One year of Trump — and feeling it

Rajkamal Rao | Updated on January 26, 2018

Love him or hate him, he has probably been the most consequential US president in 50 years

For most of America and the world, President Donald Trump’s first year in office is a painful reminder that he has to be tolerated for three more years. For the millions of his supporters, though, it has been a dream come true.

In style and substance, Trump has completely transformed the American presidency. Largely staying at his own lavish resorts when travelling outside of Washington, his default method of communication is Twitter using which he instantly reaches out to over 40 million followers, bypassing the Washington press corps altogether. He tweets himself, often several times a day, promoting his policies and accomplishments, spelling and grammar mistakes included as bonus. His messages spare no one if negative things are said about him, and his attacks can get downright brutal.

No love lost

The mainstream press hates him. Decorum and respect previously reserved for presidents are long gone. Analysts’ language on TV is so vile — Trump is regularly described as childish, incompetent, racist, crazy, stupid and boorish — that if the US had laws against sedition or a secret police organisation, most journalists would be in jail today. The drumbeat of coverage is so negative that many people have stopped watching TV news altogether. Athletic club chains announced recently that they would refrain from tuning their televisions to cable news saying the hateful atmosphere was not healthy for members working out.

Several leaders — including the entire Democratic Party, governors of the coastal states, many federal judges, titans of the technology and entertainment industries, the London mayor, most European politicians — openly despise him. Many diaspora Indian communities, especially those on H-1B and related visas, and the Hispanic community which continues to indulge in illegal immigration, share this feeling.

Consistent positions

But Trump’s supporters — generally white, male and those that did not attend college —love him because he is not a politician and not politically correct. They point out that he has not changed his position in over 30 years. They consider him a saviour for rescuing America from the Obama years of left-wing, socialism-styled policies which drove deficits high and weakened America among allies and enemies. ‘Make America Great Again’ was the perfect slogan around which they could have coalesced. Indian-American families in the US for 20 years or more are secretly supportive, although they are too polite to say so in public.

Whether you are a Trump supporter or hater, it is hard not to recognise one thing: He has probably been the most consequential president in at least 50 years. He has deregulated the US economy in every sector with the intent of unshackling private sector might, withdrawing or delaying over 1,500 Obama-era regulatory actions. His recent tax cuts brought corporate taxes down from 35 per cent to 21 per cent, and cut individual income tax on every household. He has appointed young conservative judges and a cadre of cabinet secretaries who are a lot more business-friendly than Obama appointees.

As oil prices rise, the US energy industry is poised to become the world’s largest exporter. Trump has helped the energy sector like no other recent president has. He allowed the Keystone Pipeline project — a proposal to bring Canadian oil to Texas refineries — to proceed, something Obama was religiously opposed to. Trump has approved oil drilling to proceed in Alaska and now proposes to do so offshore in the waters off the lower 48 states. He has loosened regulations to boost coal mining.

The private sector has warmed to the Trumpian approach. Business activity has not been this robust in at least 20 years, with industrial production rising for the first time in eight years. Home ownership is at a record high as is consumer confidence. Obama had brainwashed everyone into accepting that if the US economy reached 2 per cent growth, that would be an achievement. Under Trump, the US economy remains the envy of every developed nation with growth clocking above 3 per cent in two quarters last year. Q4 growth is expected to hit nearly 4 per cent. Unemployment is at a 17-year low. The Dow Jones index went past the 26,000 point level for the first time. The economy is so strong that the Fed continued to raise interest rates, three times in 2017 alone.

Pay-off time

Trump’s approach of delegating America’s wars to its generals appears to be paying off too. ISIS has now fled to Africa where it is now being hunted. By pivoting to Saudi Arabia, recognising Jerusalem as capital and constantly attacking the Iranian regime as corrupt, Trump has helped weaken the latter as was seen during recent demonstrations in Tehran. By withdrawing security funds to Pakistan, he is strengthening the relationship with India. By pursuing a more friendly backdoor alliance with Russia, Syria is now a lot more stable. Trump’s constant taunting of North Korea’s leader on Twitter and pressure on China, while simultaneously strengthening America’s military presence in the Pacific, has helped thaw conditions there. The two Koreas will now jointly march in the upcoming Winter Olympics, a prospect unthinkable last year.

Back home, his immigration policies dramatically deviate from Obama’s liberal vision of open borders. Trump is tightening enforcement against illegals and restrictions on non-immigrant visas, such as L-1s and H-1s. He wants to end chain migration where a single immigrant can sponsor dozens to legally move to the US; the diversity visa lottery which grants green cards to countries like Bangladesh and converts all excess immigrant visas to a merit based system, like in Canada or Australia. In the long run, these could help Indian students at US universities.

During the last 10 years, the only thing constant in America has been change. Under Obama, the country moved way left. Trump, the ultimate Nobama ever, is moving the swing all the way to the right. Meanwhile, America and the world are getting dizzy. What a year it has been.

The writer is MD of education consultancy Rao Advisors LLC

Published on January 26, 2018

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