By Dr. Sridhar Krishnaswami*
Whether people in America and the world like it or not Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States; and with this perhaps one of the most abusive and vitriolic political seasons has ended in that country that is generally known for its civility during Presidential campaigns.
A lot of soul searching has taken place since November 8 when Trump bettered Hillary Rodham Clinton, not on the popular vote but in the share of the electoral college votes. Some have even wondered if the mostly liberal media in America pushed a bumbling person into the White House by constantly harping on his short comings to the point of making him a household entity.
During the course of his campaign and in his inaugural address Trump has made it quite clear what his primary objective is: Making America “Great” again. The question is whether the new President is going to take the route of making decisions based on why America was seen as a Great nation or put in place a set of policies based on whimsical notions of superiority. In fact one of the biggest challenges for the Trump presidency is to first set the internal house in order, especially on the racial front where African Americans see themselves as increasingly alienated from the system with a substantial majority of them not voting for Trump as President.
Political campaigns can bring with them not only empty rhetoric but also dangerous ones at that laced with insensitivities. And the Road to the White House in 2016 was not without them –whether it had to do with Trump’s call for throwing out illegals or setting his sights on the entry of Muslims into the United States. What was conveniently forgotten in this frivolous slanging was that deporting illegals with a criminal background had already started under the George Bush administration with President Barack Obama only accelerating the process. Keeping further illegals out of America is a different issue altogether — whether Trump is going to toughen the rules or “add” to the length and height of the wall along the Mexico border remains to be seen. And financing this is another interesting point: Whether the American or the Mexican tax payer is going to foot the bill.
The Trump presidency may have an impressive wish list in his first term in office but surely the President and his advisors are quite aware of a critical aspect of the American system — checks and balances. The forefathers made sure they had a system in which not a branch of the government walked away with too much powers — a powerful executive branch tempered by an aggressive legislature and a vibrant judiciary, each keeping a watchful eye on the other. Trump may consider it his good fortune to have a Republican Congress but he will soon realize that members of the Grand Old Party in both the House of Representatives and Senate are not going to give him a free ride. The confirmation hearings will be a good indication of things to come from Capitol Hill.
Trump has a full plate in the foreign policy agenda as well and heading this list will be China and Russia and generally the challenges of managing an ever changing international system. And it is not going to be easy to play one nation off the other. Russia may want to better its relations with the United States, but this is not going to be at the cost of sacrificing its national security and strategic interests — be it in the Western hemisphere or the Asia Pacific. In the process of making America “great” again, the Trump administration will have to think twice before starting a trade war with China. Washington for long has been pressuring Beijing on currency manipulation and runaway trade surpluses. But Trump must seek deeper answers as to why the United States has a trade deficit of more than $300 billion with China annually instead of looking at it only from the perspective of “dumping”.
From a strategic perspective, the new Republican dispensation will have to take a good look at China’s posturing in Africa, Latin America and the Asia Pacific including its aggressive militaristic intentions in the South China Sea. And to top it all off, there is a runaway state in East Asia — North Korea — where China’s influence seems to be on the wane in recent years. This certainly is not a sign that Japan and South Korea may want to see. In more ways than one, Pyongyang will be one of the first tests for the Trump presidency.
India-United States relations have evolved since the last years of the Clinton presidency. It peaked during the Bush administration, looked like tapering off during the Obama era but revived momentum in the later part of President Obama’s tenure. The strength of New Delhi- Washington relations during the Trump presidency is going to hinge on a few critical aspects, only one of which is H1B/ L1 visas.
In fact countries like India might want to note that high skilled visas alone are not the issue. For the last few years, authorities in the United States are seriously looking at the misuse of the Business Visas — the B1 — as well. The Trump administration, along with the hardliners in Congress, might well take a decision to come down hard on the B1 visas on a conviction that this visa category is also being abused by Information Technology companies.
The biggest challenge to the Trump presidency in South Asia is Pakistan — a failed state which is the epicentre of global terrorism and a state that has since 2001 ( or even earlier) managed to fool successive administrations in Washington about its credentials on the anti-terror front.
Terrorism, emanating from Pakistan undercuts American anti-terror efforts not only in South Asia and Afghanistan but also globally. The United States Congress and the White House have known for years that Islamabad has misused funds going to it in the name of “reimbursement” for anti-terror operations. Large amounts have been found to be either fudged or diverted for terror operations against India. If Washington under a Trump presidency expects better relations with a democratic India, it should do some plain speaking with Pakistan. Being continued to be taken for a ride by Pakistan is not an option for Trump and his team.
Taking on the reins of the presidency of the world’s most powerful nation brings with it tremendous responsibilities. The new leader of the free world has every right to see domestic and foreign policies in the perspective of what is beneficial to the United States. At the same time he should shy away from embarking on policies that are detrimental or destructive to the world at large. That is what leadership is all about.
* Dr. Sridhar Krishnaswami, a former Washington correspondent of The Hindu, heads the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication of the Faculty of Science and Humanities at SRM University, Chennai. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to [email protected]