Trump’s new world order, Trump, family and tribes
In 2016 America elected a president like never before, a disrupter and novice who, true to his promises, is having a fundamental cultural, political and economic impact. The Trump doctrine is based on Trump, his family, tribes and gut feelings. Everything must evolve around him, the boss and he brooks no dissent. The family comes first, and play a major role in the administration irrespective of their qualification. His tribes take precedence and include the White race, Republicans and the rich. He goes by gut feelings and has no time for analysis, science or evidence based policy. This is not really an order or doctrine, rather while Trump has a disruptive effect with implications for his party, the US, allies and the world as a whole, he does not have a logical or coherent solution. Chaos ensures and he does not have what it takes for a new world order.
Trump’s pronouncements, policies and reactions to developments, the media and criticisms have demonstrated his egotistic tendency. He has to be the centre of attraction, using tweets and bombastic pronouncements to constantly let his team, party, opponents and the world know that he is the boss. In an interview with Fox News he stated “I’m the only one that matters. Because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.” Other than his father, he has always been his own boss and his approach reflects this background. For him, loyalty and subservience are paramount as he recently admitted when he said he was aware that Omarosa, the White House staff member sacked, was not up to the job but was kept on because she was full of praise for him. When he met James Comey, the FBI Director he sacked, he demanded loyalty. This unprecedented demonstration of fealty to the boss was captured in a cabinet meeting when members praised and pledged their allegiance to their dear leader. He envies autocrats around the world and considers them to be his true friends. His frustrations with the media, who as reported by The Daily Beast he has labelled as “enemy of the people”, is because they fail to give him the respect he feels he deserves and expose his lies as expected in a democratic state. His recent spat with former officials, namely, revocation and threats of revocation of security clearance has little to do with security issues and more to do with the fact that he is asserting his power to strip former officials who have been critical of him, as punishment. Ex CIA officer David Pries noted that this “is something that happens more in a banana republic than in the USA.”
Trump’s loyalty to his family is unprecedented. His children played significant roles in his election campaign with his son and son in law allegedly being the conduit for damaging information on the Democrats from the Russians. His daughter and son in law have been given positions way beyond their qualifications and experience, neither of them having held government positions before Trump assigned them roles. Kushner, his son-in-law was given a multitude of roles, never before assigned to anybody in the White House even though he has government security clearance issues. Donald J Trump Jr although not part of the government is frequently lauding the president’s “achievements”, criticising his dad’s opponents and no doubt acting as a conduit for outside interests who want to influence the president. Trump’s businesses and those of his family have benefited significantly. His Mar-a-Largo establishment in Florida doubled its fees immediately after Trump won the election. His company and daughter’s company have been awarded patents and licenses by the Chinese government. The Republican Party has spent $3.5 million on Trump properties since January 2017 in sharp contrast to the $35,000 the party spent in two election circles up to 2014. The Trump hotel in Washington DC made a profit of $40 million in 2017, the first year of the Trump presidency and indications are that 2018 will be an even better year largely because foreign dignitaries and lobbyists stay there. Trump more than any other President likes to hold court outside Washington DC and when he does it is often at his hotels, and obviously the US government pays his fees.
Trump is very loyal to his tribes, namely, Whites, Republicans, the rich and through his Vice President, White Christian Evangelicals. His American First ideology would suggest that this includes America but this is misleading because for him Democrats, non-Whites, intellectuals, the mainstream media and just about anybody who is not part of his tribes noted above or subservient to him is not a real American and since day one he has made no effort to be the president for all Americans. His loyalty to his White tribe has meant that the Trump’s White House has fewer minorities than any President for decades as Politico noted that of the 55 highest earning staff only half a dozen were non-White. USA Today has documented ten statements by Trump that have been deemed racists. Trump’s racist pronouncements and actions started long before he made a bid for the White House, ranging from a court case when his company was accused of discrimination in housing to his campaign against African American and Latino youths who were absolved of crimes they did not commit. His recent entry into politics started with the false accusation that Obama was not born in America. He has used derogatory terms against Mexicans, railed against Central Americans who in his words want to “infest” America, called African and Caribbean countries “shitholes” and has frequently lambasted prominent African Americans for their ”low IQs”. And of course there was the Charlottesville incident when he failed to criticize neo-Nazis, calling them fine people. His preoccupation with the Wall, attacks against African American sportsmen, hard-line immigration stand is no doubt due to his racist views. In his comment on the recent death of Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, he said “she worked for me”, obviously, a Black woman who answered to her master.
