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KENS DESKS: Democratisation of Donald Trump

“If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.” President-elect Donald Trump supposedly said this in an interview with People magazine in 1998, according to a clip that is making the rounds in social media.
In this age of perfectly photo-shopped hoaxes, I have learned to be sceptical of such postings. So, I checked the claim on snopes.com, the website devoted to ascertaining the truth or falsity of urban legends, and sure enough it is a hoax. What is undeniable still is that the bogus claim is perfectly in accord with the cynical campaign that took Trump to an improbable electoral victory.
There are some parallels between Trump’s victory and Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari’s. To begin with, both stir polar passions: adoration or loathing. And they both won by promising much more than they can deliver.
However, they differ markedly in significant respects. Buhari’s campaign rhetoric was inclusive rather than divisive. He didn’t appeal to ethnic or nationalist sentiments as Trump did and as happens in some African countries. In terms of mandate, Buhari is on solid grounds, having won a decisive majority of the votes. Trump would have lost the election had victory been based on popular votes rather than the electoral college votes. (This is explained in last Sunday’s Punchwise).
Buhari’s and Trump’s victories also differ in the economic circumstances. Where Buhari came to power in a most inopportune time in Nigeria’s economy, Trump will become president amidst an economy that has grown for about six years. Regarding preparation to govern, Buhari had served briefly as Nigeria’s head of state, albeit through a military coup. Trump has had no experience whatsoever in government or military service. And that makes him the most inexperienced president in American history.
The inexperience is already showing. Just days into his life as a president-elect, Trump is learning that being president entails a lot more than being a CEO. He is learning that what it takes to win the presidency is much different from what it takes to be president.
A TV news video of Trump leaving the White House after his first transition meeting with President Barack Obama said it all. Rather than looking triumphant and elated, he seemed downcast and brooding. He looked like someone who just realised that he just got a job that is way over his head.
It was more than an impression. It was a reality. As reported by the International Business Times, people familiar with the White House tour confided to the press that “Trump was apparently surprised at the scope of the president’s job. “Trump was even surprised to learn that he would start from scratch to re-staff the White House, everything from cooks and gardeners to orderlies and press agents.”
As a business mogul and reality TV star, Trump hired and fired at will. In fact, a recurrent highlight of his TV show “The Apprentice” was his cold declaration, “You are fired.” There were no appeals or contestation. Trump is learning that, as president, hiring and firing are a lot more complicated. In fact, everything is complicated.
Indeed, the challenge of hiring has turned out to be Trump’s Lesson #1. One of his first two appointees has already set off a firestorm of protests for his racialist views. Steve Bannon, his appointed chief strategist and senior counsellor,was the proprietor of Breitbart.com, a conservative website that specialises in ultra-nationalist views and analyses. There are widespread calls for the appointment to be rescinded.
Meanwhile, his team can’t seem to agree on how to proceed. “President-elect Donald Trump’s transition was in disarray on Tuesday, marked by firings, infighting and revelations that American allies were blindly dialing in to Trump Tower to try to reach the soon-to-be-leader of the free world,” the New York Times reported last Wednesday.
CNN elaborated further: “Donald Trump’s turbulent transition already suggests that the instinctive off-the-cuff leadership style that powered his outsider campaign is a prototype of the impromptu approach he will adopt from inside the Oval Office.”
Beyond CNN’s analysis, the turbulent campaign also presages turbulence in the process of implementing campaign promises. He would end the Affordable Care Programme, the national health insurance programme that is Obama’s signature accomplishment. He would deport millions of illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico, build a border wall to stop addition inflow, and have the Mexican government pay for it. He would stop Muslims from coming to the United States.
He would renege on United States’ treaty obligations to NATO members that have been in place since after World War II.And he would abandon or renegotiate trade agreements to make them more beneficial to the United States.
But no sooner had he won the election than he began to backtrack on all of the promises. On what is commonly referred to as Obamacare, he now says that he would retain its most popular features and get rid of the rest. Problem is that “the rest” is what makes the popular features possible. His modified position is a concession to the fact that the programme is so deeply entrenched already that dismantling it will disenfranchise too many. And that it is politically untenable.
On the deportation of illegal immigrants, Trump now says that he would deport only those with criminal records. But even on that narrower position, he is still facing obstacles. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has said that his department will not change its policy of not questioning people’s immigration status.
Beck estimates that America’s second largest city has about 500,000 illegal immigrants. “This is a population we police by creating partnerships, not by targeting them because of their immigration status,” Beck has said. “If the federal government takes a more aggressive role on deportation, then they’ll have to do that on their own.”
That would be a foreboding task given that there are no federal police other than the FBI and the Secret Service, which largely protects the president.
And that’s just a tip of the political resistance that looms. Faced with such challenges, what a chastened Trump will do in most cases is probably to create the façade of fulfillment of promises. For example, he would deport a handful of Mexicans in a very public manner and similarly recall some American troops from Europe. If he can manage to sustain the economic growth that has been in place for years now, he will declare success in his usual bombastic style.
There is a good chance his supporters will feel assuaged and vindicated. There’s also a chance that quite a few will feel hoodwinked. All that will be sorted out come another election in 2020. The people’s verdict might even come sooner in the midterm election of 2018.

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