By MANI THANGADURAI
A new year, and at least one more item of disconcerting news from Donald Trump’s White House. That seems to be the biggest certainty of 2018 so far.
The anniversary of his first year in office as President of the United States of America was inadvertently marked by the government shutdown over the weekend. This was brought about due to opposition to proposals including the eradication of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) act and retraction of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). But arguably the heaviest news coverage went to his recent cringeworthy comment about “s**thole countries.” It is time to take a look at his behavior since his election and the rationale behind his words and actions. Let us examine whether he has done any justice to the promises he made of uniting the country and “being the president for all Americans” which he made on winning the nomination in November 2016.
Many of us are familiar with the way Trump ran his presidential campaign–as an outsider with plenty of shock value who introduced himself as a supposedly refreshing change from the status quo of politicians. He also claimed that he would strive to put “America first.” Throughout the course of his campaign he indulged in what would best be described as reprehensible behavior, from openly mocking disabled New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski to encouraging supporters at his rallies to “beat the crap” out of hecklers, promising their legal fees would be taken care of. In addition, we can’t forget some of his bizarre ideas which included building a border wall between the United States and Mexico, and a “temporary” shutdown on Muslims entering the United States.
As outrageous as his campaign behavior was, supporters of Trump were very eager to back their man, praising him for “telling it like it is” and not sugar-coating things while also saying that his decidedly racist rhetoric was an attempt to try and appeal to more voters. In addition, many of his supporters claimed that he would eschew his campaign behavior and most definitely go on to be a great president for all Americans and a uniting force for the good of the country.
What we have clearly seen since his inauguration a year ago, however, is proof of the adage “as you sow, so shall you reap.” Since his arrival in office, Trump has had to effectively pander to his white conservative base and avoid offending the fringe radicals on the right who were passionate about voting for him. In one instance, he referred to the “fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville rally and avoided making a sweeping statement. In stark contrast, he wasted little time in admonishing the mostly African-American NFL players who knelt for the national anthem in order to protest racial injustice. His failure to condemn the actions of the white supremacists in Charlottesville is quite simply further proof that having made his bed with them, he cannot but lie in it.
Trump’s reference to “s**thole countries” in a recent government discussion about immigration is yet another shameful and despicable example of his increasingly ill-mannered and uncouth demeanor which is threatening to further diminish America’s global standing. In a discussion with two senators from either side of the Democratic-Republican divide and other lawmakers, Trump made that remark while describing people coming from Haiti and other countries with Temporary Protected Status which include countries in Africa and South America. That he said those exact words was corroborated by several attendees at that meeting. Trump asserted that America needed to have more immigrants from countries like Norway, and it was of no coincidence that it dovetailed with a recent visit to the country by the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg. A spokesperson for Trump didn’t deny the language used but was quick to praise him for “fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.” Trump’s supporters have also gone to great lengths to support him by claiming that he is right both to insist on immigration reform and to put the interests of the American people first. However, his comments were clearly in line with his outrageous campaign rhetoric, and were rightly and widely condemned by politicians on both sides, as well as members of the offended communities living in the United States and around the world. Several global politicians were also quick to condemn Trump’s choice of words, and coming as those comments did on the eighth anniversary of the Haitian earthquake, those words were not lost on the Haitian ambassador to the United States. Ambassador Paul Altidor was especially quick to point out his country’s contribution to American history and society, including fighting alongside American soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Considering Trump’s decision to order almost 60,000 Haitians — many of them Florida residents who fled the earthquake in 2010 — to leave the United States or adjust their immigration status by July 2019, many people in the Haitian communities here in Florida are increasingly hurt and angry. Members of the African communities were also quick to lambast Trump for supposedly minimizing their contributions to American society.
Trump’s supporters have always been quick to stand by their man. They continue to claim that for the rough nature of his language, he is truly focused on doing what he can to solve the problems facing the country. Trump’s supposed prowess as a businessman was cited as a reason why he touted himself as the best person to help the country’s struggling economy. In turn, his supporters are only too happy, as he himself has boisterously been, to point to an increase in jobs and a healthy stock market as proof of his success. This is not to mention the prospective benefits for corporate mammoths from his recent tax cuts. The claim that Trump deserves sole credit for improving the economy is nothing but arrogance. The recovery really started under President Obama who inherited an economy ravaged by the effects of the Great Recession, and implemented more policies meant to stabilize the economy and start to bring back jobs. In addition, there is still the contention that Trump’s tax cuts will adversely affect families in the economic lower class and only contribute more to the deficit. In short, Trump really has a lot more work to do before his supporters can hail him as the great savior they so want him to be.