Trump’s loyalty to his White tribe extends beyond the USA. He has criticized the EU for opening its borders to immigrants, a point he stressed in his most recent visit to the continent. He has recently falsely criticised the South African government on killings of Whites and land redistribution policies – Whites who make up 8% of the population own 72% of the land that had been acquired from Blacks under its Apartheid system. He only raises such concerns when they involve his White tribe, and is noticeably silent on injustices around the world which do not involve his tribe. He has not made any reference to the Rohingyas even though the UN has just announced that they are facing genocide.
Trump has been steadfast in support of his Republican tribe, and this is reflected in measures with regard to the economy, the judiciary and military budget with one caveat, namely, the dramatic new direction the party has taken under him. Trump’s Republican brand is no longer the party that advocates free trade, fiscal responsibility, consistent foreign policy anchored to long term allies and civility. These principles championed according to ABC by the forgotten Republicans, have given way to the Trump doctrine, whose common thread now is authoritarianism and racism. While racism was always there since Nixon and Reagan adopted the “southern strategy”, Trump has been much bolder and appointed people such as his Attorney General and Steve Bannon, his former strategist who are sympathetic and/or have espoused racist views.
Trump has been very loyal to his rich tribe, giving them tax cuts, getting rid of “onerous” regulations and surrounding himself with millionaires and billionaires in his cabinet and more tax cuts are planned. Trump, largely because of his devout Christian Vice President has been loyal to White Evangelical Christians as demonstrated in the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, statements and policies at home and abroad relating to abortion, appointments to the Supreme Court and his current friction with Turkey.
Losers, those outside the tribes, the country as a whole and America’s allies are obviously very unhappy with this president. Democrats and many independents are strongly opposed to his assault on cherished Obama and general liberal policies relating to the environment, healthcare tax give- away to the rich, and consumer rights. The country as a whole is not a Trump fan with disapproval rates consistently higher than approval rates in polls since taking office. While his policies have no doubt built on Obama’s legacy in reducing unemployment, real wages for most Americans, after taking into account inflation, have not increased and following his much touted tax cuts, companies have not passed on the reduced taxes to workers, rather, they have passed on those gains to rich shareholders, buying back shares and increasing dividends. His threats and actions to damage Obamacare without a credible replacement has been unpopular. Furthermore, the huge deficit caused by his tax cuts which is projected to increase the national debt by a third has been described as a national security issue by USA Today, particularly as it makes the country less able to withstand another recession. Even among the winners there are concerns. American businesses are worried about his import tax hikes, causing him to fall out with some free market business supporters, notably, the Koch brothers. Some of his rural and working supporters have voiced their concerns about the negative impacts of the tariffs.
The most corrosive aspect of Trump’s statements and actions relate to the effect on America’s democracy, the divisive nature of this administration, the absence of analysis in the policy making process and damage to the country’s science culture. His attacks on the media and judiciary are weakening the bedrocks of American democracy. He calls mainstream media “fake news” and he is a serial liar, calculated by the Washington Post to be over 4,000 since he took office. This assault on the democratic process is having the effect Trump desires. A recent poll revealed that 43% of Republicans are willing to give Trump the power to close down media organisations and 52% would support postponing the 2020 presidential election if proposed by Trump. Polls indicate that a high proportion of Republican voters are favourably inclined to authoritarian rule and leaders. It is frightening watching Trump supporters at his rallies vent their anger at opponents and reporters, notably the vitriol directed at CNN reporter Acosta, egged on by their leader. The baying crowds at Trump rallies are reminiscent of the dark moods preceding the downfall of the Weimar Republic. It should be noted that racial prejudice and a feeling that they had been victimised by outside forces and the world were critical factors in the ascent of the monster regime that followed that republic. Trump has been very successful at engendering unwavering, slavish and sycophantic support from his base hence with all his actions which normally have caused voters to reject such a politician he still commands 85-90% of the support of Republicans.
America is deeply divided with members of the two major parties only exchanging blows and insults and Trump is largely to blame even though the seeds started germinating before he came on board. In his inflammatory language, actions and insults, he is shaping the Republican Party into a unprincipled (to traditional Republican values) base that primarily watch, listen and trust Fox and other right wing media, adhere to the diktats of their dear leader and are vehemently hostile to Democrats, the media and non-White immigrants. The party has even changed its stand regarding Russia, its traditional nemesis with polls indicating a significant increase in favourable sentiments towards that country. At a recent Trump rally participants wore T-shirts saying Russians were preferable to Democrats. Obviously Putin’s internet trolls have been very successful in convincing Republicans that Russia is the White, Christian and anti-liberal bastion that Trump supporters crave for. Few Republican leaders are challenging or objecting to the course, inflammatory and false statements that are frequently made by its leader. The most outspoken of them in Congress are on their way out, their places taken by Trumpists. Mike Murphy, a vocal Republican critic of Trump highlighted the Republican party’s moral cowardice in the face of Trump’s “racial demagoguery and slurs, abuse of office, dictator appeasement, nepotism and family corruption, blazing incompetence, contempt for the rule of law, betrayal of public institutions, epic dishonesty, authoritarian thuggishness” , pointing out that Republicans and their leaders have been shown no backbone and would pay the price in elections.
