Candidate Donald Trump was a wrecking ball during the first 10 months of 2016. American leadership had everything wrong in his eyes, immigration, trade relations, health care, the NATO alliance and climate change. Trump claimed that America wasn’t winning anymore and only he could fix it. He would “Make America Great Again.” Unfortunately, too many voters believed him.
Well, here we are, almost 18 chaotic months into President Trump’s first term. So, what has he accomplished and where is this nation headed under his leadership?
Fortunately, he hasn’t derailed the growing economy and low unemployment he inherited – yet. He was able to easily confirm a very conservative Supreme Court justice to a seat that was stolen from President Barack Obama by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). And he is getting record numbers of conservative federal judges confirmed that McConnell high-jacked from Obama. Trump’s base is cheering as he rapidly politicizes the judiciary.
Congressional Republicans were able to pass Trump’s huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy last December, which will dramatically increase the deficits and the national debt. This financial burden will threaten the economy and national security longer term but Trump and Republicans are not concerned about that. They just wanted to juice the economy in the short term so the GOP can retain control of Congress in 2018 and Trump can be reelected in 2020.
Trump takes the same transactional, short-term approach to other policies – like tariffs — with little concern about the future or unintended consequences. The major problem with U.S. trade deficits is China but Trump slapped tariffs on friend and adversary alike. In fact, he recently called the EU a trade “foe.” Yet, Trump has outlined no clear objectives for his tariffs beyond reducing the trade deficits and it’s doubtful he will accomplish that.
Trump says he doesn’t like multilateral trade deals and claims that he will negotiate “beautiful” unilateral trade agreements, nation by nation. He backed out of the Trans Pacific Partnership on his first day in office and is attempting to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement without much success. His trade negotiations with China are at an impasse and so far South Korea is his only trade deal in Asia. No one knows where the U.S. is headed with trade relations, including Trump.
It appears Trump is seeking reasons to pick fights with NATO, the strongest defensive alliance in history and a bulwark against communist, and now Russian, aggression in Europe. So, he rails against our European allies for not contributing enough for their own defense and leaves their leaders wondering if they can still depend the United States. Germany seems to feel the brunt of his animus, probably because of its Chancellor, Andrea Merkel. Trump can’t seem to tolerate strong women in leadership roles.
Trump’s performance with British Prime Minister Teresa May, his thoughtless comments about her leadership and his bumbling meeting with Queen Elizabeth were complete embarrassments for the United States. Hundreds of thousands protested his visit in London and elsewhere around the country. In fact, Trump is pretty much disliked all over the planet. According to one poll, Russians don’t even like him.
Many great Americans have sacrificed their blood and sweat to make this nation the greatest and the strongest in the world. But Trump uses their legacy in a heavy handed negotiating strategy, which he outlined in this quote from his book, “The Art of the Deal:”
“The best thing you can do is deal from strength, and leverage is the biggest strength you can have. Leverage is something the other guy wants. Or better yet, needs. Or best of all, simply can’t do without.”
The United States has a lot that other countries want — a huge market for their goods. It also has much that other countries need — a stabilizing influence on world affairs. And it has the power others can’t do without — protection from ambitious dictators like Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Past presidents have been mindful of the superpower weapons they control, both economic and military. And they mostly used them carefully where U.S. national interests and security were involved. But Trump uses them as a cudgel, mainly against our friends and allies, while he treats Putin with kid gloves.
The relationship between Trump and Putin was explored by Vox writer Sean Illing during an interview with Mikhail Fishman, the editor-in-chief of the Moscow Times. Mr. Fishman, who is a Putin critic, stated that the Kremlin considers Trump to be a stupid, unstrategic [sic.] politician and a “useful idiot” who Putin can manipulate.
Trump proved Fishman’s claims at a joint presser after the Trump/Putin summit by criticizing the United States and the Russia investigation while not offering pushback to Putin’s denial of 2016 election interference.
As far as I am concerned, Trump is the Kremlin candidate, a counterfeit president, minted and manipulated by Putin. He alienated our allies by imposing illegal tariffs on them. He is destabilizing NATO and attempting to do the same to the European Union. In short, he is accomplishing Putin’s objectives.
I don’t believe Trump has a vision for America, for its people or for its institutions. And his endgame is all about his personal glorification and power.
But perhaps a better question is: What is Putin’s endgame? Because that appears to be the path Trump is following.