Sunday, 29 January 2017

Donald Trump - An Enigma

Donald Trump has defied all expectations from the very start of his presidential campaign more than a year ago. Very few people believed that he would actually run, then he did. They thought he wouldn't be a serious candidate and will not do well in the polls, then he did. They said he wouldn't win any primaries, then he did. They said he wouldn't get the Republican nomination even if he wins the primaries, then he did. Finally, they said there was no way he could match Hillary’s candidature, let alone win the election. Now he is President Trump! Rest is history!

Trump, the businessman, has shown that he can turn a negative situation into his advantage, after all he has seen bankruptcies and emerged stronger by cutting deals! So who better than him to turn a controversy, or even notoriety, into a winning position, by a good margin. Despite the abrasive and negative campaign, the Trump brand has clearly made its impact. As Donald Trump made the journey with his pompous showmanship, there was no trace of any doubt and he was oozing with his characteristic confidence, projecting supreme self-assuredness, the personal magnetism, the winning aura that's so appealing to many of his followers.

He has demonstrated his skills at setting the agenda, and framing the contest on his own terms. Trump owes his success to what he calls “truthful hyperbole”. He claims it's an innocent form of exaggeration - and a very effective form of promotion." 

Transferring his skills as a reality TV star to the election campaign trail, he reduced the complex global issues into simple black or white messages. He anchored his campaign on simple messages
like “Make America Great Again” #MAGA, Build the Wall, Drain the Swamp, Bring back the jobs, America First, Locker her up and Rigged. He attacked the government policies on trade and treaties as destroying American jobs. His campaign, simply said ‘Our government is screwing you’. So the enemy was within namely the Establishment, Democrats, the Republican elite, the media, and the crony corporates.

One political observer (Nunberg) commented that, "The idea of the wall was genius too. It touches on immigration, so it's a policy issue. Two, it touches on Trump's brand. Builder, Developer. Three, it fits the rationale and appeal of his candidacy. The wall. Subliminally, you're saying it's time to take care of America's problems. Then you have the wall between the Trump people and the establishment people. And every single time you mentioned the word wall, wall, wall, on TV, the prospective primary voter is going to think, 'Trump, Trump, Trump. He's our protective wall. To protect us.”

He's a natural when it comes to the stagecraft of campaigning. It was simple and repetitive which struck a strong chord with the voters.

His attack on unauthorised Mexican immigrants, whom he decried as criminals and "rapists," had an electrifying effect on his candidacy. Far from disqualifying him from the presidential nomination, they propelled him towards it. A hardline stance on immigration, especially when coupled with fears about national security, is a big vote winner. When a poll suggested he had fallen behind, he announced his plan to temporarily ban Muslims from entering America.  Again, his poll numbers soared. It's been the calculus of his campaign.  His outspoken attacks also reinforced another of his great selling points, his delight in railing against "political correctness". These Trump tirades especially resonate with his core support, lower income white males, and that earned him the blue-collar appeal.  Whatever the reason, he was bulletproof.

Trump insulted decorated war veteran John McCain. He picked a fight with Fox News and its popular presenter, Megyn Kelly. He doubled down when asked how he once mocked the weight of a Hispanic beauty pageant winner. He offered a half-hearted apology when the secret video surfaced of his boasting about making unwanted sexual advances towards women. He gaffed his way through the three presidential debates. The criticism that he is a racist demagogue, and the shower of international criticism especially from Muslims and Hispanics, did nothing to harm his candidacy.

None of it mattered. Quite the contrary. While he took dips in the polls following some of the more outrageous incidents, his approval was like a cork - eventually bouncing back to the surface. Perhaps the various controversies came so hard and fast that none had time to draw blood.

Trump labeled competitors with unflattering names like “Crooked Hillary” and “Lyin’ Ted” to solicit reactions from the candidates and psychologically repositioned their standing among voters. He also applied a problem/solution marketing formula. He framed the “problem” as the nation being in economic and societal trouble, rallied people to galvanize their dissatisfaction with government and positioned himself as the change agent.

As to "false equivalency" - they treated Trump as a nasty, throwback, stupid, ignorant racist and bigot. They treated Hillary as a queen, only awaiting the coronation that was her due. 

He ran against the Democrats. He also ran against the powers within his own party. He beat them all.

In the final analysis, the rise of Trump says a lot about the deep rooted anti-establishment sentiment and points to voters’ distrust for Hillary than a ringing endorsement for Trump. This was Brexit Mark II when the popular sentiment was against the politicians who have consistently let down the vast majority of middle and lower income earners.

However, his rudimentary policy platforms will come under increasing scrutiny, like the apparently unspecified plan he says he will destroy ISIS within months. It's the same story for his fiscally questionable promises to simultaneously cut taxes, raise military spending, take care of veterans, safeguard social safety net programs and eliminate the national debt.

Let's fast forward into his new “POTUS” role – Phew! What a week that was!!!

For Trump, winning the Presidency was not enough. He wanted to win the popular vote too and has launched an investigation on Voter fraud. A man who has obsessed for TRP ratings for his shows, wanted a mega event for his coronation. But that was not to be. The crowd was small, the weather was bad and his speech was dire.

His ego was dented by the sparse inaugural crowd but that didn’t deter him from making outlandish claims with his “alternative reality”. His Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, made the claim as “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe.”  When the media confronted with facts, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s counsel, justified Sean Spicers figures as “alternative facts”. And then they threated to hold the media accountable for bad press!

O’ what an eventful first week Trump Presidency has delivered! Seven days into his presidency, the series of official actions, at the rate of as many as five a day, has created a new national reality on central policy concerns from the environment to voting rights to international commitments to immigration, healthcare and trade; making it clear that as President he is not going to moderate his positions than what he took as a candidate. Since being elected, Trump has largely stood by his campaign promises. Here's a breakdown of some of his plan and initial actions:

1.    Repeal Obama care

Trump’s first move was to roll back the “regulatory burden” of Obamacare pending the act’s “prompt repeal”.

