Seven No Trumps

January 20th, 2017
Seven No Trumps
For those who are familiar with the cerebral game of bridge, seven no trumps signifies that the two partners have bid and won the maximum of all thirteen tricks while their opponents have managed none. It is a heady if rare triumph.
Having won the presidency and his party having achieved clear majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate, Donald Trump, not shy of trumpeting his accomplishments, can claim that he has achieved the equivalent of seven no trumps metaphorically speaking. I know he plays golf but I have no information if he includes contract bridge among his hobbies.
Trump, the real estate mogul, and Reality show host par excellence now occupies the highest office in the United States. His opponent Hillary Clinton polled nearly 3 million more votes than him, but in another example of American exceptionalism via the Electoral College, Trump won more Electoral College votes than Clinton and was declared the victor. As far as I know, this mechanism does not exist in other democracies where the winner is the individual who obtains the highest number of votes. Thus this issue will continue to hover over Trump as it did over George W. Bush when the latter defeated Al Gore in similar circumstances. According to the United States constitution, Trump is both head of state and head of government. Loy Henderson, the famous American career diplomat in the 1940s and 1950s, was known as ‘Mr. Foreign Service’. Trump can rightly claimed to be called ‘Mr. United States’ for the next four years.
Every American president lives in a glass bowl with practically every action of his observed and commented upon by the media and other observers. In his person he represents the nearest equivalent to a monarch, the last real monarch having been dethroned by the American people 241 years ago. Whether Trump will continue to tweet well into the wee hours as has being his wont, is not presently known. It appears that he enjoys this manner of communication with his supporters, his detractors and the global audience which follows his ornithological habit with avidity. The iron clad rule of confidentiality may hamper his tweets as no official from the president downward can disclose state’s secrets. We shall see what he does.
Politicians in electioneering mode make all sorts of promises in the heat of the campaign. But once installed in office, the incumbent soon realizes that promises are only promises and need not or cannot be implemented. A former prime minister of Israel is reported to have said word to the effect “I made a promise but I did not promise to keep it”. This attitude may well apply to the new President. To give a well-publicized example among his promises Trump has vowed to build a wall on the border between the US and Mexico and get the Mexican president to pay for it. President Nieto of Mexico quickly disassociated himself from this quixotic project. Given the length of the US-Mexican border, if Trump is serious about his vow, it will cost the US taxpayer the pretty penny – hundreds of billions of dollars in fact. This is but one example of a promise at the apex of Trumpian promises both domestic and foreign, whose end result is designed to usher in a new world order Trumpian style. That such notions have caused considerable disquiet among Trump’s opponents in the US and also among US allies abroad, is not surprising. Such dizzying change is usually difficult to internalize. Whatever President Trump is, he is not a gradualist. On the contrary, his statements suggest that he is determined to alter the status quo often radically.
As Speaker Tip O’Neill famously affirmed, “All politics is local”. If Trump’s domestic policies raise the growth rates significantly, lower the growing specter of inequality, bring manufacturing jobs back to the US, and stop them from leaching abroad, he will earn kudos from a grateful public. We shall see what happens. As a former US Treasury Secretary declared, “Predictions are problematical especially about the future”.
Regarding foreign policy, the black hole in my view is Trump’s relations with Russia and especially with its authoritarian ex-KGB President Vladmir Putin. Trump and Putin, to a large extent, appear to share one characteristic: both are inscrutable. Trump has tried to drum up business in the past decades with Russia without much success according to the media. That has not prevented Trump from praising and almost fawning upon Putin. Again, according to some as yet unsubstantiated reports, Putin has some kind of a hold over Trump. If this is borne out it could lead to serious repercussions for Trump’s presidency. Right now it would be impolitic to make any concrete assessments on what appears to be the unusual Trump-Putin admiration society.
Trump is no Atlanticist. He has not shown much regard for the European Union. He has referred to NATO-the bedrock of Western security against Russia and its allies – as an outmoded institution. He has been cool toward Theresa May, the new British prime minister saying to her, as reported in the media, “See you around if you come to the United States(!)”. This is hardly an invitation redolent of the special relationship between the two English speaking countries. He has gushed over India, “I love Hindu(!)”. Regarding his thoughts on the Middle East, he has promised to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem against the resolutions of the UN Security Council. If he carries out his promise, it could have deleterious consequences in the relations between the United States and the Islamic world. I hope better sense prevails which allows Trump to be reined in by his advisors.
Trump may get his customary honeymoon of a hundred days. I believe he should get this benefit. Already he is entering the White House with the lowest approval rating of recent presidents. This is hardly a comforting augury. At the end of the hundred days, we will get a glimpse of how Trump will comport himself over the next four years.

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