DONALD Trump looks set to assume the American presidency later this week. He waged an unprecedented presidential election campaign over the last year. Having become the Republican presidential candidate, nominee and now president-elect, Trump appears to share at most some abstract political concepts with the Republican Party, such as heightened commercial freedom and business-friendliness. Republicans, though reluctant, also “accept” more of his billionaire flamboyance than do Democrats. And the oft-touted, primarily Democratic efforts in social engineering such as enhancing minorities’ rights, also do not sync with his business-first predisposition. Hence, it was no surprise that Trump chose the Republican and not the Democratic Party as his election machinery.
Trump has never been shy in relentlessly attacking his political enemies and indeed whomever he perceived to be threats to his political or business ambition. But he very seldom did so out of a partisan grudge, almost never uttering phrases such as “how bad the Democrats are doing while how good the Republicans would have done.” In fact, the level of attack he directed at fellow Republican rivals did not pale in comparison to that against the Democrats.
All these, when coupled with the fact that Trump financed his own campaign to a large extent, amply signal that Trump is unlikely to feel grateful or pay back “favors” when he becomes President. If anything, he is most likely to continue with his self-aggrandizing streak. Such an administrative style would have its advantages and drawbacks. The good side of it would have Trump sailing relatively free of undue interference from various special interest groups, and thus rising above them to make disinterested policy judgments. The main drawback would of course be that his autocratic tendency would be even more difficult to rein in.
And these attempts to constrain those in power are indeed the essence of the American democratic political design, as is exhibited in the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. Among the more advanced democracies, the US stresses, adheres most closely to and implements most thoroughly the principle of the separation of powers. The Congress makes law, the President enforces the law, and the courts interpret the law, and they conflict with each other from time to time, giving rise to democratic dynamism. Or at least that was supposed to be the original intention of the American Constitution.
But now of course both houses of the US Congress are controlled by the Republicans, while in the Supreme Court conservative and liberal judges break even in numbers at the moment but is likely to tilt toward the conservative end of the scale as Trump makes his first judicial nominations. Trump may differ with the Congress on many issues, but on those which they agree upon, the reform will be full speed ahead. One example is the repeal of the so-called Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act. House Speaker, Paul Ryan, who was openly critical of Trump before the last election, declared recently that the congressional Republicans will work with Trump to seek to overturn the act.
Trump once again exuded supreme self-confidence in his first ever press conference after the presidential election concluded, when he chastised both a famous international media outlet as well as the American intelligence community. In the Washington political establishment where frontal smiles and backstabbing go hand in hand, that sort of overt hostility is unthinkable. But to those Trump supporters outside the Beltway who hate the Washington political special interest groups as well as what they perceive to be a liberal-studded mainstream media, what Trump did was exhilarating. It was as if he spoke their mind, in the great American tradition of an outsider charging into Washington to do some cleaning. Thus, Trump’s seemingly impetuous remarks could be said to be actually laying the groundwork for his second run for President.
And, of course, there is this constant criticism of Trump’s “liberal” use of Twitter in communicating his policy or indeed his mind. But even that should be taken as a shrewd attempt to reach out to his supporters, albeit in an unmediated manner. He could be said to be trying to get his message across so as to rouse popular support for his reform program, if any. A President who tweets late at night in imperfect grammar but points out the salient points of his latest policy changes is sometimes more preferable than an official spokesperson reading off a prepared script and answering questions in a wooden manner.
Trump will undoubtedly usher in a very different American administration. The hawkish words uttered by his various Cabinet nominees should to a large extent be treated as mere words, as Trump is likely to aggregate decision-making power to himself. And he has a history of overruling his subordinates, not least during the election campaign. Parties from around the world can only brace themselves for a bumpy but perhaps interesting ride of a Trump presidency.