Demola Ojo writes on the likely issues America’s new maverick president will be judged on…
The newly-inaugurated American President Donald Trump rode to power using unconventional methods, especially making promises that seemed outlandish at the time, with many expecting him to backtrack on several pronouncements made on the campaign trail because of their perceived unworkability. Considering his unpredictability, it has been difficult to project into the future and know for sure what policies he would pursue as president, as he turns long-held political traditions on their head.
One thing is for sure though. More than any other leader in recent history, his campaign promises would be held to the utmost scrutiny, because of their polarizing nature, and also because of the bombast that accompanied them.
From all indications, President Trump is determined to govern as he campaigned – with a combative disregard for long established standards of presidential behaviour and with no clear-cut ideology. His presidency will therefore be defined and judged on the issues that he made important and which surprisingly resonated with enough Americans to help him become president.
Knowing that the eyes of the world would be on him from the very start, the performer turned politician has vowed to get to work from “Day One”. According to him, Day One would be Monday (tomorrow) because “…I don’t want to be signing (yesterday and today) and get it mixed up with lots of celebration.”
Economy: Making America Great Again
President Trump promised that as president, he will honour the pledge stitched into his white and red baseball caps: Make America Great Again.
One of the ways he intends to do this is to implement the biggest tax cuts since the Ronald Reagan era. The reductions will be across board, promising working and middle-income Americans “massive” cuts.
Trump says he will create 25 million jobs over 10 years, saying too many jobs, especially in manufacturing, are being lost to other countries. He plans to reduce the US corporate tax rate to 15% from the current rate of 35%, and suggests that investing in infrastructure, cutting the trade deficit, lowering taxes and removing regulations will boost job creation.
To improve the American economy, Trump has zeroed-in on international trade deals he believes are skewed against the US.
He relishes the idea of high-profile trade policy fights and might find himself responding to retaliations with counter-retaliations, thus triggering an escalating trade battle with international partners.
His strategy is based on the premise that foreign states would back down before his will, allowing the US to dictate the terms of trade with a stronger hand. If that doesn’t work, however, economists at the Peterson Institution for International Economics estimate that full-scale trade war would send the US economy into recession and cost millions of Americans their jobs, with the impact especially severe on companies that manufacture machinery used to create capital goods in the information technology, aerospace, and engineering sectors.
Another strategy to boost the economy is Included in Trump’s blueprint for his 100-day plan. It is the passage of the “American Energy and Infrastructure Act.” The legislation is described as a $1 trillion infrastructure investment over the next decade through public-private partnerships and private investments through tax incentives.
His tenure would certainly be judged on the efficacy of his strategy on trade deals and boosting the economy by modernizing infrastructure like he promised.
President Trump has often stated his desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. He has proposed fully repealing the law and replacing it with health savings accounts.
The Republican Congress is with him on this issue. Early last year, the Senate passed a measure allowing laws to go through with a 51-vote majority, rather than the 60-vote majority usually required. Since the Republicans do not have a 60-vote majority, this measure makes it easier legislatively to repeal Obamacare.
While the law as a whole might be repealed within the first 100 days, it remains less clear how long parts of the law will remain intact, and what the replacement will be. Trump recently told the Washington Post he wanted the replacement law to include universal coverage but did not reveal any specifics of the plan.
However, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 18 million people could lose insurance if Obamacare is repealed. According to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, 47 percent of Americans oppose a repeal of the law, while 46 percent support it.
Immigration: Building The Wall
Immigration was Trump’s signature issue during the campaign. The new President has stood by his call to build an impenetrable wall along the 2,000-plus-mile US-Mexico border, despite criticism that it is unaffordable and unrealistic. He has also called for reductions in legal immigration, ending President Barack Obama’s executive actions deferring deportation proceedings for undocumented migrants.
However, Trump has backed away from earlier calls for the forced deportation of the more than 11 million undocumented migrants living on US soil and temporarily closing the US border to all Muslims.
The President has said border security is one of his first orders of business and that he will sign an executive order on the matter on Day One.
Plans are already on to start the project but before any wall can go up, it will have to go through Congress for approval and appropriations, which will slow the process.
President Trump and Republicans in congress are planning to tie funding for the wall to a broader government-funding measure in April, which could make it difficult for Democrats to oppose appropriating money for the wall.
According to CNN, he would not have to seek authorisation for the wall, but rather take advantage of a 2006 law signed by former President George W. Bush that authorised the construction of 700 miles-plus of “physical barrier” on the southern border.
He has repeatedly stated that Mexico would pay for the wall, even though in recent times he has soft-pedalled, saying he would make Mexico pay for it somehow in the future. He has also hinted that he is prepared to water down his plans to build the wall, admitting that it may in fact be part wall and part fence.
In his first televised interview after winning the election in November, Trump vowed to immediately deport up to three million illegal immigrants with criminal records in one of his first acts as president. Immigration could actually be the most defining issue of a Trump presidency.
Foreign Policy: Relations with Russia, China, NATO and the Middle-east
Trump has erratically turned US policy on its head with a series of jaw-dropping statements about Mexico, China, Russia and Putin, ISIS, Muslims, NATO, Israel and more.
His degree of affection for Russian President Vladimir Putin is so extreme that it has prompted speculation (taken seriously by Western intelligence agencies) that he may be compromised by blackmail material in the hands of the Russian government.
But it is not unusual for a new US president to take office believing he can forge a better relationship with Putin and turn Russia into a partner for American strategic objectives in the Middle East. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama started out with such hopes, only to find them dashed because Russia doesn’t want to be junior partner to the United States. Putin seems likely to get a better deal from Trump in the form of sanctions relief and a freer hand in both Ukraine and Syria.
During Senate confirmation hearings, his secretary of state-designate, the former chief executive of ExxonMobil Rex Tillerson, appeared to confirm Trump’s signals that he would draw closer to Russia while taking a tougher stance against China. This despite the fact that Trump’s choice as defence secretary is the retired General James Mattis, a man known to view Russia with far more skepticism.
Most notably Tillerson, who has his own close network of business contacts in Russia, said that the US would block access by China to islands in the South China Sea, a stance that will undoubtedly raise tensions in a region already considered to be one of the world’s most dangerous.
Still on China, Trump has said in the past he would label the Asian giant a currency manipulator after he takes office. In a recent interview, he said he wouldn’t take that step on his first day in the White House. “I would talk to them first,” he said. “Certainly they are manipulators,” he added. “But I’m not looking to do that.” He also said “everything is under negotiation, including (the) One China” policy.
Analysts believe China will Be Trump’s first foreign policy test as they step up aggressive naval maneuvers around the Senkaku Islands. Japan controls the inhabited archipelago near Taiwan, but China has been escalating a challenge to the claim, and the dispute has the potential to get ugly. Trump has made clear he wants to scale back American guarantees to defend Japan and others in the region. The Chinese will be eager to flex their muscles in a bid for new elbow room.
Trump’s statements suggesting NATO is obsolete could signal the dissolution of the postwar global order. As president, he may not guarantee protection to fellow NATO countries who come under attack, he has said. In an interview just before the Republican convention last year Trump said America would help only if that country had fulfilled its “obligations” within the alliance.
It marked the first time in post-World War Two era that a candidate for president suggested putting conditions on America’s defence of its key allies. Trump has also threatened to withdraw troops from Europe and Asia if those allies fail to pay more for American protection.
Considering his predilection to take to Twitter at a whim, more countries will be monitoring his Twitter feed for indications of any shift in policies. South Korea has already created a new position in its foreign ministry solely to monitor the new president’s tweets.
Trump has also announced his intention to renegotiate the North American Free Trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. He would cancel participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a controversial trade arrangement with 12 countries, he said.
“Instead, we will negotiate fair, bilateral trade deals that bring jobs and industry back onto American shores,” Trump said in a YouTube video announcing his early priorities.
The TPP, a proposed trade agreement championed by President Obama and aimed at promoting investment and trade links between the 12 countries on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, was a rare instance of agreement on the campaign trail, with both Trump and Clinton rejecting the deal as candidates.
As for President Obama warning to the United Kingdom ahead of the Brexit vote that they would go “back of the queue” in any trade deal with the United States if they voted to split from the European Union, that is now null and void as well.
Trump has called Brexit a “great thing” and has said he’ll make a bilateral agreement with Britain a priority, saying such an agreement will be reached “very fast” once he gets in the Oval Office.
Trump and Africa: Trade and Aid
The US is the world’s biggest bilateral aid donor. Last year Washington spent $31bn on overseas development assistance, with much of those funds going to Africa. In an interview with the Washington Post, Trump said his presidency will focus on internal programmes rather than overseas aid.
“We have no money for education because we can’t build in our own country,” he said. “And at what point do you say hey, we have to take care of ourselves. So, you know, I know the outer world exists and I’ll be very cognizant of that but at the same time, our country is disintegrating, large sections of it, especially in the inner cities.”
In all his pronouncements so far, Trump has been relatively silent on Africa. But a four-page list of questions on US policy in Africa, submitted by his transition team to the State Department, raises questions about the continuation of aid programs. Overall, the questions indicate that a Trump administration will not view Africa as a foreign policy priority.
Trump’s team appears to be keen to review and, if necessary, scrap aid agreements and trade pacts with sub-Saharan African countries.
On the plan introduced by George W. Bush to tackle HIV/AIDS on the continent, known as PEPFAR, the Trump team queried: “Is PEPFAR worth the massive investment when there are so many security concerns in Africa? Is PEPFAR becoming a massive, international entitlement program?”
PEPFAR has committed more than $70 billion in funding to fighting HIV/AIDS—as well as tuberculosis and malaria—since 2003. The program has provided life-saving antiretroviral drugs for 11.5 million people.
The president-elect’s team also questioned whether US aid to Africa could be going to the wrong places. “With so much corruption in Africa, how much of our funding is stolen?” the team asked the State Department.
Insiders say Trump views most African states as inherently corrupt and squanderers of foreign aid which will probably mean some reduction in US development programs and a scaling back of pro-Africa trade agreements. The latter could include the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which gives African countries tariff-free access to US markets; AGOA was renewed until 2025 under President Obama.
On a positive note for Africa though, the Trump team is concerned about falling behind in Africa in relation to Chinese investment on the continent. The figures show that Washington has fallen behind Beijing as Africa’s preferred business partner: China overtook the United States as Africa’s top trade partner in 2009, and in 2015, Chinese exports to Africa reached $103 billion, compared to $27 billion in US exports, the Washington Post reported.
If Trump is determined to flex his muscles against China, he would also need to challenge the Xi Jinping-led nation in Africa.
With the US economic presence in Africa receding, China has occupied the void and driven competition out, including many European companies and investors. The Chinese are building infrastructure at a dizzying pace, in exchange for Africa’s mineral resources.
Thousands of Chinese companies are doing business in 50 African countries and Chinese state-owned companies are buying vast swathes of Africa’s arable land to set up large-scale agricultural projects.
In addition to trade, China relies on loans to buttress its presence in Africa. In 2015, during the sixth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation held in Johannesburg, Chinese president Xi Jinping pledged a whopping $60 billion loan, aid, and export credit package to Africa. Recently, $40 billion was pledged to Nigeria.
To reduce China’s influence in Africa, a Trump-led America would need to step up its contribution to the continents growth. This bodes well for Africa.