” In October, The Washington Post said in an editorial, “A President Trump could destroy the world economy.” Steve Rattner, an economics guru, said: “If Trump wins you will see a market crash of historic proportions, I think… The markets are terrified of him.” Simon Johnson, an MIT economics professor, wrote, “Trump would likely cause the stock market to crash and plunge the world into recession.” When Trump was seemingly winning and the markets were plunging the day after the poll, Nobel Laureate in economics Paul Krugman said, “We are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight.” Even after he won, a headline in the UK’s Independent in January 2017, read: “Donald Trump’s first gift to the world will be another financial crisis.” In the face of these catastrophic predictions, he promised 3.5 per cent growth, which few US presidents after Ronald Reagan could achieve.
What was Trump’s answer to all those who had predicted the collapse of the market? In one word: Performance. The US stock index rose by nearly 40 per cent in 22 months from November 2016, adding over $6 trillion in wealth to investors. His tax breaks have benefitted as many as 75 million citizens. The dollar index rose 5.6 per cent from the election through December 28 and hit a 14-year high, according to a Forbes report last year.
Trump’s promise of 3 per cent plus growth over his predecessor Obama’s eight-year average of 1.6 per cent made economists and experts laugh at him. He achieved 2.6 per cent—two-thirds more than Obama in the first year. Leaving out the first quarter of 2017, when he had just taken over, the growth in the next nine months of 2017 was 3.3 per cent.
Yet, critics ridiculed him for failing to deliver on his promise. Trump retorted, “I’m sticking with my 3 per cent growth story... I’m predicting 3.5 per cent for the first half of 2018.” And he did it by achieving 4.2 per cent growth in the second quarter of 2018! The US now adds more than 2,23,000 jobs in a month, unemployment rate is down to 3.8 per cent—a new 18-year low. Trump has fooled all experts.
Bonus for India
Trump is a bonus for India. His sweetest tweet for India is about Pakistan. It read: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more”.
In every meeting and on every occasion, the US president has been positive on India, calling it an emerging global power. In his own words, the Trump presidency has made Indo-US relations stronger than ever before. Yes, Trump is a friend of India, but not at the cost of his country—America. Trump’s America is not an unmixed blessing for India. His H-1B visa policy hurts Indian business. His Iran sanctions prejudice the geopolitical and economic interests of India. He threatens duties on Indian exports that he thinks hurt the US. But the overall effect of Trump’s policies are positive for India.
So, how does one explain the Trump enigma? Winston Churchill’s radio broadcast in October 1939 offers a clue. Churchill said: “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.” Substitute Trump for Russia, that will describe Trump.All his actions are in America’s interest alone. Others don’t matter in his scheme of things. Like him or hate him, that’s Trump for you.