The discourse in the Trump era is unlike that in any other administration, course, false, efforts to make up for false statements and disjointed amidst a chaotic policy framework. Trump sets the tone, as demonstrated when he referred to Omarosa, as a dog, a term he has used on other people. False statements started almost from day one when his spokesman, Sean Spicer claimed that Trump’s inauguration crowd was the largest ever despite clear photographic evidence showing that to be false. Trump’s lies have become main-stream to his Republican base who use them as talking points and in repudiating arguments by their opponents. Kellyanne Conway, a senior Whitehouse staff member coined a new term “alternative facts” for false statements. Most recently Trump’s Lawyer Rudi Giuliani has stated that “truth isn’t truth” with regards to the Mueller enquiry. In this chaotic administration, Trump, White House staff, government departments, outside and Republican congress supporters frequently make conflicting statements and/or are often corrected by the White House or the boss himself. Policy is often announced for the first time through Trump’s Twitter feed or his favourite media, Fox News without coordination with the relevant department or staff member. This dysfunction can have significant implications, for example nobody knows exactly what Trump said or promised in his recent one-to-one meeting with Putin, Comey, the FBI Director was fired while attending a conference and the Director of Intelligence heard about Trump’s decision to hold a second meeting with Putin from the media also, while at a conference.
Trump unlike Obama is not an analytical President; rather he prides himself as the gut-feeling man, a mind-set that is reflected in his climate, economic and geo-political policies and actions. His rejection of the climate agreement refuted evidence by most scientists and his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been undoing Obama’s policies and rules ignoring robust scientific evidence. He has sacked and/or refused to consult eminent experts, buried or ignored unpalatable findings. His tax cuts based on the flawed supply side premise, have failed to address the issues that should be paramount and indeed have exacerbated them. His trade policies are particularly worrisome at a time when world trade, investment and production are becoming ever more integrated as noted by Kemal Davis and Caroline Conroy of the Brooking Institute, who in their in a recent paper stated that “in less than a decade, it will be huge world markets, that allocates capital finance, and skilled labour”. Indeed that is already happening in which case, Trump is acting like a modern day Luddite rather than trying to work out the best way America can harness this transition particularly as American companies are leading players in the process. His tariff wars have not looked at the issue in an analytical way but just taken a sledge hammer to deal with a very complex issue. He has made a big thing about his meetings with the North Korean and Russian leaders but very little preparations were made prior to those meetings which have ended up as mere photo opportunities that benefited those despots. Trump’s antipathy to analysis is the reason why he got rid of his highly intellectual National Security Adviser, McMaster and has failed to recruit, attract and keep high calibre staff. Nowhere is this dysfunction in the administration more evident than in science. In a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists which surveyed scientists in 16 agencies the group noted that the Trump administration’s “record on science policy is abysmal with significant challenges in the use of science to protect the public from environmental and public threats” and that the administration has been “undermining long-established processes for science to inform public policy”. The Trump administration’s staffing of its science policy unit is a fraction of the level under Obama and even lower than under G H Bush and it has introduced censorship in government documents and websites. The current top ranking official in the unit is a 31 year old with a bachelor degree in political science. This is a sharp departure from the Obama administration in social and scientific policy process as Ros Haskins and Greg Margolis, in their book, Show me the Evidence, documented the fight by the Obama administration for rigour and results in social policy.
Trump has outsourced much of the actual development of policies and selection of officials to Republican organisations and individuals because he lacks the analytical capability and interest and has not recruited enough staff to do the groundwork. This outsourcing of policy has given huge opportunities to outside interests in his tribes. Outside vested interests have had significant input on tax, environmental, immigration, education, religious policies and the selection of key staff members and judges as never before. The influence of outside vested interest is making policy more ideologically driven with a huge dose of conspiracy theory thrown in and there have been management issues, hence the chaotic Trump policy making process.
