Trump's maiden anniversary
Extreme polarisation overshadowed Trump’s first year in the highest office that post-digital Presidency has witnessed
Ironically, for a President who ran on a platform of scaling back the government, Donald Trump began the anniversary of his swearing-in on Saturday with his government shut down. It fell victim to the evidently deepening polarisation, after a year of a post-digital presidency, when Trump ran the government through an avalanche of social media bytes racing at the speed of megabits per second, with instant reactions magnifying their impact.
It was a year the real-estate billionaire-turned-President kept his opponents on the edge, his administration on a steeper edge, the world in utter shock but not in hopeful awe, and his core supporters close by his side. The Senate's failure to approve an ad-hoc budget when temporary funding ran out in the absence of a regular budget at midnight, eventually leading to the shutting down of the government is symbolic of Trump's presidency. He ranked as the least popular of modern Presidents with an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Friday showing that just 39 per cent of the total Americans approve of his performance. Trump's upset election victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton, propelled by the white working class and those who fell victims to globalisation and technology, won him the undying hatred of many Democrats, the media and the intellectual elites who saw this as a personal affront. His legitimacy was questioned because he lost out on the popular vote but squeaked through with a slender majority in the Electoral College. Thereafter, his powerful opponents have latched on to the alleged Russian interference to push it further.
An ongoing independent investigation into this bustling allegation has ensnared at least one important figure from the Trump campaign—the disgraced National Security Adviser Michael Flynn—and a lesser known figure, George Papadopoulos. But, behind these are some clear achievements, especially in the economic arena. The Dow Jones index, a barometer of the stock markets, soared by more than 30 per cent to reach record highs and unemployment is down to 4.1 per cent. Trump managed to get a mammoth tax reform law through the Congress last month, offering most Americans a tax cut and reducing corporate taxes to 21 per cent from the erstwhile 35 per cent.
The controversial corporate tax cut is beginning to show results, with companies like Apple bringing back hundreds of billions of dollars stashed away abroad to avoid high taxes and giving bonuses to workers or increasing their wages. Trump's America First policy has shown results in bringing investments and jobs. India's Mahindra group, for example, is investing $230 million in a manufacturing plant in Michigan.
While his diplomacy – or more specifically the lack of it – has embroiled the world, there have been two successes. The Islamic State has been routed in Syria and Iraq. And, with his crude talk and bluster that matches North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, Trump has forced him to back down and hold talks with South Korea, something that hasn't happened in years of efforted diplomatic niceties.
But, he has also isolated the US on the global stage with his absurd stance on many issues. His decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital brought out the isolation starkly with a resounding criticism from the UN General Assembly, where only eight countries stood behind Washington, as even some of its closest European allies deserted it. Trump has pulled the US out of the hard-won Paris Climate Change agreement, the UNESCO and is threatening to back out of or recast trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement. Influenced by Israel and Saudi Arabia, he has also threatened to back out of the treaty the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany entered into with Iran, to stop it from developing nuclear weapons.
The world was aghast at a Democrat's claim that Trump used a colloquial word for excrement to describe African countries while discussing immigration with Congressmen, although the President has denied using it. Immigration, the most controversial of his stands, ultimately led to the government shutdown. The temporary permits allowing those brought to the US illegally as children to stay on is set to expire in March, and the Democrats have virtually made renewing it a condition to pass the ad hoc tax funding, to keep the government operating till a proper budget is passed.
Thrown into the mix is Trump's election promise to build a rigid wall along the Mexican border to keep out illegal immigrants and bargaining with the Congress to allocate funds for it. His attempts to control immigration from eight countries – six of them with Muslim majorities – where the US says it is not able to properly vet the visa applicants, have run afoul of courts because of Trump's assertions that he would stop Muslims from coming in because of terrorism fears. The courts said that the mention of religion in the proposal disqualifies the ban as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hand down a final verdict on it.
Despite Trump's hardline, the US has seen terrorist attacks during the year, even if there is a tendency to not describe mass shootings, either carried out or attempted as terrorist attacks when non-Muslims are involved. Acting on behalf of the Islamic State, an Uzbek immigrant drove a vehicle into a bicycle patch in New York, killing eight people in October. In December, a Bangladeshi immigrant attempted suicide bombing in a city transportation hub but failed. In October, a lone, non-Muslim gunman killed 58 concert-goers and injured over 850 in Las Vegas. No clear motive has yet been positively traced. This was the worst ever terrorist attack carried out by an individual in the US. During an August rally by White supremacists in Charlottesville, a supporter drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters killing one person and injuring 19.
As passions flared on all sides, a supporter of the Democratic Party's failed presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, launched an attack on a group of about 30 Republican Congressmen at a sports practice in June, but seriously injured only one before he was killed by the police.
Trump's polarisation has come back to haunt his party. It lost the governorships of New Jersey and Virginia and a Senate seat in Alabama in elections this year – a trend that could put the Republican's Senate majority in play during next year's elections.