Donald Trump is off to a poor start

The world is watching America’s 45th president as he settles down in his new office

Shahid Javed Burki February 05, 2017
The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and served as vice-president at the World Bank

The world is watching America’s 45th president as he settles down in his new office.

There is a near consensus among policy analysts in Washington and in most capitals around the world that the Trump presidency was off to a poor start. A series of executive orders including the decision to start work on a wall all along the border with Mexico, the pullout from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, the 90-day ban on the entry of the citizens from seven Muslim majority countries, and the ban on the admission of refugees from Syria created confusion and chaos. Thousands of people went to the country’s many airports to protest about the new president’s approach to the world, in particular his attack on the world’s Muslim community.

The new president, not given to deep thought and reflection, was being guided by some of those who were close to him. According to some analysts the architect of this “shock and awe” approach was supposedly Senator Jeff Sessions whose nomination as the Attorney General was being debated by the Senate when these orders were written and issued. His reach extends throughout the White House, with his aides and allies accelerating the president’s most dramatic moves, including the ban on refugees and citizens from seven Muslim nations that has triggered fear around the globe.

Stephen Bannon, the chief strategist in the White House, was believed to be the other person who was seen influential in crafting the spate of orders issued in the first few days of the Trump presidency. His was a strong voice in the “alt-right” community in the US identified with extremist views. Before joining the Trump campaign and helping the candidate to win the presidency against heavy odds he had directed Breitbart News, a website that advanced anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-Semitic views. His group wanted to make “America white again” presumably, if not by expelling people of colour from the country, but then at least preventing the arrival of new ones. His rise to power in the White House led the media to label him as the real president.

In fact, the notion today is “more credible than ever before that the US is at war with Islam rather than targeting terrorists. They want nothing more than a fearful, recklessly belligerent America; so, if anything, this ban will heighten their efforts to strike at Americans, to provoke yet further overreaction from a volatile and inexperienced president.” Some of the conservative thinkers were distressed by the way Trump started his tenure. Michael Gerson is one of them. “Trump came to power promising that masterful leadership would replace the ‘stupid’ kind. This action was malicious, counterproductive and inept — the half-baked work of amateurs who know little about security, little about immigration, and nothing about compassion,” wrote Gerson. He was of the view that a very different America and a totally restructured world order would emerge after the Trump presidency has implemented its full “America First” agenda. “Every US president since World War II has disagreed with the stunted and self-defeating view of the country now held by Trump. Over the past century — in some ways from the beginning, the US has been a cheerfully abnormal nation. American identity is not based mainly on blood or soil, but rather on the patriotic acceptance of a creed that the world where the realm of freedom is growing is more prosperous and secure; a world where freedom is retreating is more dangerous. The reason is not mystical. Dictators tend to be belligerent. Governments accountable to their people are generally more peaceful.”

The world, according to this very plausible view, will be more insecure, less compassionate and palpably considerably more disorderly once President Donald Trump has had his way. The world is watching in dismay.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 6th, 2017.

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