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I was slowly getting up from bed on November 9, 2016, looking at my mobile phone, when I saw a missed call from my wife. I dialed her back. “Karamo, Trump is President-elect!” I thought I heard her say. “Am I imagining voices? Am I hearing someone?”
“Sorry, please repeat,” I asked.
“Trump is President-elect of America!” came the answer.
“Who told you this?”
“I’m watching Al Jazeera, Trump is President and Marine Le Pen has already congratulated him!”
“Did she mean Clinton?” I was wondering who to call to make sure I was not dreaming, when a WhatsApp message popped up from my old friend, Exx Saunders, in California. It read: “I’m so sorry for the stupidity of my country. I’ve been distraught for months that the outcome was close.”
“I blame ignorance (the lazy populace) and the media (eager profit-seeking participants in the public circus). But it is an indictment on U.S. society, which is exposed for its deep fractures. I’m so sad and so embarrassed.”
This is serious! Exx was mourning. It sounded like a funeral in America and, like a sudden death, it also sounded like a shock. Exx is a fine fellow and not an ordinary American. Educated in Stanford (engineering) and Cambridge (economics and politics), he has an adopted son from Mexico and two of his closest friends include my humble self (an African) and a Chinese intellectual of world renown. He had lived abroad and now travels often. For him the world is a global village where peace, friendship and ethical business practices must always be maintained. Exx fled the US when Reagan took over in 1981. He returned only when he realized that Reagan was not going to conduct an American-style witch hunt against those who did not look like him. This would have been an abhorrent conduct which an open-minded humanist, such as Exx, would have found to be totally unacceptable.
Whither America and the world under President Trump? Does Exx have reason to mourn or even worry? We do not have to guess anymore. Trump is in office and his intents and actions are anything but ambiguous. So far, a very clear “yes”, but how far and for how long? Those answers are foggy?.
We have seen many decisions, some harsh, in his first two weeks; 22 in total (orders, actions and memoranda up to February 03, 2017). Here are those that are international or have international ramifications:
• A memorandum to restructure the National Security and Homeland Security Councils;
• A memorandum directing the Secretary of Defense to draw up a plan within 30 days to defeat ISIS;
• An order to lengthen the ban on administration officials working as lobbyists. There is now a five-year ban on officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government and a lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government;
• An executive order imposing a 120-day suspension of the refugee program and a 90-day ban on travel to the U.S. from citizens of seven countries considered as “terror hot spots” – Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan;
• Two multi-pronged orders on border security and immigration enforcement, including the authorization of a U.S.-Mexico border wall, the stripping of federal grant money to sanctuary cities, hiring 5,000 more Border Patrol agents, ending “catch-and-release” policies for illegal immigrants, and reinstating local and state immigration enforcement partnerships;
• A memorandum calling for a 30-day review of military readiness;
• Two orders reviving the Keystone XL pipeline and Dakota Access pipelines. He also signed three other related orders that would expedite the environmental permitting process for infrastructure projects related to the pipelines, direct the Commerce Department to streamline the manufacturing permitting process, and give the Commerce Department 180 days to maximize the use of U.S. steel in the pipeline;
• An order to reinstate the so-called “Mexico City Policy” – a ban on federal funds to international groups that perform abortions or lobby to legalize or promote abortion. The policy was instituted in 1984 by President Reagan, but has gone in and out of effect depending on the party in power in the White House;
• A notice that the U.S. will begin withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Trump called the order “a great thing for the American worker”; and
• An order imposing a hiring freeze for some federal government agencies as a way to shrink the size of government. This excludes the military, as Trump pointed out.
What do they mean for the world?
Fifteen orders, therefore, are either about the U.S.’s foreign economic or political relations or have direct implications for these. Their contents can be summarized as follows:
• The President’s “America First!” policy is clear;
• Immigration policies in the U.S. are going to be “extremely tight”, especially for Arabs and Muslims;
• Africa does not exist, so far. That may be good and bad news at the same time;
• International actions in support of the environment are not going to receive much support;
• U.S. foreign economic aid is going to be significantly reduced;
• The U.S. military and war, rather than diplomacy, will be the means of dealing with “radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth”;
• Existing trade agreements considered unfair to the U.S. will be critically reviewed; and
• Trump’s actions bear resemblance to Reagan’s, but they are also significantly different in some aspects. They are more extreme, because the world has changed radically since Reagan. For example, whereas Reagan supported Bin Laden and his comrades and called them “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan, Trump is already fighting them as “radical Islamic terrorists”. Under Reagan the Arab world was seen as a thriving market for the U.S.; Trump is treating it like “a thriving market for Islamic terror”. Whereas under Reagan Islam was seen as an acceptable ideology for fighting communism, Trump is treating it like the greatest threat to the U.S. and Israel. It is important to know that even after Reagan, and until recently, the P.L.O. and the Arab world (or part of it) were seen as the threat to Israel and not Islam per se. I think that most informed and liberal Americans still exonerate Islam.
What lies ahead of Trump?
Most people are not surprised about Trump’s decisions and actions. They expected them. However, they are coming faster than even the most ardent opponents expected. Trump is not a good politician in the sense that he is keeping his campaign promises and has started to run the U.S. as the Chairman and CEO of his companies. This is what his supporters want, but this approach to the U.S. Presidency will also be the cause of all his problems. The realities of political power in a democratic system, such as the U.S., would catch up with him and make it very difficult for him to do as he wants.
