Over the weekend, Donald Trump formally took charge as the 45th President of the United States. By virtue of being the head of the largest economy (estimated at about $15 trillion) and the world’s most versatile and dominant military force, Trump will for the next four years be referred to as the most powerful man on earth—a reality, no matter how unpalatable, the rest of the world as well as US citizens will have to deal with.
So far, we only have what Trump held out to rally his voters in his run for the presidency and the inaugural speech on Friday. There is a common refrain: promise of disruption and disdain for the establishment.
And of course there was the associated polarizing noise that a person like Trump induces; the protests (in Washington DC and elsewhere) seem to be getting as much traction as the inaugural. Indeed between the unpredictability of Trump and the distraction of the shrill response (not unique as I recall similar protests when George W.Bush took over in 2001 after his controversial win over Al Gore) to his presidency it is very difficult to make sense of what is likely to transpire.
Though shorn of the rhetoric visible during his stump speeches in the campaign, the Trump messaging was clear and consistent. The manner in which he dissed his predecessors and the power brokers who run Washington DC did not just reflect his desire to hit the reset button but also clearly signalled that Trump was addressing the crowds in front of him and not the political power seated elite behind him.
“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed,” he said, adding, “That all changes starting right here and right now because this moment is your moment, it belongs to you.”
In fact most of the speech seemed to be addressing Trump’s domestic constituency. Globally he warned about the emergence of a more transactional United States.
“Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs,” he said.
It is not that the US has not been inspired by the same ideals previously. As a colleague pointed out last week in an opinion piece ahead of the inaugural, the US has always strong-armed the rest of the world on global trade deals; their current circumstances are despite deriving this unfair advantage at the global high table.
It is also to be seen how far President Trump will be able to get his way. He may be keen to recast the political apparatus in Washington DC; something Trump will soon realise is easier said than done (if nothing, the US Congress imposes sufficient checks as President Barack Obama discovered in his second tenure; the Netflix epic serial, House of Cards, so realistically portrayed this uncomfortable reality). Presumably, he is aware and addressing the people directly is one way to pressure the establishment within the Washington DC beltway to change.
So then what does India make of the Trump presidency? Best response is wait and watch. India’s relationship with the US has transformed ever since Atal Bihari Vajpayee became prime minister in 2001; Manmohan Singh took this forward, though it lost considerable momentum after Obama assumed the presidency (at one stage it even led to vicious diplomatic spats); Narendra Modi revived the relationship.
If there is any cue so far it is that Trump has been silent on India, unlike his voluble comments, say in the case of China. Not being on the Trump radar in the initial period may not be a bad thing; India will have the luxury of watching other nations deal with Trump’s promise of disruption.
Anil Padmanabhan is executive editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.
His Twitter handle is @capitalcalculus
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