Saturday 20 January 2018

Two views on Trump

John Simpson's talk on yesterday's The World at One ran as follows:
When American presidents speak as forthrightly as this - that was Donald Trump at his inauguration - people assume they mean what they say. But President Trump is different. 
It's taken us a year to understand that when he speaks it's more likely to be mood music than US policy. He's talking not to ambassadors and foreign governments but to the people who elected him. 
Those people believe that what we used to call 'the Third World' habitually takes America for a ride, hoovering up Washington's money and then ignoring what Washington wants done.  
On the first of January this year Mr. Trump tweeted that America was "foolish" to have given Pakistan 33 billion dollars in aid. Cue fury in Pakistan. The President wasn't really thinking about Pakistan. He was thinking about his own followers. Maybe he will cut US aid to Pakistan but that's not at all certain yet. His followers are sick of "political correctness". He was just showing that he knows it.  
The same goes for the remark, assuming he made it, about "shithole" countries. More outrage. But there's no real sign that he's going to change US immigration policy radically. And he won't need to as long as his faithful supporters think this is how he feels.  
Some governments seem to have spotted this. Germany, for instance, believes that US policy remains pretty much what it has been, even over Russia - which was an early worry. So the real problem for the German government is coping with outraged public opinion at home.  
And the most important foreign government of all in this context certainly seems to have realised it. The Chinese government, hosting Donald Trump there, winced a bit when he talked about stopping China taking advantage of the US but it's also noticed that nothing much seems to happen as a result when he speaks, so it's decided that the best thing is to say "We don't agree" and then get on with business as usual.  
And even when Mr. Trump actually does something, leaving the Paris agreement on climate change for instance, he is perfectly capable of musing, as he did the other day, that the US might possibly rejoin it.  
The trouble is, whether or not he thinks this kind of thing matters other people do. Moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, for instance. For the first time since 1956, because of this, the US is no longer regarded as a neutral arbiter between Israel and the Palestinians.  
It's only one issue but it's symptomatic. America's soft power, which used to be dominant in the world, is slipping. Country after country polls show that the perception of the US is turning negative thanks to Donald Trump's unguarded words and tweets.  
But the people who voted him in don't know much about that, or care about it either.
Well, that's one way of looking at it. 

Another is to say that Mr. Trump has been following through aplenty, as in a piece at US News and World Report by a strong Trump critic Liz Mair

According to her in just his first year as President, Donald Trump followed through on his election campaign promises and got a major tax bill passed, rolled back lots of government regulations, achieved some reforms to the Affordable Care Act, pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate deal, pulled the U.S. out of Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, (contrary to what John Simpson said) followed through on promises to vastly increase deportations of unlawful immigrants and curb legal immigration, got a revised version of his Middle East travel ban through, moved beyond rhetoric to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and got numerous conservative judges appointed (including a Supreme Court judge).  

So is Donald Trump merely a blowhard, as John Simpson argues, or is he a someone, as Liz Mair contends, who successfully follows through on his promises (whether you like them or not)? 


  1. Simpson seems to be tying himself up in knots there simply so he can still strike an anti-Trump pose...

    Trump's remarks on Pakistan are completely fair. For decades the West has been supporting Pakistan while it arms terrorists to kill its soldiers, while it seeks to destroy India through terrorism and while it exports nuclear technology to countries like Iran and North Korea.

    Meanwhile on BBC World Service (generally less biased than Radio 4) I heard a discussion about Trump and his economics which, whilst being couched in anti-Trump language nevertheless did concede that a democracy has to throw up someone who will speak for those who are being harmed by globalisation, also that his tax reform might have some stimulus effect, and that the economy was currently growing at over 3% (pretty impressive for a mature economy like the USA). Clearly some journalists do feel they have to give some acknowledgment of reality, and not just make things up to fit the narrative. I'm not asking the BBC to fall in love with Trump - just to report on him (and the Clintons) fairly.

  2. Well it was Theodore Roosevelt that described using his presidential position as a "bully pulpit". This is an American president's traditional MO and Trump is using it.

    Indeed "some may say" that Obama was all talk and no action for 8 years.

    Seems to me that our old BBC bore Simpson just doesn't like what Trump says.


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