logo

President Trump's unchartered territory

Abdur Rahman Chowdhury from Virginia, United States | Thursday, 12 July 2018


It is more than well established that President Trump is determined to demean the accomplishments of Obama administration. His disdain against President Obama stems from the fact that Barak Obama came from the black community and Trump administration would not accept a legacy of a black presidency. In this tirade, Trump has been aided by a group of Republican law makers who in multiple occasions expressed their racial outbursts. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader, declared in 2008 that his party's principal objective would be to deny Obama second term in office. Lindsay Graham, Senator from South Carolina, characterised Obama as delusional and resolved to discredit the president in the Congress. Obama's nominees for the Supreme Court positions were held up for months and denied the superior court non-conservative judges. Numbers of ambassadorial positions were kept vacant for months to disable the State Department.
Trump made an electoral pledge to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) popularly known as Obama Care. Notwithstanding the shortcomings, ACA enabled around 40 million low income earners, for the first time, to have health insurance coverage. It became obligatory for the employers to ensure that employees are brought under health insurance. ACA was opposed vehemently by the Republican lawmakers alleging that compulsion to arrange insurance for the employees would retard the employers to make further investment. Trump at the beginning of his presidency repealed ACA but promised to put in place a substitute, which has not been found yet. In the absence of an alternative mechanism, large numbers of people were robbed of insurance coverage. The Washington Post reported last month that in 2016, through ACA, one billion dollar was transferred to low income population - mostly African Americans and Latinos - a remarkable accomplishment under a racially charged administration. Last week, the regulation to arrange insurance for the employees has been revoked by the White House.
Trump's abhorrence for the immigrants is well known. He characterised immigrants as criminals and accused Mexico of infiltrating thugs into the United States. Trump viewed Muslims as terrorists and vowed to deny their entry into the country. White House promulgated travel ban in 2016, known as Muslim ban, disqualifying the travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries to enter the United States. This was challenged in the courts. The courts in New York, Hawaii and in Michigan declared the travel ban illegal. Sally Yates, Acting Deputy Attorney General, refused to defend the White House in the court. She was summarily dismissed. Now the Supreme Court has declared the revised travel ban as lawful and that the president has authority to restrict people's entry into the United States. The judgment was delivered on party lines by 4 to 3. Judges appointed by Trump and Republican Presidents approved the ban while the moderates appointed by the Democratic administrations disagreed and issued notes of dissents.
In the name of protecting the border, Trump administration has, in effect, launched a war against undocumented immigrants and their American born children. Babies have been snatched away from mothers and housed in makeshift shelters. The tears of mothers and wailings of children moved even those hostile to immigrants. Senators and Congressmen came under increasing pressure from their constituencies to put an end to this inhuman, brutal and unprecedented cruelty. White House suspended the offensive and agreed reunion of children with their mothers. In this assault against illegal immigrants, children became the collateral damage. Over 2,300 children are waiting to be reunited with their parents even after weeks of separation.
The European Union (EU), over the years, has developed cohesiveness amongst the countries in Europe. Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, East European countries gradually joined the union transforming it into one of the largest political associations. NATO, on the other hand, has been a military alliance set up to promote collective security of European countries against threats and invasion from the Soviet Union. United States became the juggernaut of the alliance. Since 1991, countries from East Europe and the Baltics either joined or expressed interest to join the alliance. With the resurgence of 'reinvigorated Russia' under President Vladimir Putin and Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2012 and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, security became the major concern of Europe.
In this fragile environment when trans-Atlantic unity is pivotal to people in the democratic world, Trump began to unleash extreme disdain against the EU and NATO. At the G7 summit in Canada, Trump remarked, "NATO is as bad as NAFTA, it's much costly for the US." On a different occasion he said, "NATO, EU and the World Trade Organisation are collectively throwing them together as organisations he dislikes." Later, he added the EU was set up to take advantage of the United States. This is the first time since 1945 that Europe is grappling with an American president who has a fundamentally divergent view of America's international role. They are worried that in his meeting with Putin scheduled on July 16 in Helsinki, Trump would compromise Europe's security in a bid to appease the Russian leader whose help he has been seeking to make an exit from the Syrian conflict. It will not be surprising if, in the forthcoming meeting with Putin, Trump accepts legitimacy of Crimean annexation with Russia.
Trump is scheduled to meet with European leaders on July 11 and 12 at Brussels. Kay Hutchison, US Ambassador to NATO has, however, made an upbeat assessment of the upcoming meetings with NATO leaders. Hutchison said, "The overall theme of this NATO Summit is going to be NATO's strength and unity. While we need to do more on defense spending, more than half of NATO members were on track to achieve 2 per cent of GDP spent on defense by 2024. Every one of our allies is increasing defense spending." She expects "unanimous agreement among 29 members of NATO to reform the command structure, increased readiness for possible threats from Russia and enhance counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan." Hutchison's assessment would diffuse tension a bit, but Europeans have realised that they will have to strengthen their defense capability by themselves. President Trump is no longer trustworthy.
The United States and Europe were pioneers in promoting free trade around the globe. In international trade, balance of payment cannot always be favourable to one country and adverse to others. Some would benefit from importing merchandise at cheaper price than manufacturing at home while others would earn more by exporting products grown or manufactured at comparatively lower cost. During the past twenty years, many US commercial farms outsourced their plants abroad where "labour costs" appear significantly favourable. Garment industries have flourished in Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, China and American companies are buying the products at lower price. China has diversified its trade and made inroads into US markets for its products. In the process, the US is having a trade deficit of $375 billion with China. But US consumers have been spending less on buying Chinese products.
Now the Trump administration has imposed 25 per cent tariffs ($34 billion) on imports of 818 Chinese products. China has threatened to retaliate against a range of American goods. Trump vowed to levy additional $200 billion tariffs on Chinese goods if Beijing does so. Experts are worried that the newly imposed tariffs will drive up prices for a wide range of products and fear that net impact of the trade war on the US economy would be negative.
It is true that China's trading practices have not been fair, many of its products suffer from poor quality and wages are exploitatively low. But antidotal lies in negotiations, especially when China has emerged as the largest trading partner of the US. China wields considerable influence on North Korea with whom Trump is now engaged in denuclearisation talks. To make matter worse, Trump has antagonised Canada, Mexico and EU by imposing tariffs on "steel and aluminum" and his relations with the leaders of former allies turned acrimonious.

Abdur Rahman Chowdhury is a former official of the United Nations.
darahman.chowdhury@hotmail.com