2.   Withdraw from Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Trump said he intends to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and replace it with "fair bilateral trade deals." And he has already initiated the process.

The move will shatter President Barack Obama's aim of strengthening US influence in Asia and could leave the Western world's trade agenda in disarray. The TPP, which was aimed at linking the US economy with 11 countries around the Pacific, took years to negotiate.

"The TPP without the United States is meaningless," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said
during a recent visit to Argentina. Some experts claimed that the TPP would kill jobs and worsen income inequality across the 12 nations, particularly in the US.  Trump said he intends to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and replace it with "fair bilateral trade deals." And he has already initiated the process.

The move will shatter President Barack Obama's aim of strengthening US influence in Asia and could leave the Western world's trade agenda in disarray. The TPP, which was aimed at linking the US economy with 11 countries around the Pacific, took years to negotiate.

"The TPP without the United States is meaningless," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said during a visit to Argentina.

Some experts claimed that the TPP would kill jobs and worsen income inequality across the 12 nations, particularly in the US.  He has also indicated that he will review the NAFTA pact.

3.   Examine Visa programs

During the final weeks of his campaign, his plan that would end illegal immigration and suspend immigration from terror problem regions. He also said he would "stop illegal immigration, deport all criminal aliens."

In one of his most provocative actions, he has passed one of the most controversial executive orders that
is riling people up within America and around the world. President Donald Trump's seismic move to ban more than 130 million people from the United States and to deny entry to all refugees reverberated worldwide Saturday, as chaos and confusion rippled through US airports, American law enforcement agencies and foreign countries trying to grasp Washington's new policy.
Trump's executive order bars citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia) from entering the United States for the next 90 days and suspends the admission of all refugees for 120 days causing serious disruption resulting in
 large scale popular outrage amongst people across the globe and within the US with many US corporates speaking out against the move reiterating vociferously that this goes against what America stands for!

4.   Build the Wall

Trump issued an executive order on Wednesday to 
“Build the Wall” calling for “the immediate
construction of a physical wall on the southern border, monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism”.

Trump proposes to pay for the wall by levying a 20% duty on Mexico.  He also moved to deny federal funds to "sanctuary cities" – the more than 400 cities and counties in the US that offer some form of safe haven to America’s 11 million undocumented migrants.

5.   Cancel environmental restrictions

Trump was consistent in his promise to reduce environmental restrictions. Now he is vowing to deliver on that. The plan, which Trump has previously said he would scrap, targets existing coal-fired and natural gas power plants in an effort to reduce greenhouse emissions in the US by 32% by 2030. It is expected to go before the Supreme Court in early 2017.

6.   Cut regulations on businesses

Trump says he will formulate a "rule that says for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated." He has previously spoken on his desire to axe the Dodd-Frank Act, which was created after the financial crisis to abide by a litany of new rules to prevent another crash.

The Fed also does annual "stress tests" to simulate whether the bank was strong enough financially to withstand another financial crisis. All that regulation has triggered huge backlash from Wall Street and Republicans, including Trump, though he has also supported stricter regulations in the past.

7.   Protect against cyber attacks

Trump says he will establish a cyber-review team made up of members of the military, law enforcement and private sector. He wants to audit the security of the federal government's computer systems and strengthen the hacking division of the US military. Trump also wants to "develop the offensive cyber capabilities we need to deter attacks by both state and non-state actors and, if necessary, to respond appropriately."

The US government is credited with having some of the most dangerous hacking tools on the planet. Yet these weapons haven't deterred Russia from hacking into the Democratic National Committee or China from hacking into American companies.

      Enact lobbying bans – “Drain the Swamp”

Trump promised to "drain the swamp," so it's little surprise that he has focused his ire on lobbyists. The move will prohibit officials from becoming a lobbyist for five years after leaving government.

Trump's goal of making sure that people aren't using the government to enrich themselves and using their service in government to do that, says Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer.

"Everybody's a lobbyist down there," he said. "That's the problem with the system -- the system," Trump said. "We're doing a lot of things to clean up the system. But everybody that works for government, they then leave government and they become a lobbyist, essentially. I mean, the whole place is one big lobbyist."

In Summary

The Trump is acting like a man in a hurry. He seems to be clearly conveying to his supporters that he means business and will not fail them on the campaign promises.

However, the irony in some of Trump’s actions is not lost. Although Trump ran as a populist, railing at the elite on behalf of blue-collar workers, he has surrounded himself during his campaign with plutocrats. And now that he’s president, he’s elevating them to power. Trump’s proposed Cabinet has a net worth of more than $6 billion with some of them who have benefited from favourable Government policies in the past!

It is equally undeniable that the new US President also put the rest of the world on notice. His penchant for rapid actions and confrontational style will have far reaching implications for both America and the rest of the world.

We are likely to witness a more protectionist, inward-looking, self-serving, America First policies from the US.  This will undoubtedly result in increasing retaliatory actions from other trading blocs and is likely to reshape the world economic order.  In the short term, there is likely to be a heightened chaos and uncertainty arising from US policy actions that can cause significant disruptions to cross border trade and global economic growth as well as many business models. 

On the geo-political front, Trump is likely to create new political alliances though he has reversed his position on NATO with an agreement to continue his support to it. Trump’s approach to US relationship with Russia including any lifting of sanctions will have serious geo-political implications that might potentially test other alliances and may create a new political order of alliance partners for US, Japan, China, NATO, Middle East and the rest of the world.

One thing is for sure is that there will never be a dull moment in Trump Presidency!