There is a longstanding tradition in Western democracies that when a new government takes office following an election, it immediately benefits from what is known as a honeymoon over the next few weeks.
During this period, political opponents refrain from engaging in harsh criticism, except in cases where it is really justified, in order to give the new administration reasonable breathing space to settle in and get down to the business at hand.
We are witnessing, however, an exception in the case of newly inaugurated United States President, Donald J. Trump. The highly combative political newcomer took office last Friday with one of the lowest approval ratings of any incoming president in US history.
The highly respected Gallup polling organization found a 45 per cent approval for Trump, compared with 67 per cent when his immediate predecessor, Barack Obama, entered the White House back in 2009. Interestingly, Obama also left office with a 59 per cent approval rating, one of the highest in history.
Trump’s abrasive style and highly controversial stand on various issues including health care, women’s rights and immigration have created division in America. Additionally, the fact that he won the presidency, not on the basis of the popular vote which went to his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton but through the Electoral College, has incensed and alienated many Americans.
Not surprisingly, as he was taking the oath of office on Friday afternoon, demonstrations by protestors just a few blocks away turned violent. In scenes not normally associated with a mature democracy like America, protesters clashed in the streets of Washington with police and set several vehicles on fire. Over 200 people were arrested.
Over the weekend, the anti-Trump sentiment gained greater momentum with protests in several major cities across America as well as in other countries. Spearheaded by women wearing pink, the massive demonstrations were staged to protest campaign remarks made by Trump that women, immigrants and other aggrieved interests found offensive.
The Trump presidency is therefore off to an unfortunately bumpy start. Ironically, the billionaire real estate mogul has pledged to unite America, but given the hardline nature of the opposition, it is debatable how he will pull off this feat unless he agrees to tone down the rhetoric and is prepared to make major concessions.
It may be possible. At least, within the business world, Trump has a reputation for being a deal maker. However, it must be borne in mind that business and politics are two different animals, as Mr Trump no doubt will soon find out. Whereas in business, it would have been relatively easy for him to have his way, it is not as straightforward in the hurlyburly world of politics.
Success in politics often comes from an ability to pull together effective coalitions from among disparate groups and getting them to work together in pursuit of common interests. It is left to be seen whether Trump will succeed in pulling this one off, beginning with the Washington power elite on which he has declared war as well as the media.
Trump spoke of taking back power from Washington and returning it to the people. However, as everyone knows, persons entrenched in positions of power are never inclined to surrender that power without some sort of struggle. In such a scenario, Trump will find himself at a disadvantage, being a Washington outsider and total novice to politics, and at risk of being outmanoeuvred by those who understand how power works in the American capital far better than he does.
Where America’s relations with other countries are concerned, Trump’s rhetoric emphasizing “America first” is also setting the stage for conflict. As a result of globalization, the economies of the world today are more integrated and interdependent than at any other time in history. Any action by the Trump administration that harms the economic interests of another country is therefore likely to result in a tit-for-tat.
In contrast with the Obama presidency which started off with tremendous goodwill for America and optimism of a better world, Trump’s inauguration has sparked considerable anxiety and uncertainty on the world stage. Every word he utters will be the obvious subject of careful study and analysis by countries looking for insights into what is in store for them in this brave new US dispensation.
Where do we stand in the Caribbean? What will the new “America first” policy mean for the region’s embattled offshore financial services sector, for example? It may be unclear at this stage but regional governments should leave nothing to chance. Adopting the “Be Prepared” motto of the Boys Scouts, our governments should brace for any eventuality.