Furthermore, when it comes to discharging the duties of the president on a domestic scale, to paraphrase President Bill Clinton, “It isn’t just the economy, stupid.” Given the divisive nature of his presidential campaign, not to mention his trumped-up claim at the Republican National Convention in July of 2016 that he alone could fix the country, Trump had and still has a responsibility to be the driving force in uniting the country and take greater strides to make people really buy into his vision. What is apparent though is that with racial tensions now at a much higher level than was previously visible, Trump has only served to clumsily, if inadvertently, add fuel to an already raging fire. His cabinet members are also struggling to either exercise damage control or deflect blame onto the media for apparent bias.
Speaking of which, Trump’s attacks on the media since the beginning of his term have continued with his recent ‘Fake News Awards’ where he wasted very little time going on Twitter and naming and shaming reporters he disliked. He also allocated a list of made-up awards in an attempt to belittle the media outlets who were critical of him, and ended his crazed exercise with a list of 10 reasons to like Donald Trump. His words, tweets and actions have left many people in no doubt that he seems to favor a media which is more positively in tune with him, a clear sign of a man with starkly autocratic tendencies. Many people on both sides have now been very quick to call his bluff, his low job approval ratings are continuing to plummet, and more voters are expressing dissatisfaction and regret for having voted for him. Trump clearly faces a challenge to live up to his over-hyped promises and become the president for all Americans he still aspires to be.
And this isn’t to ignore the impact of his actions on the global stage or his supposed achievements in foreign policy. As with the economy, Trump has been very quick to take full credit for ISIS losing ground in Iraq, but in reality he was once again the beneficiary of President Obama’s early initiatives and structures. His decision to recognize Jerusalem, and not Tel Aviv, as Israel’s capital, provoked widespread condemnation from Palestinian groups and other entities for his bull-headed, tactless approach. These have been just a few consequences of his haphazard foreign policy. In addition, Trump’s forays in globalism and foreign affairs, namely his decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord and his bumbling appearance at the United Nations General Assembly, have left people scoffing at his alarming ignorance on global issues and his rank unsuitability for the job of being a global statesman, which has always been a major responsibility of the President of the United States.
With his behavior being a source of global embarrassment, one must wonder if Trump believes that the existing stature of his country means that he can behave as he wishes without any reprimand. While it is true that the greatness of a country lies not in its leaders but its people, Trump is still a high-profile person. As president, Trump is also a global ambassador and a representative of the populace who voted for him. With his rhetoric seemingly being contemptuous of what he calls the “false song” of globalism and more in tune with rabid nationalism and an impractical fragmentation of global entities, it seems alarmingly clear that Trump is slowly but deliberately veering from an “America First” ideology towards one more in tune with “America Alone.” That should be enough to make people around the world feel afraid.
Going into his second year, Trump would do very well to finally start growing up and remembering that for all his bluff and bluster about his election victory, he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes and was only installed as president by the technicality of the Electoral College. Widespread increasing dissatisfaction over the way he has governed this country so far has been evident in the many rampant protests and in the victory of Democrat Doug Jones in a recent special senate election in normally conservative Alabama. Therefore, it is not hard to see that Trump faces an even bigger battle to maintain support from even his conservative base, not to mention his own cabinet members and Republican House members. For a man who has built his image and career on shameless braggadocio, however, it is all the more likely that he will insist on doing things his way and showing his true colors through his twitter outbursts. He will face a very stern test of his goodwill in November 2018 when the American people will vote in the midterm House elections. If Trump’s Republican party loses crucial support in both the Congress and the Senate he will find it increasingly difficult to continue to put forth his agenda. The recent shutdown has served as proof of his dismal failure to command unity and respect from both sides of the political spectrum, and he must assume the lion’s share of responsibility for that. The next time he tries to blame “obstructionist Democrats” or the “fake news media” for his struggles, he would do well to remember another old adage: the fish always rots from the head down.
Mani Thangadurai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org