International Dossier. Trump, the origin of Resistance

From a blow, or rather from the strike of his pen along with his bombastic statements, Trump intends to redefine immigration policies, tax and health systems, trade agreements and the relation of the U.S. with other countries, all at once
March in Boston to protests against "Muslim Ban" - Photo: Steven Senne/ AP
Andrew Selee
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It seems as though a lighting has crashed in the capital of the U.S.

In his first days in office as U.S. president, Donald Trump has signed countless executive orders that attempt to set a course for the new administration, which has quarreled with Mexico and Australia Heads of State over the phone and twitter, by declaring to the world “America first” in an open break with the proposals of former Republican and Democrat administrations, which tried to introduce the country as the anchor of the global system.

From a blow, or rather from the strike of his pen along with his bombastic statements, Trump intends to redefine immigration policies, tax and health systems, trade agreements and the relation of the U.S. with other countries, all at once.

One shouldn’t judge the effect of a storm only by the roar of its thunder, it is better to wait until it is over, or at least until its intensity is lowered, to see what remains from the initial strike.

And yet, it is there where we are left with more questions than answers.

There is no doubt that the style in Washington has changed and that Trump has taken advantage of his first days in office to set the course of his political agenda. Some of his decisions will surely have a real impact in the public policy, but in other cases its effect will depend on further decisions made in the Congress, such as the implementation of his mandates or the result of the judicial cases that seek to hinder his initiatives

Take immigration, his decision to limit the number of refugees and to expand the criteria for the detention of illegal immigrants will surely have impactssuch as limiting the number of asylum seekers that are currently accepted in the U.S. and by allowing that immigration agents prioritize deportation, not only of undocumented immigrants with a criminal record, but of any other person that may represent a danger to the country or an expense to the public treasury.

By comparison, other measures, such as the construction of a border wall with Mexico, the hiring of 10,000 agents for the Border Patrol and of 5,000 Immigration and Customs agents (those who enforce deportations from the U.S.) require of Congress-approved funding. I have no doubt that Congress will support this aims, however, it is very likely that these are approved for much less than what Trump originally asked for.

In relation to the suspension of visas for people from seven Muslim countries, the Homeland Security Department has already forced the White House to allow entrance to those who already held a legal residence in the country, while courts seem to be halting the measure in its entirety, at least for now, we will have to wait for a final judicial ruling to see if the Muslim ban is really implemented or not. The president may attempt to act without consulting other members of his cabinet, as it seems to have happened as of lately, which will not always lead to successful results.

It is possible that this storm of activity proves useful for Trump, in his attempt to redefine the course of his country, but there is evidence that he is very quickly facing three groups he needs to rely on, in order to rule and to implement his long term vision.

First, there is Congress, which will have to decide the budget to have Trump’s initiatives implemented and which will have to approve the legislation to change the tax and health systems. Several senators and congressmen have criticized Trump’s initial measures and, while they won’t face the president directly during his first months, it is very likely that they will show its strenght by delaying and reducing his initiatives. Unlike Ronald Reagan, whom Trump is keen on relating to, he hasn’t used his first days in office to build bridges with the leaders in Congress.

The second group, and the one responsible for the president’s legitimacy, is the American population, who is strongly resisting his first initiatives. Two polls by CNN/ORC and Gallup, show that 60% of the American public opposes the border wall with Mexico, while 52% opposes the Muslim ban. Trump’s level of social acceptance is below 50%, something unusual for a U.S. president in his first days in the White House.

Certainly, it is possible that Trump reverses this trends progressively and that he convinces more fellow nationals of the effectiveness of his decisions, something that hasn’t appear to have happened so far.

Finally, he has quarreled with international Heads of State and audiences, very quickly, which diminishes his room of manoeuvre in the foreign affairs arena. The signature case, no doubt, is Mexico. In only two weeks the U.S. managed to leave behind a policy that, for over two decades, aimed to bring the relations closer with Mexico and Canada, neighbors with whom the U.S. shares borders and a continent, by demanding Mexico to pay for a border wall that it doesn’t even want and by requesting to have the North America Foreign Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiated.

This can affect all the cooperation agenda, including joint collaboration against criminal and terrorists groups in the Northern hemisphere and threatens to undermine both the economies of Mexico and the U.S. Trump not only confronted the Mexican government but the dignity of all Mexicans, which makes it extremely difficult to have the cooperation relations back on track once more, even if Trump wanted to.

Mexico may be the exemplary case, but it certainly not the only one, Trump also quarreled with Australia’s prime minister, a long-time ally of the U.S., over the 1,200 refugees that former U.S. president, Barack Obama agreed to receive. Additionally, Trump’s economic advisor accused the German government of being intentionally depreciating the euro to improve their commercial stand with the U.S. A recent poll shows that German citizens went from having great and generalized trust towards the U.S. to having very little in a matter of months.

Trump has been betting the success of changing the course of the country without general agreements and only by force of his personality and decisions. However, very little is achieved in politics without negotiation and cooperation among different players.

I am not sure that his strategy will fail, it is possible that Trump is only palcing markers and that he may be willing to negotiate the specific details later on, but there is evidence that he he thinks he may led on his own, unbound, in both domestic policy and foreign affairs.

With his strategy, Trump has created a raucous storm from Washington that is splashing all over the world, but still, we are left to see how much does it make a mark in the public policy. 

*Andrew Selee is the Executive Vice President of the Woodrow Wilson Center


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