The difficult art of power. Donald Trump’s first months in the White House

July 3, 2017
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It is widely recognized that Donald Trump’s election to the White House has been the most divisive choice of a President by American people. However, many analysts share the opinion that the unexpected victory of Trump was not just an accident of the contemporary history. On the contrary, many heralded Trump’s resolve to break up with the past under the banner of “American First”.

Four months after the Inauguration, signals from the President’s policy-making are however contradictory. Today the global order is further sliding into a significant disorder with not yet a well-structured strategy. The “Grand design” announced by the President has been, so far, no more than a slogan with no content. Neither public opinion nor international community may understand what objectives the Presidency is coherently pursuing and, more importantly, what the US is now standing for.

Although the western world remains the most important economic, technological and military group, the number of analysts thinking that the world has entered a “post Occidentalism” is growing. And many point out among other the wedges that light-heartedly have been roused by Donald Trump in the western world. The belief in the superiority of its values is now on the wane. How come? Reasons may be more than one but among them, there are certainly some of the policy-lines of the new American Administration, which worry the US allies.

In the first Federal Budget Plan — which experts consider unrealistic as it assumes an acceleration of the economic growth to an annual pace of 3% a year—a basic aim is to cut taxes on corporate profits which are offset by a lowering spending on the poor, specially Medicare and subsidies, making those who most voted for him more desperate. Another controversial projection is a strong increase of the Defense expenditure to the detriment of the State Department and the International Development Aid (IDA) funds. This decision implies a dominant role of “hard power”.

As the main threat has been often identified in the Islamic terrorism, which epitomizes asymmetric conflicts, a more effective riposte would have suggested a better balance between hard and soft power. Preventive diplomacy, Intelligence, political wisdom, social education, economic assistance are as many tools for removing the deep-seated causes of the turbulence in the Middle East, a region that has become a quagmire and the most  dangerous hotbed of instability.  In such a situation, force of coercion should not chase out attraction which the US and its closest allies may be able to exert, very likely with much more success.

Time for Trump to give shape and substance to the “Grand design” is running short. To tackle simultaneously the declining of globalization and the geo-political threats, he needs to fairly accommodate the expectations of China, Russia and the EU, including Britain. Otherwise, analysts contend, too much of the power framework requirement should come from the American tax payers with no guaranty of a successful struggle. The President’s stubbornness could be the problem. If he decides to run the Presidency as a maverick he would need in fact to make recourse to a high degree of absolutism which inevitably will bring him sooner than later to show contempt for the law.

It happens that just in these days that an appreciated American columnist, Roger Cohen, has recalled the presidential experience of Richard Nixon who once said: “When the president does it, that means that is not illegal”. A citation which some experts have read as a flashing warning. The abuses and mistakes, which brought Nixon to the impeachment, may be a presage for Donald Trump?

The author

Antonio Badini teaches at the Department of Political Science of LUISS University. He is the General Director of the International Development and Law Organization, and was Ambassador of Italy in Algeria, Egypt and Norway