Donald Trump will not go down in the annals of history of the world’s superpower as an ordinary president. All US presidents were extraordinary men in a way. Each encountered different domestic and international circumstances and had to deal with them from the standpoint of a country unique in its geographical expanse, its rich potential and its variegated immigrant population.
Nevertheless, the current occupant of the White House will stand out because his predecessors (and this will probably apply to his successors as well) were essentially judged in history on the basis of their “administration” and its leadership, whether successful or not.
From this perspective, the White House is the institution that steers the other institutions that, together, constitute the US system in the era of a particular president. Trump is an unprecedented phenomenon in US history not just because of the many repercussions of his particular personality, psychological constitution and behaviour on US society, or because he epitomises a certain state of US capitalism, but also because of the fact that he made it to the White House to begin with, which continues to be reflected in everything that has been written in the US about his leadership and the actions he has taken as president during his first year in office.
Perhaps the first year of this US president is best encapsulated in those scenes related to his presence in Davos in order to attend the World Economic Forum, that annual event that brings together world leaders — heads of state, heads of major corporations and heads of international organisations — and that reflects their consensus that globalisation is for the good of mankind and that globalisation, itself, can remedy whatever adverse side effects it has. When Trump arrived in the snowclad town, he was greeted by restaurants that offered special meals, such as the “Trump burger” and “Trump pizza”. However, his greatest welcome came from the European publics who saw in the new tax bill he signed into law before the end of 2017 a kind of American lesson to European countries that are noted for their high income taxes.
But he also came under attack, mostly from his own citizens. One, in particular, member of the rich men’s club of New York, Trump knows very well: the billionaire business magnate George Soros, founder of the Open Society Foundation (a civil society organisation to which he has given more than $18 billion and that is dedicated to the dissemination of globalisation, democracy and human rights). Soros lashed out at the president for following in the footsteps of the world’s dictators and for his antagonistic stance on the question of global warming. He also accused Trump of steering the world towards a nuclear war through his mishandling of the crisis with North Korea. If the hostility of Soros and his organisation towards Trump is rather on the extreme side, it nevertheless represents a widespread trend in the US.
In spite of that hostility, which is shared by liberals, Democrats, the media and even some prominent members of the Republican Party, Trump has a success story that he repeats often. It has to do with economic success, which was one of his chief campaign pledges. Economic growth rates in the US have increased while inflation rates and unemployment have declined to their lowest rates in years. One could say that the US economy has almost begun to operate in full gear.
True, this recovery began during the Obama administration and it can be attributed to the reforms Obama introduced following the global financial crisis in 2008. However, Trump played a no less important role through the measures he has taken to deregulate the economy in order to stimulate investment and to curb the flight of US companies abroad and to lure them back home. The new tax law was an important contribution towards these ends and a kind of declaration of victory for the “America First” philosophy and the idea that the US is on its way to becoming a great power once again.
Many observers disagree with this. They hold that Trump, in his first year, failed to achieve the success he had expected. They point to the federal government shutdown at the end of the year because of the deadlock in the Senate over the government appropriations bill. Prior to this there was a similar standoff over the bill to abolish “Obamacare”.
In fact, apart from the new tax law, Trump has not had much success in getting Congress to pass the laws he proposes and the little success that he has had in office was due to the “mature” members of his administration such as Defence Secretary Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson, National Security Adviser McMaster and White House Chief of Staff Kelly. The record of Trump’s first year in office also shows that he has not succeeded in rebuilding the executive authority in which there were numerous vacancies. He only managed to fill 300 of these vacancies, in contrast to the 500 staff members that Bush Jr appointed in his first year.
Evidently, the machinery of American government is not very responsive to Trump who is used to running big businesses in which the duty of the board of directors is to hear and obey. According to some journalists, and as Trump himself has insinuated, his programme has encountered stiff resistance from the so-called “deep state” which does not hear and obey and which consists of the US intelligence community, diplomats, public servants and military leaders. All of these circles harbour negative attitudes towards Trump and a fear that his isolationist and populist tendencies and remarks are jeopardising the US’s leadership abroad and weakening its dynamism at home.
Nothing expresses the sharp tensions between Trump and his opponents in the US better than “Russiagate”, the scandal over the extent to which the Trump election campaign communicated with Russia, and President Putin personally, and Russian tampering in the US polls in order to ensure the defeat of Hillary Clinton. This is no longer a matter of speculation. It is the subject of extensive investigations being conducted by the FBI and congressional committees, all of which have been subpoenaing individuals for hearings.
The process, which continues to unfold by the day, carries echoes of a previous era when scandal and hearings culminated with the ouster of former president Richard Nixon. It is still too early to say whether the current scandal will lead to the same result, especially since the Republican Party continues to dominate both houses of Congress and no one in that party hates Trump enough to be ready to sacrifice the Oval Office to the Democrats.
*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly