By Shivaji Sengupta
According to most polls in the country, around 40% of likely voters want Donald Trump to be reelected for a second term. These include a steady mass of voters who supported him in 2016, except for those independents who have turned away from him since then. But this does not mean the President is already a lame-duck. He has a definite pathway to a second term, via some of the battleground states more favorable to him than to Joe Biden, states like Texas, Florida and Ohio. Of course, he also has to win almost all the states he won last time.
We might well ask what will Donald Trump do in a second term? How will he govern? In this column I will attempt to discuss the president’s strengths and weak points in order to have a clear picture of his second term.
Definitely, the economy. There are those who say that Trump’s claim that he is solely responsible for the booming economy before the Covid-19 is exaggerated. President Obama, who inherited an economy in shambles, brought the country into a healthy financial state by the time he left, and Trump continued it. In fact, one can also claim with some justification that he has made it even better. Assuming, the anticipated vaccine(s) perform as expected, and the pandemic recedes – an important aspect of Trump’s second term – Donald Trump is expected to “reset” the economy so that it regains its past vigor. To do that, the president also may have to rejig his China policy regarding tariffs, which one expects he will. His current hardline tariff policy, not only with China but with other countries in Western Europe and Asia (India included) will need post-Covid revision.
We expect regulations to continue, perhaps even increased, and the tax breaks to billionaires renewed. Trump believes, as Reagan and the Bushes did, in “trickle down” economics: let the wealthy have more than enough so that the middle class (but not necessarily the poor) will benefit from their investments and profit.
One worry that over 50% of Americans have, post-Covid, is Trump industrial policy regarding the environment. People say that he and many Republicans do not believe in science; they reject scientific warnings about polluting the environment. I do not agree that they do not believe in science per se. Rather their desire – particularly Trump’s who is at heart a businessman – for profit outweighs everything. Environmental protection costs money, sometimes big money. Trump is not willing to spend that and therefore dismisses science as an inconvenience.
Operation Warp Speed
The next positive that Trump can claim, and does, is the development and manufacture of vaccines in order to stop the spread of Covid. Here, his administration may legitimately claim credit for the way it has encouraged the pharmaceuticals to speed up production, pouring in billions of dollars. Operation Warp Speed, the name the production process has been given, has definitely produced the vaccines faster than any in history, to bring it to it “not quite ready” stage. The mistake Trump is making is connecting the vaccine issue to electoral gain, by repeatedly saying that it (they) would be ready by Election Day.
But, be that as it may, all indicators point to the next president depending upon a vaccine to successfully combat Covid. Trump will have the new vaccine(s) at his disposal, were he to get a second term. The sooner the vaccine is ready, particularly before the elections, the harder his administration will have to work convincing the public of its safety and efficacy. Donald Trump should also be ready to cooperate with other countries like Britain, China, India and Russia who are also at the cusp of producing anti-Covid vaccines (the Russians, somewhat suspiciously, have already claimed production).
Which brings us to Trump’s policies on foreign affairs. Here, for most of the four years, Trump had little to claim regarding success. The army’s taking out the Iranian military mastermind, Qasem Soleimani, brought in mixed reviews even from a military standpoint. Nevertheless, it should count for something in Trump’s favor that Soleimani’s assassination has not yet brought any catastrophic retaliations from the Iranians. Trump’s rescinding America’s participation from the Iranian nuclear deal has resulted in severe criticism worldwide, and in many quarters in the US.
However, the one foreign policy action that has practically no negatives is the US negotiating diplomatic relations between Israel and the two Middle Eastern countries, the UAE and Bahrain. This isn’t an establishment of peace as Trump would like to put it. There was no war between these two countries and Israel. However, neither was there any official connection. The three countries did unofficially engage in trade. Now, diplomatic relations will mandate dealings out in the open.
The Middle Eastern understanding is significant in another way for which the Trump administration deserves credit. This negotiation completely leaves out Palestine, a strategy previously not practiced by the US. The past presidents, from Carter to Obama, always included Palestine as an important player in any negotiation involving the Middle Eastern Gulf region. Indeed, Palestine has often been regarded as the other stumbling block for peace in the region, Israel being the principal one. Trump’s latest move has turned Palestine into a surprised and disgruntled onlooker. Israel too was not an entirely willing party in these negotiations. But Prime Minister Netanyahu owed Trump a favor because of the latter’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, an otherwise deeply unpopular, may be even risky, move according to many American and European critics. Thus when Trump asked Netanyahu to come to this agreement with the UAE and Bahrain, he had to oblige. For Israel, it was helpful that the two Middle Eastern countries would join Saudi Arabia to form an arc against Iran. This will, in turn, compel Palestine to side with Iran. With Lebanon already on the Iranian side.
Trump’s latest foreign policy move will divide the Middle East along new lines. No longer will it be between Palestine and Israel, but along an Israeli arc against Iran. The latter will have to think twice before it attacks Israel, since Saudi Arabia already has, and now these two countries will begin receiving US arms. If Trump gets another four years, he will continue this line of Middle Eastern policy, encouraging other countries like Jordan to join, ultimately leaving Palestine little option but to come to the table. Indeed, even Biden, if he wins, may follow this trajectory.
This, in a nutshell, is what we might expect from Trump in the next four years, if he wins. Readers might take note that, except partially in foreign policy, Covid pervades the responsibility of the next president of the United States in all areas, and this is the one, the most critical, area in which, according to most polls Trump has failed. The question remains, if he wins, will he be up to delivering the country free of COVID? Just new vaccines will not be enough.
By Shivaji Sengupta
Shivaji Sengupta is
Professor Emeritus, a
retired VP Academic
Affairs at Boricua
College, and a regular
contributor to our