It looks like run­ning a fam­ily-owned real es­tate busi­ness is not the same as be­ing the pres­i­dent

New Straits Times - - News - com­ments@fa­reedza­ Fa­reed Zakaria is an Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist and author. He is the host of CNN’s ‘Fa­reed Zakaria GPS’ and writes a weekly col­umn for ‘The Wash­ing­ton Post’

THERE are so many un­usual, un­prece­dented as­pects of Don­ald Trump’s first 100 days in of­fice that it’s hard to know where to be­gin. By his own yard­stick, the num­ber of prom­ises un­ful­filled is stag­ger­ing.

Dur­ing the cam­paign, Trump said he would ask for a bill re­peal­ing Oba­macare on “my first day in of­fice”. He said he would de­port 11 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, start­ing with two mil­lion “crim­i­nal aliens” within his “first hour in of­fice”. The lib­eral blog “Think Progress” counted 36 poli­cies that Trump had promised to roll out “on Day One”. He did just two.

But, more strik­ing than the poli­cies un­ful­filled — some of which might still be pro­posed or im­ple­mented — have been those re­versed en­tirely. Never in the an­nals of the pres­i­dency have there been so many flip-flops so fast with so lit­tle ex­pla­na­tion. Trump had called North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) “the worst trade deal maybe ever signed any­where, but cer­tainly ever signed in this coun­try”.

He promised to la­bel China — “the great­est abuser in the his­tory of this coun­try” — a cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tor on, yes, “Day One”. He de­scribed North At­lantic Treaty Or­gan­i­sa­tion (Nato) as “ob­so­lete”, sug­gested he might elim­i­nate the Ex­port-Im­port Bank, and im­plied that he might sup­port Syria’s Bashar As­sad.

Within days of be­com­ing pres­i­dent, the flip-flops be­gan. Trump ex­plained that he had dis­cov­ered, per­haps through se­cret intelligence brief­ings, that China was not ac­tu­ally ma­nip­u­lat­ing its cur­rency, that Nato was en­gaged in lots of cru­cial op­er­a­tions, that the Ex-Im Bank helped lots of small Amer­i­can busi­nesses, and that As­sad had been com­mit­ting war crimes.

He an­nounced these re­ver­sals cav­a­lierly, as if he surely could not have been ex­pected to know these facts pre­vi­ously, when he was run­ning for pres­i­dency. As he said in late Fe­bru­ary, “No­body knew health­care could be so com­pli­cated”.

I sus­pect that his next ed­u­ca­tion will be in tax pol­icy. Trump’s pro­pos­als, out­lined this week, are breath­tak­ingly ir­re­spon­si­ble. They would add tril­lions of dol­lars to the debt and are not even de­signed for max­i­mum stim­u­la­tive im­pact. (Abol­ish­ing the es­tate tax, which is paid by 0.002 per cent of Amer­i­cans each year, would not cause a rush to the stores, but would cost US$20 bil­lion (RM87 bil­lion) a year).

Tax ne­go­ti­a­tions will be an in­ter­est­ing test for Repub­li­cans. A party that claims it has deep con­cerns over the na­tional debt is con­sid­er­ing en­act­ing what might be the big­gest ex­pan­sion of debt in Amer­i­can his­tory (in ab­so­lute dol­lars).

The larger ed­u­ca­tion of Trump and, one would hope, his sup­port­ers, is surely that gov­ern­ment isn’t easy. The ap­peal of Trump for so many was that he was an out­sider, a busi­ness­man who would bring his com­mer­cial skills and man­age­ment acu­men to the White House and get things done. Wash­ing­ton’s cor­rupt politi­cians and feck­less bu­reau­crats would see how a suc­cess­ful man from “the real world” cuts through the fog.

In­stead, we have watched the sheer in­com­pe­tence of Trump’s first 100 days — or­ders that can’t get through courts, bills that collapse in Congress, agen­cies that re­main un­der­staffed, cease­less in­fight­ing within the White House, and the con­stant flipflops. It turns out that run­ning a fam­ily-owned real es­tate fran­chis­ing op­er­a­tion is not re­ally the same as pre­sid­ing over the ex­ec­u­tive branch of the US gov­ern­ment. It turns out that gov­ern­ment is hard, “com­pli­cated” stuff.

While there is plenty of cor­rup­tion in Wash­ing­ton, the real rea­son so lit­tle gets done there is that the Amer­i­can peo­ple have wildly con­tra­dic­tory de­sires. They want un­lim­ited amounts of health­care, don’t want to be de­nied such care be­cause they are sick (have “pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions”) and yet ex­pect that costs should plum­met. They want gov­ern­ment out of their lives, but re­volt at the prospect of any slight cuts to its largest pro­grammes (Medi­care, So­cial Se­cu­rity) or the re­moval of tax ben­e­fits for health­care and home mort­gages.

This con­di­tion has been build­ing for years. In a 1995 book, Michael Kins­ley ex­plained what he saw as the roots of the then rag­ing pop­ulist anger at Wash­ing­ton that Newt Gin­grich had ex­ploited with his “Con­tract with Amer­ica”.

He wrote: “(Amer­i­can vot­ers) make fla­grantly in­com­pat­i­ble de­mands — cut my taxes, pre­serve my ben­e­fits, bal­ance the bud­get — then ex­plode in self-right­eous out­rage when the politi­cians fail to de­liver.”

He ti­tled the book Big Ba­bies, in hon­our of the Amer­i­can peo­ple, and he opened it by quot­ing Alexis de Toc­queville: “The French un­der the old monar­chy held it for a maxim that the king could do no wrong; and if he did do wrong, the blame was im­puted to his ad­vis­ers . ... The Amer­i­cans en­ter­tain the same opin­ion with re­spect to the ma­jor­ity.”

Let’s hope that the great­est ed­u­ca­tion of the Trump pres­i­dency will be that Amer­i­cans come to realise that Wash­ing­ton is dys­func­tional not be­cause of the ve­nal­ity of the politi­cians, but rather be­cause of the ap­petites of the peo­ple they rep­re­sent.

The lib­eral blog Think Progress counted 36 poli­cies that Trump had promised to roll out ‘on Day One’. He did just two.

But, more strik­ing than the poli­cies un­ful­filled have been those re­versed en­tirely.


A man wear­ing a mask of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, dur­ing the ‘100 Days of Fail­ure’ protest to mark the first 100 days of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on Satur­day in New York. The larger ed­u­ca­tion of Trump and his sup­port­ers is surely that gov­ern­ment isn’t easy.

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