The result of the United States presidential elections last November brought much uncertainty and many unanswered questions. What is the situation now? How could we sum up the first one hundred days of Donald Trump’s presidency?
According to Docent Outi J. Hakola, university lecturer in North American studies, Trump has addressed the topics of his election campaign with unusual vigour: health care, immigration, tax reform, the budget as well as deregulation.
In addition, his agenda has featured the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice and building a wall on the country’s border with Mexico.
Trump’s foreign policy has been shaped by a strong focus on protecting national interests. Efforts to remove environmental restrictions are already under way, and there is a powerful emphasis on promoting the automotive, oil and coal industries. The aim is to present America the superpower as a very independent actor in the international arena.
Unclear domestic policy
“Trump’s central problem is generating credibility. He has had to back down on more than one issue,” says Hakola.
Rani-Henrik Andersson, docent of North American studies, considers the events surrounding the attempt to repeal President Obama’s health care reform to be particularly harsh losses in terms of Trump’s presidential authority. The proposal became mired in disagreements even within the Republican party.
Trump, a person with no direct political experience, has clearly struggled to understand a mode of leadership built on compromise and mutual negotiation.
“Repealing the Affordable Care Act has been the top issue for the Republicans for the past eight years, and Trump’s most important campaign promise. This result is a tremendous setback for the party and for Trump, and the tax reform is unlikely to be any easier,” says Andersson.
If such failures and political zig-zagging continue, the confidence of Trump’s supporters may begin to flag. His plummeting popularity figures are an indication of this.
“Facing criticism is clearly Trump’s weakness, and no president can avoid criticism,” Hakola continues.
Quick-tempered and emotional accusations have only made things worse.
“Trump has a strong desire for approval. We can assume that he will have to make changes to his advisory team and in his government.”
Alternative facts and the post-truth era
During his term so far, Trump has created an image of himself as a powerful leader of the people.
“He presents himself as a masculine leader who does not shy away from aggression or attack. This resonates with certain groups of people in the current situation, where Trump’s supporters are painting the United States as a violent country at risk, teetering on the brink of chaos and needing protection from external forces,” says Hakola.
Even though statistics show that violent crime has been on the decline for two decades, Trump’s media presence relies on images instead of facts.
Critical journalism has sought to address “fake news”, but the problematic approaches run deep in the traditions of the American media system.
“News reporting is a competitive field in America. Instead of straightforward reporting, news programmes are full of debates, commentators and discussions, because this attracts viewers. The news is placed in a context where it appears to be a matter of opinion or a difference in perspective. At the same time, critical journalism turns into sensationalism,” Hakola states.
The divisions in American politics have become ever deeper. Republicans consistently resisted all proposed reforms during President Obama’s term, which does not bode well for the willingness of Democrats to cooperate under Trump.
“The unwillingness to seek political consensus is only heightened by an increasingly polarised populace. In addition, American media are divided into liberal and conservative factions, partly characterised by their emphasis on being ‘right’, and an unwillingness to understand the perspectives of their ‘opponents’.”
Since Trump also pits different media against one another by supporting some and denying access to others, it doesn’t seem like the polarisation will end anytime soon.
According to Rani-Henrik Andersson, the biggest threat to Trump is his government’s alleged links to Russia.
“There may be extensive investigations and trials ahead. But we must keep in mind that impeaching a president requires exceptionally strong evidence. I do not believe that it will happen, at least in the near future.”
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