While Trump remains very popular in his tribes, his rants and policies are full of ironies verging on the perverse. He constantly rails against China’s trade surplus but his 2020 presidential campaign materials are being made in that country, his company and daughter are benefiting from licences awarded in China and his investment in Indonesia has been boosted by huge capital from China. He has taken a hard stand against immigration and wants to end “chain migration” which allows US citizens to sponsor their relatives, claiming that he only wants highly qualified migrants. His company was granted permits for foreign workers soon after he took office. His grandfather, mother, and wife’s parents recently granted American citizenships recently, and wife’s sister have benefited from “chain migration”. None of these family members or workers for his company are in the highly skilled category he is touting. Stephen Miller, his policy adviser advocating hard-line immigration policy who is Jewish was labelled a hypocrite by his uncle David S Glosser saying he had “watched with dismay and increasing horror as my nephew, who is an educated man and well aware of his heritage, has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country”. Oh by the way, the “fine people” of Charlottesville had placards stating they would not be displaced by Jews and so if they have their way people like Miller could find themselves in big trouble like in the old country they escaped from. William H Frey who recently wrote a book titled Diversity Explosion has noted that Trump’s White supporters have misplaced anxiety. For the country as a whole, but particularly Whites, low birth rates could result a precipitous decline in population growth as seen in countries like Japan. Immigration he noted will bring in youthful workers and “ironically, it is the older white population that would benefit handsomely from investments in the labour force skills of younger minorities – by the latter’s contribution to Social Security and Medicare” – Trump won the overwhelming proportion of the older White vote. Trump supporters who received the crumbs from his tax cuts are likely to be negatively impacted by price rises as a result of Trump’s import tariffs. Trump’s rural base who continue to strongly support him, are being hit by tariffs on their exports to China. Trump’s strongest supporters in the EU, namely, central and eastern European states, are jittery because of Trump’s embrace of Putin’s Russia who they see as a major threat. According to an analysis by the Heritage Foundation, US mills that supply aluminium and steel raw materials employ fewer than 200,000 people while US companies that buy those inputs that will be adversely affected by Trump’s tariffs employ more than 6.5 million workers. And “Trump Country”, notably the Rust Belt, rely more on exports for jobs than other parts of the country.
Trump does not do irony and such inconsistencies do not matter or apply to him, his family and his tribes. There is no issue with his family occupying prominent positions and benefiting financially because that is the smart thing to do. His actions are just are what he has always done, with his business where family members run the show, with tax (avoidance), bankruptcy laws and his (disgruntled) employees. He is against immigration from “shithole” countries but he is OK with it when it relates to his family, business and immigrants from predominantly White countries like Norway. His gripe with kneeling (Black) sports stars is because they are ungrateful for what they are getting particularly as they do not actually belong to America as was Obama. He reminded his rich tribe after the tax cut on how grateful they should be that he had filled their coffers. And his working class White base, well they should be happy with their lot just like the employees and contractors he has shafted.
The Trump new world order/chaos is a cause for concern at home and abroad. It is more of a chaos than an order and this is partly because his victory was a surprise and there was no real Trump doctrine/plan other than what is in it for Trump and his family, anger, hate and tribal affiliation. Yes he had some platitudes but these were not well thought out and coherent strategies and policies. His party is unrecognisable in terms of its long held principles. American democracy is under threat and one of the earliest experiments of modern democracy is seeing a lurch to authoritarianism reminiscent of the darkest days of the twentieth century. Analysis and science have been thrown out of the window as Tump takes policies and positions based on prejudice and conspiracy theories.
On the world stage Trump’s statements on NATO and the EU and his embrace of Putin, affinity towards authoritarian leaders, protectionist policies are introducing instability never seen for many decades. Allies, frequently berated, attacked and surprised by Trump who often sides with traditional enemies such as Putin in the case of the EU, are confused and the most recent statement by the French President, echoing that made by Chancellor Merkel suggests that Europe is finally deciding to take a path that is more independent of the US. The EU is particularly concerned because of Trump’s support for Brexit, ant-liberal policies of east and central European members and anti EU movements and parties. In Asia, America’s allies, notably, Japan and South Korea are worried about the mercurial president who despite all the fanfare seems to have achieved nothing in his meeting with North Korea and his reluctance to engage in military exercises. The whole world is worried about America’s tariffs, his unravelling of carefully crafted accords such as the Paris climate change, Iran, World Trade Organisation, NAFTA agreements and belligerent posture but without clearly thought out replacements. Trump’s disdain of analysis, science, lack of experience or interest in politics and diplomacy but rather only guided by bloated regard of his own intellect and deal making prowess, his tribe and conspiracy theories makes world leaders worried. This angry leader, ready to take on the world, armed with the most powerful economic and military force, backed by a sycophantic congress and support from the only people he cares for, his Republican base, is unnerving. And with his legal issues and the Mueller probe at home, he may just lash out as he is prone to do when he is frustrated and/or wants to change the news agenda.
J Boima Rogers is Principal Consultant at Media and Event Management Oxford (MEMO) www.oxfordmemo.co.uk