One of the reasons why he cannot be a “do-as-you-want President” is that accountability is a fact in the American polity. Checks and balance will make it impossible for the President to have free rein. The successful legal challenges by and in the U.S. courts against the travel ban are illustrative of this.
Secondly, the media is very powerful in America and the people are loud. There is already an open battle between him and the media, including powerful ones, such as CNN. Americans of all classes, creeds and races are not hiding their feelings, in the media and on the streets.
Thirdly, interest groups are very influential and a very business-oriented President, such as Trump, may in due course be open to compromises and vulnerable to business influences, negatively and/or positively. The chess game of politics and strong pressures from interest groups may eventually soften him on some or many issues that he has already taken hard-line positions on. Those who are familiar enough with American politics, may remember George Bush, Sr., delivering the famous line at the GOP’s 1988 convention: “Read my lips: no new taxes”.
Fourthly, as an African, I worry more about a politician who starts with good things than the one who does with bad ones. This is because many of the best starters that I know of have left office on bad notes, accused of doing the same things as, or worse than, their predecessors. The examples are many, from Cape to Cairo. When a politician starts on an excellent note, in haste, there comes a risk that he will change along the way. The one who starts on a bad note offers hope of improvement in the future. Examples may be found even outside Africa. Trump’s case is less clear cut. Although some of his actions are somewhat extreme and in haste and they are obviously upsetting a lot of people, they are also pleasing a lot of others. In such a situation and given all the characteristic of the American political system as argued above, a middle ground is more likely as he sinks into political expediency.
Fifthly, there are a number of “we don’t care!” countries that Trump would find very difficult to intimidate. These are China, Cuba, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela. As you would have noticed, they include friends and foes who would not accept to be pushed around when they feel their interests are being threatened by the new President. The foes may add cobweb to fetters for the President because some of them are also close to some of his friends and/or Putin whom he has warmed up to.
Trump’s “America First” policy and undiplomatic approach to diplomatic issues, would increase the number of unhappy countries, if he does not change. His recent telephone calls to Mexican President Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Turnbull, public statements about Brexit during May’s visit to the White House, are examples of what lies ahead in the first half of his term. He has already boldly stirred controversies, such as moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, which may “kill” the “two-states solution”, and China-Taiwan relations, which threatens the “one-China” policy that China does not joke with.
Trump is showing or creating the impression to the world that he means business and does not care who loses, except the U.S., and this is causing concern even among the U.S.’s allies. However, Exx believes that this is only an impression? “Of the things that come to mind, perhaps the biggest question is whether it’s worth diving into the notion that Trump’s actions are truly organized around the policy of” America First” rather than “Trump First”, with lip service to America when it’s expedient,” he asked hypothetically.
Where is the trump card?
It is difficult to predict a man called Trump, because you never know where he keeps that card. He has won and that is the truth, like it or not, and is living up to his name and keeping his campaign promises so far. He has proved, embarrassingly wrong, all the media experts, professors and millions of Americans who thought Hillary Clinton’s victory was going to be “slam dunk”. The real victory turned out to be Trump’s, shocking for so many, but it is the truth. This is the clearest illustration of the fact that we can never tell where the trump card of Donald lies. His biography is proof. It was not the first time he has emerged from the ashes, although this one is bigger than anything he has ever done and anything he was ever expected to do.
Nevertheless, at the current rate he is sprinting, Trump is likely to burn himself out by the end of his first or second year. I think he is already realizing that politics is rather more complicated than business. The signs are showing that he is beginning to use his business skills to adjust to the rough terrain. Al Barry, a resident of the Twin Cities, Minnesota, thinks “Mr Trump has already started to back away from his “embassy to Jerusalem” and the “two-China” ideas, which shows that he will always do what is expedient for him and then declare victory, even if his actions lead to the relinquishment of his initial goals.”
Furthermore, he is rallying his enemies within and outside the U.S., including his worst critics who accuse him of the “isms”. He would feel the fetters sooner or later. If his policies and tone change, the liberals would soften their criticisms against him, but his present constituents would feel betrayed. Then he would become just another “read-my-lips politician” rather than the populist Trump. I doubt if that would bother him if it makes life even slightly easier for him, because, as both Albert and Exx believe, Trump is a man of expediency.
Before then, the world has to accept that Trump is the President of the U.S. and it is the American people who have the right to judge and manage their manager, according to what they want. In the process, however, the rest of the world can and must hope that the Americans will continue to remember that we are living in a globally interconnected world. In such a world, no one can survive on an island as the world believes their President thinks.
A plea from an old friend
My dear friend, Exx, has made a very urgent request. He has ended his WhatsApp exchanges with a plea to and question for an old friend: “You know any safe heavens?”
The Sudan, North Sudan, Republic of the Sudan! The Sudanese people have suffered under the yoke of American-sponsored sanctions for 12 years and they would love to have a blue-eyed blond-haired American refugee in their midst. They would need him to advise them on how to stop Trump from reversing Obama’s Executive Order which has started the lifting of sanctions on their country. Contrary to what most people in the world think, Khartoum is safe and the Sudanese people are hospitable.
“My dear Exx,” I wrote, “I received your message when I was yawning at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile. Therefore, given that history has opportunely placed me here, at this unexpected moment of Trump’s victory and America’s history, I would like to recommend a city where you can find a lot of sympathy for your cause. I recommend Khartoum!”
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