There are solid reasons to be optimistic about the presidency of Donald Trump – even for liberals

You have to concede that Trump's policies may work. His version of Reaganomics may be what America needs – and a detente with Russia makes the world safer for all of us

Sean O'Grady
Friday 20 January 2017 11:32
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Stores in Washington DC are preparing for the inauguration ceremony on Friday
Stores in Washington DC are preparing for the inauguration ceremony on Friday

Whether you like him or not – and I have say I don’t especially – you have to agree that it is possible Donald Trump’s presidency may not turn out to be quite so radical as his supporters hope and his opponents fear. Sometimes the media has a tendency to hyperventilate when confronted with something unpredictable and unfamiliar, whether on the right or left. Just like candidate Trump.

It is usually an overreaction, as it will probably prove to be with President Trump. Allow me to administer some journalistic Valium.

The thing always to remember about Trump is that he is not a proper Republican, maybe not even a proper politician. He is the nearest thing the American system can produce to an independent political force and, as such, is the most successful insurgent in US political history (surpassing even the legendary Teddy Roosevelt’s efforts more than a century ago). He is first and foremost a deal-maker, and will never be beholden to any political party or political convention. This is what we have seen in his recent interviews. Grasp that and you’ll understand what to expect.

Lessons in eloquence with Obama and Trump

There is a downside to this. Trump has a relatively modest base of support in the Congress. There are fundamentalist fans of his there, we know, and the “Tea Party” Republicans will give him more of a hearing than Democrats whose time than he might deserve. Yet the Republican leadership – the likes of Marco Rubio, John McCain and Paul Ryan – hate The Donald's guts and make no secret of it. They have no wish to make life easy for him. There is, even in honeymoon times, an in-built resistance to change in the Congress, riddled as it is with lobbyists, interest groups and pork-barrel politics. The founding fathers of the America created checks and balances to prevent accidents. For all the hype and all the trappings of an imperial presidency, and his own brand of bluster, Trump will not be a dictator because he cannot be a dictator.

Indeed, used as he has been to running his own show, he will probably find dealing and compromising with senators and congressmen and women for whom he feels bottomless contempt to be a frustrating experience. On the other hand, he does have this reputation as a shrewd deal-maker who may, provided everyone is sensible, frame some sensible reforms.

Deal-making will also be a strength in foreign relations. Forget the spats with the Chinese, the stuff about “undiplomatic language”, and the long, long list of people and nations that Trump has roundly insulted. Superpower politics are precisely that – often fairly simple calculations about base national interests.

If you want the world to be safe from nuclear Armageddon, then a new detente with Russia is very good news. Donald Trump suggests dropping sanctions for a reduction in Russia’s nuclear armoury, and maybe a Reykjavik summit, recalling the Reagan-Gorbachev era of deal-making. It is not a mad thing to do. If you want a human-rights-driven confrontation with Putin, well, that's fine provided you know the risks that involves. You cannot have it both ways. Trump was elected on the basis that Isis and its imitators are a bigger threat to the security of the United States than the Russian Federation. That's about it.

You may hate the notion of a Putin-Trump love-in, but least you'll live to carry on hating the pair of them. The Chinese, the Mexicans, the Iranians and the North Koreans could also be induced to make a deal with Trump. Would Hillary Clinton have got better terms out of them than Trump will? I'd doubt it.

That brings us to his cabinet. They may not turn out to be the gaggle of yes-men and women they might appear. The putative Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and the various retired generals Trump is recruiting think Russia is a more potent threat than Trump judges it to be. Out of that, and all the claims about Russian spying and hacking, may emerge some sort of realistic, balanced policy towards the Kremlin. Vice President Pence, more a conventional God-fearing conservative Republican than Trumpite radical, will also be a moderating influence across the administration.

Last, you have to concede Trump's policies may work. His version of Reaganomics may be what America needs – and it is what they voted for (allowing for the electoral college). The boomlet in the stock market and the stronger dollar suggest investors agree, even if liberal academic economists do not. Ford and General Motors are already bringing jobs back to America that were destined for Mexico. In the long run, that protectionism will hurt those companies, American consumers and Mexican workers, but in the shorter run it will obviously work, albeit in a crude way. Lower immigration, another Trump pledge, may raise some wages in some areas, even though the overall economic impact in the longer-term will be negative. Tax cuts will deliver gains for some (though seemingly biased towards the wealthier).

Ronald Reagan used to ask Americans if they were better off than they were four years before. It is perfectly possible that many Americans will be better off after four years of Trumponomics, and his assertive and deal-driven foreign policy will make them feel prouder and more respected – and safer – in the world.

I've no doubt Trump won't do much for those at the bottom, for those who most need Obamacare and welfare support. But for blue- and white-collar Americans looking for a pay rise and a job for their kids, some improvement in living standards and prospects is all they desire. That's what they expect from that slogan Make America Great Again.

For delivery on that by 2020, they will put up with a hell of a lot of locker-room banter, hotel-room romps and rude tweets. In 2020 they'd give him four more years and a second inauguration. Just think of that.

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