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Foreign Policy

Don’t Expect Drastic Changes Quickly in the United States

Apr 10 , 2017
  • Wu Zurong

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for Int'l Studies

When Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States on January 20, many in the U.S. and other parts of the world tended to believe that the U.S. would experience dramatic changes in the first two years of his presidency, creating a world full of uncertainties. This assessment came from Trump’s political goals contained in his campaign speeches, and analysis of the social status and demands of the voters who supported Trump in the presidential election. The fervent nationalist manifesto issued in his inaugural address further raised people’s expectation of a speedy upheaval of the status quo. But it is one thing for Trump to express his political desires, and it is another to translate them into reality. It requires a long process of Trump’s perception of the U.S. and the world being developed into rational knowledge in order to transform the U.S. by applying extraordinary intelligence and wisdom into his governance, while straining to give back power to the people from Washington elites, put America first, and “make America great again”. During the process, Trump gradually is transforming the U.S. with both successes and setbacks, and at the same time he is being transformed by\knowledge gained through his new practice of governance.

Drastic and dramatic changes have proved impossible during Trump’s early days of presidency. Trump and his Republican colleagues failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. They have not only left Trump’s major campaign promise unfulfilled, but also created uncertainties about success in the future as Republicans have long been making tremendous efforts to repeal the Act they have dubbed “Obamacare”. The far-reaching consequence for Trump and the Republicans: having the public question their ability to strike a balance among increasingly more diversified groups of voters. Another example is the early end of Trump’s first executive order on immigration and the freeze of his second. Trump was seemingly prevented from exercising his presidential powers concerning immigration policies by the country’s judicial branchThe case of the first executive order represented the reality of acting in haste, while the second illustrates the complicatedlines of demarcation between presidential powers and principles the president must observe as required by the country’s constitution. His “Energy Independence” executive order will not be carried out smoothly either, as it has already drawn swift backlash from a coalition of 23 states and local governments as well as environmental groups. The international community is fretting about the U.S. ability and will to meet its commitments on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases under a climate change accord reached in Paris in 2015. Party politics is another factor hindering dramatic changes, especially when the budget stalemate has not been resolved. Any big change needs money, and Trump and his GOP colleagues cannot allow a government shutdown over the budget stalemate. They have to make compromises to the Democrats on issues concerning their transformative plans.

There are two layers of issues that accompany Trump’s desire to reshape the U.S. One is that the policy goals of Trump and his Republican Party cannot fit easily into the diversified American society. Nowadays, it has grown more common for a certain number of GOP lawmakers to move to the side of their Democratic colleagues on particular issues. As the U.S. and the other parts of the world have become more integrated, any dramatic unilateral domestic action on the part of the U.S. with international implications would have strong repercussions all over the world. If not handled properly, the interests of the U.S. would be harmed. The other layer is that any fundamental change in the country requires Trump to work closely with the Congress and the judicial branch of government. The Congress and the judiciary help Trump govern the country on a stable and lawful basis. But when Trump does not get along well with them, they would hinderhis exercise of presidential power.

As Trump is unable to work closely together with many master politicians, it is believable that there will be no immediate dramatic changes in the U.S.

The other side of the coin, however, should be equally emphasized so as to make an objective assessment of Trump’s performance of governance in the past two months or more. As Trump’s principles of governance and policy directions are very different from the Obama era, gradual changes are in the works or have already taken place in quite a number of domestic and foreign policy areas. His domestic and foreign policies are not to be simply treated as old wine in a new bottle. There is new wine in the new bottle, too.

Trump and his team have already set up new offices in the White House on international trade and streamlining government organs, as well as issuing new regulations on lobbying. They are closely examining existing immigration policies. Tighter law enforcement of undocumented immigrants with criminal record has been carried out. Repatriation has already been under way. With the remarkable requested increase in the defense budget, big changes shake up the whole budget structure. The U.S. has officially withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. NATO members have been called upon to increase their share of expenditure. Studies are being made and plans are being mapped out in areas such as combating international terrorism, reducing international trade deficits, renegotiating multilateral trade agreements and so on. It can be expected that the U.S. will witness more gradual and substantial changes in the second half of this year.

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