Ralph Mathekga

President Trump off to a divisive start

2017-01-23 08:36
Protesters hold up banners during a march against the inauguration of Donald Trump as US president outside the US embassy in London. Picture: Reuters

Protesters hold up banners during a march against the inauguration of Donald Trump as US president outside the US embassy in London. Picture: Reuters

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Just when one was beginning to think that the election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States was something you could get used to, Friday's inauguration happened.

The inauguration highlighted how difficult or impossible it is for the mind to succumb to the idea that indeed Trump is the 45th President of the United States of America.

Before the inauguration, Team Trump was involved in the transition, which included making nominations for Cabinet members. His utterances during the transition period unsettled the international diplomatic community as he did not waste any time trolling countries such as China and Mexico – both which are facing an uncertain future in their relationship with the a Trump-led administration.

The Trump administration is strange in many ways. Among the strange things that keep coming up is his ‘Twitter diplomacy’ (which is hardly diplomatic if one thinks about the meaning of diplomacy). Unprecedented even to the US media, Trump has made serious remarks on Twitter, using this platform to signal major foreign policy shifts by his administration.

China and North Korea have already challenged Trump’s hard stance foreign policy, which was delivered in 140 characters. This approach by the new president demands a complete overhaul of diplomatic etiquette. Countries may have their diplomats and ambassadors on Twitter, but how does the US ambassador in China responds to a tweet by his own president, particularly when it is about a critical issue such as bilateral relationships between the two countries? There is just no rule book on this and everyone is caught unaware.

The process of confirming Trump’s nominees for key Cabinet positions such as Secretary of State also revealed the pain that the nominees had to go through in responding to questions as to whether they fully support Trump’s mad ideas. This includes building a wall on the border to Mexico – one of his plans to “make America great again!”

Some of the nominees had to state that they do not fully agree with their boss on some of these issues. Some, including the nominee for the position of Attorney General, had to distance themselves from previous racial remarks as a way to assure Congress that once they are elected, they will not add fuel to the race relations inferno that is currently consuming Americans.

One would hope that those top officials who are about to take the reigns in the Trump administration will serve as a protective layer to mitigate any real damage that could be caused by the man himself.

It is also expected that both Republicans and Democrats in Congress will be active in stopping Trump from dragging America back to where the country ought not to be. It is quite desperate to see an administration taking over amidst anxiety as to how much damage they are likely to leave behind and whether the law makers will indeed hold hands to stop senseless reforms that Trump aims to implement.  

Looking at protests that took place against Trump’s inauguration on Saturday, it is clear that his term in office is not going to be a unifying experience for Americans. The newly sworn in president did not waste time in breeding divisions in America and across the world as he emphasised that his mandate was to undo just about everything that Obama sought to achieve.

In his first action in office Trump went after Obamacare using an executive order. In American politics, presidents avoid resorting to an executive order. Instead, they prefer going through Congress by forging support from two parties regarding what ought to be done about a policy matter.

By using an executive order, Trump does not want to waste time seeking support from the House for his policy stance on Obamacare – he marches ahead alone through the order. This could signal what is to come: a president who would often resort to an executive order because he is an impatient tyrant with no regard for bipartisanship. It points to a conflict-ridden presidency where compromises are a thing of the past.

If the past weekend’s protests are anything to go by, Trump’s policies will most likely be met with street protests at every corner and he will regret ever thinking of becoming president. 

- Ralph Mathekga is an independent political analyst and author of the book When Zuma Goes. He writes a weekly column for News24.

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