By Prabasi Nepali
In his new book, “Its Even Worse Than You Think. What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America”, the US investigative journalist David Cay Johnston chronicles the slow and steady down sliding in the one year of his administration. Trump is characterized as deeply narcissistic and his role as the chief executive ‘dictatorial’, a very un-American behavior. He doesn’t have any sense for compromise and balancing of interests, and is a complete racist. According to Johnston, the Trump administration is wreaking havoc from within. It has appointed ‘political termites’ to many government jobs which is doing untold devastation away from public gaze. The aim is nothing less than the demolition of the public administration.
The British journalist Luke Harding (previously foreign correspondent for “The Guardian”) has written the book “Collusion” implicating the Trump presidential campaign of colluding with Russian collaborators and organizations to influence the 2016 elections. There is strong evidence that Russian president Vladimir Putin personally ordered the campaign (with all its ramifications) to undermine the Clinton campaign and to help Trump. Thus, it is quite possible that Trump won the presidency because of Russian meddling and thus a Damocles sword is hanging over Trump. It all depends on what the Mueller special investigation unearths.
Trump’s personal traits and weaknesses will, therefore, have a major impact on his leadership qualities. And this again has a major impact on the conduct of US foreign policy. There is a lively academic discussion in the States since Trump’s surprise victory in November, of what it means to elect a chief executive with absolutely no experience in government or the legislature, not even a smattering of foreign policy knowledge and the tendency to ignore expert opinion and views. After his one year in office, experts and professionals have come to the definitive conclusion that he is not a dynamic leader since he doggedly clings to the few beliefs he brought with him to office. His behavior in the White House has demonstrated that his lack of substantive knowledge has greatly hampered the functioning of the presidency for the good of the country. His many advisers were mostly not up to the mark, and in any case were no substitute for the necessary experienced leadership. In addition, Trump lacked the ability to appoint people who could get the job done. The saddest part of the whole messy affair is that Trump will not change his behavior in any way, and the country is stuck with this iconoclast for another three years!
Until recently, scholars of “International Relations” tended to believe that the leader of a country was not crucial in the affairs of state, and that a state would act regardless of who was ‘leading’. The political scientist Kenneth Waltz had even argued that the constraints of the international system, and not individual leaders or domestic politics, determine the actions of states. This has turned out to be a fallacy on both counts – leadership does count for much (influencing their countries’ behavior) and domestic politics do have a bearing on that country’s foreign policy. According to Associate Professor Elizabeth N. Saunders (George Washington University) : individual “leaders’ background experiences and beliefs – formed long before they arrive in office – shape how they make decisions, from taking in and processing information to deliberating with advisers and, ultimately, deciding on a course of action.” The former US Secretary of State and veteran scholar Henry Kissinger has also written: “The convictions that leaders have formed before reaching high office are the intellectual capital they will consume as long as they continue in office.”
A second insight that particularly stands out, again according to Prof. Saunders, is that substantive knowledge matters a lot – it is important for leaders to be fully informed about the world and this must be updated continually on the job. This expertise is also “domain-specific” which means that “it does not translate from one topic or issue area to another” and thus “business experience does not translate into foreign policy acumen.” Trump has woefully demonstrated that he is completely ‘uneducated’, even ‘misinformed’ about the many aspects of international relations. Unfortunately, he is also not ready to learn and fill in the gaps in his knowledge – condemning himself to be a pathological dilettante.
A third insight is that “although advisers and bureaucratic appointments are crucial, they are no substitute for a leader with direct foreign policy expertise.” Presidents with no experience often suggest that advisers and subordinates can do the needful and also instruct them on the job. Thus, during the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush claimed that he would be “surrounded by good, strong, capable, smart people.” This is not the case with Trump, and in fact the braggart-in-chief thinks he is the smartest man in Washington. However, Trump has stuck to his core beliefs: he remains very much against trade and alliances, and is in favour of
authoritarian leaders abroad. He withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Paris Climate Accord, has doubts about NATO and lavished praise on the leaders of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. All this has harmed America’s long-term interests.
His lack of experience and relevant knowledge has also harmed the conduct of both domestic and foreign policy. Add to this his character deficiencies – he is a bigot and egotistic – and we have the worst president the US has ever elected to the highest office in the land. He completely lacks common decency. By personally attacking the North Korean leader in vile terms, he has degraded international diplomacy. He is careless and not at all the master negotiator as he frequently claims. He is to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland where the crème de la crème of international government, business and culture will be assembled. As someone with no charisma and political standing, he will be out of place, and will perhaps show his true colours – like a bull in a china shop!
His appointments have not been able to make up for his extreme knowledge deficiencies. They have also not been able to constrain him from making ill-timed decisions or making extremely inappropriate remarks, nor in channeling his preferences into coherent policies. There is now the international perception that the Trump administration is extremely sloppy and is against a rules-based international system. The decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was immensely ill-advised. The US can no longer play a mediating role in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Trump has disparaged and insulted the whole continent of Africa by referring to would-be immigrants as those from ‘shithole countries’. His diehard immigration policy is seriously harming the image of the US. by its lack of compassion and humanity.
According to Sean Wilentz, professor of history at Princeton, one cannot expect Trump to grow in the job. One should expect more of the same through 2020. His “first year has been an unremitting parade of disgraces that have demeaned him as well as the dignity of his office . . . If history is any guide . . . Trump’s first year portends a very unhappy ending.”[International New York Times, January 23, 2018]
Trump Destroying American Political System
By Prabasi Nepali