Donald Trump’s rise into American presidency was one of shock and amuse; it was marked with volcanic reactions. His initial terrain has been a symbol of scrutiny and subject but his terrain grows beyond just imagination and it has seeped through, breeding more reception and reaction than any previous administration in recent memory. Under Trump, American Foreign Policy (FP) has grown more to be more prominently featured in global affairs from the lens of his distinctive leadership, it has insisted on being recognized more unorthodox and unacceptable by many.
Trump’s arrival has been a gifted appearance in translating America’s ambition of global authority explicitly, nationalistically and unconventionally. “Make America Great Again’’ has been an inseparable slogan in his campaign to drive the country forward, but to what cost would this be to the rest of the world when it was promised to open doors for all. Through his deviant methods of conveyance and his extraordinary sense of a mega-nationalist agenda and business, we grow to understand his story from his origins, his ideology, his government and his country; as he sees it and how others do.
After years of strenuous negotiations which Obama had sealed with his resilience, Trump broke the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2018, reducing Obama’s efforts of nuclear protocol and agreement. Trade wars with China has earned him obliviously the wrath of the Chinese president Xi Jinping and North Korea is adamant on making more nuclear missiles to USA’s discretion despite the promise of a peace declaration while battling a crippled economy due to imposed sanctions . He is also behind moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in Israel, forging a consort to the ‘Jewish Homeland’, appraising his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a Jewish native.
Trump was brought in by free and fair elections, which illustrate a rather confusing picture of American demographics; urbans who oppose but heartlands supported him during elections, defeating the argument which would qualify the nation to be an authoritarian one. But it remains a hard task to distinguish between ‘authoritarian’ and ‘illiberal’, given that there is confusion and prejudice over what is least destructive and what could be more reformed. However America boasts of a booming economy and reducing financial detriments domestically such as decreasing unemployment, but it has still persevered to maintain trade wars with Canada, China and European Union, transmitting transnational economic woes.
Donald Trump has promised to radically change America’s position in the political spectrum. Robert Putnam had idolized this domestic-international interlink, as state level politics determine interests that are to be put forward in the global house of affairs. Trump’s domestic triumph paved his way onto building a larger picture of conceptualizing his goals of ‘America First’, by teaming up with the heartlands of the nation who side with his views of avoiding globalization and implementing anti-immigration laws.
Trump has managed to inform a certain public perception of his persona that would put their views into action. But these notions of immigration and economic aggression has been slightly induced in American culture and history; which becomes a central point in Trump’s decisive strategies in retracting his predecessor’s policies. And that is a political statement, to step back into regression and make it progress. ‘Make America Great Again’ is not entirely about the international community, this is a manifestation of sovereignty and to defeat neo-liberal institutions which USA was a major stakeholder in the past, to push the celebration of Trump’s brashness and outright battles of developing America for only its citizens.
America’s domestic occurrences matter; in a time where Trump’s personal communication methods such as erratic tweets on social media create frenzy and havoc, the world is looking inwards into the state, to try to understand the root of some policies. But Trump does have an ample amount of domestic support from his republican counterparts, which validates his populism.
America has garnered more attention in practicing its explicit illiberal tendencies on a macro level, inviting fury from the global hemisphere. It becomes increasingly risky to describe American FP in the emerging world order, as it becomes relevant to address its detectable flaws which are aligned with President Trump’s personal aims.
Trump’s nearly two years of FP has been highlighted by several discords in his FP and most of them have been global upsets causing ripples of uproar in the world order. One of his remarks on the assassination of journalist Jamal Kasogi, to promise ‘severe punishment’ but no suspension of trade with Saudi Arabia reiterates his hyper-sense of the distinction between citizens and non-citizens, which have transferred on to his ‘America First’ routine. Subsequently, Saudi Arabia is a major oil producer, that has invested millions in USA.
Trump has managed to pull out of path-breaking multilateral agreements; in 2017 Trump decided to withdraw America’s participation in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, denying the impact of climate change at all in the environment and commitment to invest in the fossil fuel industry, drawing strong criticism. Trade has been a focal facet of Trump FP, and in one of his first official policies, he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), cementing discontent with other member states in the agreement and fueling tensions with China (Irwin, 2018).
The TPP was one of the more important moves by the Obama administration to cement ties with Asia. But as Trump grows restless to dismantle any of Obama’s logical remains of FP, America is slowly on the verge of becoming a growing and unapologetic isolationist. Trump’s FP is paranoid of trade deficit, citing that as the reason of the loss of American jobs and the state being taken ‘unfair advantage’ of by other trading partners. This has been the reason China snubbing America, revealing a trade imbalance amounting to around $350 billion.
Trump is acting out of conviction, to install higher regional and international tariffs to amend deficits and protect domestic productivity. This breaks from the past; previous presidents have turned to domestic producers when there have been internal demands to meet- protectionist measures by Trump now have come unsolicited. His audience, his goals and his insight are mismatched; economists argue that trade balance occurs on a macro level and not by tariff impositions or market accessibility.
Trump administration had been dismal to human rights issues; unaware of consequences. By pulling out of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Trump administration had made their controversial choice to support Israel and condemn UNHRC to be a ‘cesspool of political bias’, igniting a debate on the credibility of human rights and. Nikki Haley, the former USA ambassador to the United Nations had criticized the international body for reprimanding USA’s record while still being affiliated to members such as China and Egypt. The point being that with Trump’s America would openly forsake global governance and multilateralism, refusing to be in any structure that undermines America’s national interest and autonomy, cohorting to unilateralism no matter how it may be effective, which is a break from the past.
Our leaders become our heroes and our dictators become our captors; Trump being a rare misfit into the political world has made him the unlikely but popular face of global populism, encouraging other countries such as Modi’s India to take their nationalism on a global scale, despite protest. He has become a favourite for political analysts and economists to critique but Trump’s arrival into the world of politics makes the uncanny reference to admiring how FP can be functional and just how important it can be. Trump works through his FP; and his FP works for him; he pushes ‘America First’ which aligns with his personal prerogative and national interests.
Trump has unfortunately become more of America for the rest of the world, his social media presence, his speeches and his official visits have accumulated into his own distinction; perhaps being the erroneous brand he imported from being the celebrity he was. America does not become the first country to display protectionist measures, Europe has embarked on its own share of nationalist sentimentalities lamenting the effects of globalization. And Trump aligns himself with populist movements such as the ones in Italy and Poland, striving to serve self-interests. And he has praised Brexit, steeping towards nationalism and biting a piece off ties with allies which would be difficult to regain.
Trump is seismic for the international community, and he just doesn’t realize how his incoherent, confusing decisions will be etched in memory and lamented in reality, for the 21st century. But as he stands and waits to surprise us more, we also wish that ‘God bless America’.
Sumona Bose is a MPhil candidate in Justice and Transformation at the University of Cape Town. She also did undergraduate studies in Political Studies and International Relations and has a Honours in International Relations.