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Tuesday, 21 March 2017

And so to Trump

Donald Trump has seventy years' experience of not apologising; and he is a very slow learner of new tricks. A term of four years in the White House will not be long enough for him to adapt to the politician's habit of seeming to express regret for some utterances, and blaming data sources for 'misunderstanding' non-facts. His many minions will find ways of sliding him past current embarrassments, and the sheer burdens of office on a man of his years - however super-fit he may be - will reduce the frequency of opportunities for him to bring a hornets nest of incredulous, querulous, bemused and abusive comment on his latest crass indiscretion. He will continue from time to time to sound off, displaying ineptitude and ignorance, and successive instances will diminish as excuses for journalistic hyperbole.

The most important thing that differentiates President Trump from the property billionaire who occupied his carcass before him is his conviction that he has a mandate from the US electorate that is bigger than the electorate of any state which elected a Senator, and even more vastly superior to the population of any electoral district that sent a Representative to Congress. His direct appeal to his public defines the 'Movement' to which he refers in his rally speeches. Unlike a divinely appointed Prophet [whose authority cannot be demonstrated in terrestrial terms, and is merely asserted by the preacher] Trump has the authenticated certification of the whole chain of electoral evidence from the local polling station to the declaration of Electoral College votes. He can challenge the Congress and the American public to deny the will of the people to cast away generations of free-trade dogma in order to repatriate work to the continental USA. He can refer them to the dozens of videos that show crowds ecstatically demanding the wall on the Mexican frontier. He can cite the frequency with which his audiences approved of the idea of building up the military might of the USA [cost what it may] and greeted the idea of closing the country to Muslim immigration. He has the courage of his convictions, embedded into the constitutional status of the Presidency.

He is learning in reality the lessons that he doubtless learned in his youth; consequently he will accept that he must live with the separation of powers between the executive that he controls, the courts which are autonomous, and the Congress. But he will prove to be equally determined that the members of the Congress shall accept his mandate, and the policies that he builds upon it. Those policies will eventually have to be framed in constitutionally-accessible forms by the members of his administration, but he believes that he has a compact with enough of the people to be in a position personally to insist that the measures put to Congress will conform with his will. How much of the legislative outcome he will be wholly pleased with is yet to be seen, but he will require that it past his test.

In the wider field of exercising the presidential prerogative, especially to conduct trade policy and to engage with other states, he will go his own way. He will be obliged to respect laws that he cannot repeal, and to accept the limitations applied by the judiciary to the scope of some legislation: but for the main part his foreign policy will be his to make, change and drive forward. The legendary power of Congress to deny to the President any expenditure which it thinks to be reckless or unaffordable will be mitigated in the Trump era by his appeal to his mandate. The members of both houses of Congress also know - all too well - that this President came as a total outsider to the political game. He has no obligation to any insider to the 'Washington swamp' arising from the help any of the old gang gave to a president during the long and devious political careers that are the normal route to the Oval Office.

In these ways the President stands aloof from the Congress in a way that no predecessor in the past century has done; except General Eisenhower, who came straight from a command in Europe and had to choose which party to stand for, as an independent man of integrity; after which the sleaze of party politics developed around him. Eisenhower's situation was derived principally from the emergence of the cold war; where a steady general who was used to complex command was seen to possess essential qualities that no party politician at the time could match. The other general who could match Eisenhower's experience and achievements had controversially been dismissed in the Korean war, and MacArthur rightly ruled himself out of the US political scene. This left Eisenhower is his unique situation. There was nothing comparably special about Trump's experience and personality when he emerged as the Republican front-runner. Nevertheless he has built his position, and secured his mandate: he will not willingly surrender either. He has been used to having his own way for as long as he chooses to remember: except when his property development has been stymied by alien regulations and authorities. He has castigated EU and Irish officials who stymied a golfing development in Ireland; and from such experiences his pet hates are fed.

In general, he knows that academics and theoreticians, especially the econocracy, tend to get in his way. The dogma of free trade stands against his protectionist views; as I indicated yesterday this will feed his determined protectionism. President Trump has already changed the dialogue on defence and on trade. It is highly probable that his impact on world affairs will be greater that his achievements in the much more restricted system of US politics.

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