The Disappointment of Trump

In his Inaugural Address, President Trump spoke of ‘American carnage” and throughout his campaign decried the state of the country as a nation in decline. His mantra of “Make America Great Again” was embraced by many, including majorities of working class citizens from rural or industrial regions. He was seen as an outsider; a successful businessman who was going run the country like a business and, like a private equity investor, was going to get the government running in a cost effective and lean manner. He was going to “drain the swamp”. Now the President has been in office for just under four months and in that time he has not managed any effective legislation – healthcare and tax reform are merely specs on the horizon – but has gotten himself into a real mess, which preoccupies the White House and Congress as they deal with legalities, or worse yet, incompetence in the Oval Office.

Trump’s pledge of “America First” is a philosophy of protectionism that is cheered by many in his base as a welcome change to their perception of US weakness. His campaign promised jobs by the millions, a doubling of GDP growth, affordable healthcare for all, lower taxes, and a foreign policy that was zero sum – with the US on the winning side. The groundswell of support and a superb tactical campaign designed to capture the Electoral College ( if not the popular vote) brought him into office with a wave of support and optimism that was reflected in his base and, importantly, in the financial markets. But significantly, his victory has also spurred widespread protest and opposition and the nation has felt the effects of a left vs. right polarization. Nonetheless, the message of American greatness cannot be ignored and at the outset of the Trump Presidency the electorate waited anxiously to see that greatness manifested.

The realities of the first four months, however, have led to a sense of anxiety and uncertainty regarding both the substance of Trump’s policies and, of course, the growing suspicion of Russian involvement and possible collusion. As mentioned earlier, an extremely unpopular healthcare bill was passed by the House of Representatives after a series of deals and horse trades that were shielded from the public. Now that bill rests in the Senate, where, as has been stated by Sen. Susan Collins ( R-ME) and others, they will be starting from scratch. The timeline is long and it is unclear if and when Americans will see reform prior to the 2018 Congressional elections. Likewise for tax reform. So far, the White House proposal, consists of a one page series of bullet points, sketching out a very high level set of inclinations. Fleshing this out and negotiating with the myriad of lobbyists who will inevitably pounce is an even longer and more tenuous battle than healthcare.

Trade, and its effect on jobs, has been one of the President’s signature initiatives, yet aside from announcing that we will exit NAFTA (and then recanting after calls with Mexico and Canada), nothing has been done in that regard except to float a proposal to China that the US would construct a more lucrative trade deal in return for support against North Korea.

Foreign policy is wrought with danger in the form of North Korea and the continuing threat of ISIS warfare and domestic attacks. Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria continue and the realpolitik assertions of Secretary of State Tillerson have yet to take hold. President Obama was criticized mightily for lack of a cohesive strategy. It appears that none exist here either.

All of this, however, is taking a back seat to the domestic chaos that is enveloping the White House at this moment. This morning the President tweeted that he is the subject of the greatest witchhunt in American history. The Justice Department has appointed a special counsel to oversee the investigations into the Trump campaign’s interaction with Russia and the process by which FBI Director Comey was fired.

It goes without saying that this will leave a cloud of doubt hanging over the head of the President and his Administration for a long time and one that may very well end his tenure prematurely. That in itself is tragic, but more tragic are the unfulfilled promises by which the campaign painted a picture of American dominion on the world stage and untold economic prosperity at home. The President will keep on fighting the Media and Congress for his survival, but the disappointment of voters will send an alarm to elected officials that will resonate long after the scandals die out.

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