One Year of Donald Trump: Limited Ability to Resolve Emerging Problems

One year of Donald Trump in power revealed serious contradictions within the American society, presence of rather insurmountable differences between various political forces, and the extremely limited ability of the executive to resolve emerging problems. From the very beginning of the election campaign Trump positioned himself as an "un-systemic" candidate, violating grossly the long-standing traditions of the American political establishment.

Taking office, Trump retained the image of a "rebel", and the first year of his presidency proceeded extremely uneasy.

First of all, there is the unprecedented rotation of personnel within the administration. During the past year many high-ranking officials left their posts for various reasons: National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (in charge for a record 24 days), White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, strategic advisor Steve Bannon, press secretary Sean Spicer, and some others. Many of the actors remain under attack, in particular Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Trump faced a powerful resistance in Congress when he tried to fulfil his campaign promises, not only from the Democrats, but from a number of Republicans. As a result, by the end of 2017 most of the pre-election promises remained unresolved or kept in limbo. The reform of the immigration law met great difficulties. The original version of the presidential decree was abolished; the following legislative initiatives did not meet the declared goals. The repeal of the health care law, adopted by the administration of Barack Obama, also met resistance in Congress. The solution of the problem was postponed to 2018.

One of Trump’s achievements can be the tax reform. New tax legislation was adopted and supported by almost all representatives of the Republican Party. Success in this matter can provide support for Trump from the establishment of the Republican Party.

During 2017 the issue of impeachment to the president was repeatedly raised, but the procedure to remove the president from power was never launched. Trump has enough Republican support in Congress to prevent impeachment.

Confrontation of Trump with Democrats and Republicans in Congress also affected foreign policy. Anti-globalization pre-election rhetoric of Donald Trump meant the revision of many foreign policy guidelines of previous administrations. Almost every foreign policy decision taken by President Trump is the result of an inter-party struggle.

Donald Trump One Year On: Better to Be Feared Than Loved Richard Weitz
A year after his inauguration as US President, Donald Trump has proved to be an efficient leader. Despite declining voter support, he has been able to push forward a number of controversial policies both at home and domestically without suffering heavy costs.

Party contradictions are reflected in the new National Security Strategy. The Strategy featured Trump’s “America First” thesis, practically disappeared provisions about the need to spread democracy in the world. Nevertheless, despite change in some formulations, the Strategy has a certain continuity. The main goal of the US, according to the new Strategy, remains leadership in the multipolar world, despite the anti-globalization rhetoric.

The only direction of US foreign policy with a bipartisan consensus is Russia. In summer of 2017 the most ambitious anti-Russian sanctions law was adopted and it found almost unanimous support among US congressmen. The law deprives the president of his sole authority to remove the sanctions imposed by Barack Obama, and also provides new sanctions against Russia. An important element of the new law is an order to the executive to adopt new anti-Russian sanctions. Undoubtedly, this factor adds to the negative uncertainty in the development of bilateral relations, especially on the eve of the upcoming presidential elections in Russia.

The Russian factor exerted a noticeable influence on American domestic policy. Several parallel investigations continue over the "Russian trace" in the presidential elections. Despite the fact that none of them has yet provided evidence of Russia's interference in the US elections, President Trump and his team have no freedom of action in relations with Russia.

In such conditions, the making of constructive bilateral relations is extremely difficult. Unfortunately, problems prevailed in recent years between Moscow and Washington, the parties have directly opposite approaches, and a compromise is still unlikely.

The uncertainty factor is also associated with the lack of understanding, where the both sides should move and look forward.  Obviously, the resolution of the Ukrainian issue and the lifting of sanctions (which is ruled out in the current political situation) will not restore the level of confidence, when the bilateral relations can be considered constructive, predictable and stable.

Irreconcilable contradictions on many issues do not allow to take even anti-crisis measures to improve relations, not to mention the normalization and development. The prospect of further deterioration persists.

The priority in bilateral relations in the current conditions should be the preservation of dialogue, contacts in various areas at different levels. The most important role plays the backchannel diplomacy, first of all among experts.

An important event in US policy in 2018 will be the midterm elections for Congress, scheduled for November. During the pre-election campaign the likelihood of making radical decisions in both foreign and domestic policies is reduced, although it is also not worth waiting for a change in the present course. The Democratic Party will obviously try to take revenge for the defeat in the previous elections, and there is a chance that Republicans will lose a majority in the Senate or in the House of Representatives, because the present Republicans' superiority is rather small.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.