By Vijay Darda | 23-01-2017
Now that Donald John Trump has been sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America, the least he deserves is a fair chance in office. He is the elected leader of the world’s richest democracy and the unelected leader of the free world. Besides, the office of the American President is an institution by itself and has a role assigned by history. Irrespective of his party and personal ideology, the 45th US President has a historical role to perform. So, let us see how he performs this role.
At 70, he is the oldest leader to come to this office and with his Trump business empire he is the richest American to be elected to the White House. His decision to convert the business into trusts and to leave it to his two sons has not satisfied the legal eagles from the conflict of inflicting ethical debate. But for President Trump this is immaterial. He never cared for such criticism in the campaign stage, and now at least for the next four years, he is above all such concerns. It is on par with his response to the criticism about not filing the Income-Tax returns and being brazen about it.
In a campaign mode 16-minute inaugural address, President Trump dug out the central arguments of his candidacy and harshly condemned the condition of the country he now commands. Not for him the usual presidential optimism about the state of the nation, but he focused on his assessment that communities had fallen into disrepair with rampant crime, chronic poverty, broken schools, stolen wealth and “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones”. He then set out his governance mantra: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now. We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.”
With four past presidents from both the parties sitting behind him, Trump issued a strong unequivocal condemnation of their time in office. “Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action,” he said while talking about his presidency.
The presidential inauguration, however, is not only about the incoming victor’s agenda. A lot of it has to do with formal lunches, dinners, the pomp and show of democracy, and while President Trump may have been unconventional about the content of his inaugural show, he was completely formal when dealing with the outgoing president Barack Obama and his first lady Michelle or for that matter his defeated democratic rival Hillary Clinton and her husband former president Bill Clinton. Quite clearly, the ‘jail her’ phrase from the campaign is now a forgotten element.
But other hot button campaign issues like job losses to Mexico are not forgotten especially as Trump sees his election as part of a global movement that includes Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, and wants the vocal champions of globalisation to imbibe his core message that henceforth his focus will be entirely on rebuilding America and promoting its interests. “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs,” he asserted while making it clear at the outset that he was addressing “fellow Americans and people of the world.”
It is in this context that his foreign policy responses would matter more for the world. Even otherwise, the rest of the world believes that America with the highest GDP in the world is the most powerful nation on earth and its domestic issues are taken care of by the domestic politicians leaving the president free to tackle global issues. So, it is welcome statement when President Trump asserts that he would finish the problem of Islamic terrorism and IS.
But his foreign policy approach is not a straight line journey and depending on its twists and turns would cause uncertainties and anxieties in countries like Mexico, China, Japan, France, Germany and above all Russia. He seems to convey an initial impression that with him as the president of America, the Russian President Vladimir Putin will have a better time negotiating contentious issues. This warming up to Putin has to be seen in the context of the scepticism that he had about the Russian spy agencies influencing the US presidential election against Hillary Clinton.
All the other countries have their own reasons to be wary of a Trump presidency based on possible policy statements coming out from Washington in the transition period between the November 8 elections and the inauguration of the presidency. But the real show has begun now, and the recalibration of attitudes, nuances and policies will now start taking shape in global capitals.
In so far as India is concerned, things would have to wait till the first summit meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Given the fact that Prime Minister Modi conducts his diplomacy largely in first person singular the contours of his personal equation with President Trump would be watched eagerly. Of course, there would be comparisons between the Modi-Obama bonhomie, but now these just have an academic value. The business end of the things will matter more especially the impact of the America first mantra on India’s IT business. Similarly, the developments on strategic issues including the nuclear sector would weigh heavily on the minds of the diplomatic bureaucracy. New Delhi would be of course watching closely as to where does Islamabad stand vis-a-vis Washington in Donald Trump’s presidency? This is an equation that would sharply test the change between rhetoric and policy in Washington.
Before I conclude…
All outgoing US presidents leave a letter for their successor so that it may serve as a guidance for some future occasion. President Obama first expressed his gratitude for the American people for making him a better man. “Because all that I have learned from my term in office, I’ve learned from you. You made me a better president, and you made me a better man.” Then he observed: “America is not the project of a single person. The single most powerful word in our democracy is ‘we’. We the people. We shall overcome. We can.”