London Nov 14, 2016
AS US President-elect Donald Trump selects his Cabinet, members of his team are promising a pragmatic, positive administration to allay domestic and international concerns.
Ahead of the inauguration of the new president and in the first 100 days of the new administration, Mr Trump and his team urgently need to do that as both the domestic opposition and international community are extremely worried – in view of his aggressive and bigoted remarks, and threats of reduced US support for Nato during the election campaign. In particular, the appointment of Steve Bannon as chief strategist and counsellor of Mr Trump, is regarded as disturbing. Until August this year, he was former chairman of Breitbart News, a publication carrying extreme right news and views, some of which are regarded as bigoted.
Such are the worries that European foreign ministers met for an emergency dinner on Sunday night. They discussed how they would debate with the 2017 Trump administration about sanctions against Russia over Ukraine and Russia’s involvement in Syria’s civil war. They were also concerned that Mr Trump would follow his election promises and disband the Iranian nuclear agreement.
Campaign rhetoric or conciliatory President?
Lena Epstein, Trump campaign chair of Michigan, said in a telephone interview with BT that she understood international concerns about Mr Trump – “an unknown” in international political circles. She intimated, however, that Mr Trump’s European, Asian and other counterparts had little to fear as he was a dealmaker, albeit with the intention of negotiating for the rights and prosperity of Americans, especially the disadvantaged.
Mrs Epstein – who helped persuade voters in Michigan, a Democrat state stronghold for 24 years, to vote for Mr Trump – said that, behind the scenes, he was very different from his electioneering persona. She was critical about the unpleasant aspects of his demagoguery and past, saying that he should have been more empathetic and not so aggressive. In contrast, she said, Mr Trump was kind and considerate to his team and people close to him.
“Now that the election is over, he will be very focused on economic, foreign, health, education and other policies,” Mrs Epstein said, adding that Mr Trump sifts through information swiftly, dissects the facts, gets to “the heart of the matter”, and asks penetrating questions.
Expectations that the new President will be decisive
The new administration will move rapidly and decisively in the first 100 days after the new president’s inauguration early next year, Mrs Epstein predicted.
The Cabinet will be appointed shortly, she said. The incoming president – as an experienced, successful businessman with some 30,000 Trump Group employees globally – is likely to delegate authority, albeit controlling the significant items on the agenda, disclosed Mrs Epstein, who will be a member of the White House team. “Speak to me early May and you’ll see what will have been achieved,” she said.
Mr Trump and other team members and advisers, including supply- side economist Larry Kudlow and Ronald Reagan budget deputy director, said the economic aims are tax cuts, deregulation and infrastructure spending to boost business and jobs, and negotiations of fair trade deals.
Anthony Scaramucci – founder of Skybridge Capital, a fund of hedge funds firm, and Trump economic adviser – wrote in a Financial Times editorial that the US economy “has been choked by overregulation since the financial crisis”. He wrote that Mr Trump “recognises the pain of America’s middle class . . . is not dogmatic about policy positions. Rather, he has set bold targets from which to begin negotiations.”
Considerable Economic Hurdles
In former interviews, however, Mr Trump has admitted the considerable economic hurdles that he faces. He is worried about the huge debt of the US, for example. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis, US total federal government and state debt soared from 55 per cent of GDP or US$5.8 trillion in 2001 to 105 per cent or US$19.4 trillion this year. A third of the borrowings is held by foreigners, mainly China.
Some Asian analysts contend that if Mr Trump slams on tariffs against China, the nation could freeze US Treasury bond purchases, causing a surge in interest rates. Indeed, in recent months, Mr Trump warned about the possibility of a bond and share market tumble in a rising-interest-rate environment. A market crash could be the forerunner of a recession that would send the Trump economic and employment plan off course.
Mr Trump has said that foreign policy will be aimed at reducing global conflict, including accepting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s overtures for talks to combat ISIS and other terrorist groups. His other ambition, which has thwarted Republican and Democrat presidents alike, is peace between Israel and Palestine.
Indeed, there are already signs of realpolitik following the unpleasant divisive campaigns of both candidates and election promises that will be exceedingly difficult to fulfil. After meeting President Barack Obama, Mr Trump said in interviews that he would consider leaving in place certain parts of the Affordable Care Act, showing that he was open to compromise compared with the repeated dogmatic electioneering pledge to repeal the health insurance law. Moreover, Mr Trump’s profile in front of the cameras has become quiet and soft-spoken including praise for both Hillary and Bill Clinton.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that there was no need for Europeans to be despondent. “I may respectfully say to my European friends and colleagues that it’s time we snapped out of general doom and gloom about this election. He is, after all, a dealmaker. He wants to do a free-trade deal with the UK,” he said.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon was confident that Mr Trump would shed the strident rhetoric that propelled him to the White House and engage with the world to confront global crises like climate change. “Now, post-election, when he creates his transition team with experts and people with vision and expertise, I am sure that the United States will continue to play a leading role,” he said.
copyright Neil Behrmann in The Business Times, Singapore
Neil Behrmann is author of Trader Jack- The Story of Jack Miner and anti-war children’s novel Butterfly Battle- The Story of the Great Insect War
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