His first year in office will show whether President Donald John Trump intent to challenge the Walt Street-Atlanticist establishment of the United States
M D Nalapat
Those who listened to the inaugural address of the 45th President of the United States, Donald John Trump, may have thought that they were listening to his predecessor Barack Obama’s inaugural speech of eight years ago. In that speech, the 44th President was candid about the toxic hold of special interests on the US government, and how the ordinary citizen was being ignored. Just as Trump did, Obama chastised the US Congress, both the Senate as well as the House of Representatives, for not thinking of the average American while designing laws and pushing for policies to benefit a small elite. He called for a new start and offered to govern in a way very different from the past. However, President Obama underwent a metamorphosis immediately after being elected to the world's most consequential office on November 8, 2008 at a time when the US as well as the rest of the global economy were at risk of a worldwide depression because of the greed of Wall Street and the elites across both sides of the Atlantic who were allied with the financial sharks in command of that key location. It was expected that Team Obama would be different, and that he would put in place personnel (and therefore, the policy) very different from either the Bill Clinton or the George W Bush two term
presidencies. Instead, Obama ignored key associates such as David Axelrod and David Plouffe when he appointed individuals to Cabinet slots. Both were fobbed off with relatively junior positions, while the top jobs were almost
entirely taken by retreads from the 1993-2001 Clinton presidency, and even a few from the Bush period. As Treasury Secretary, he chose an individual, who in his previous avatar, had been among those responsible for the dilution of oversight and changes in the rules for financial institutions that was begun by Bill Clinton and added on to by George W Bush. While these two (and the men they chose for top jobs) were responsible for the 2008 economic earthquake, Barack Obama chose precisely the same set of individuals in an administration that had promised change to the voter Eight years later, it is clear that very little change was brought by President Obama to the country which elected him as its Head of State. There is something about very high office that effects a change in politicians that makes them forget their roots and the promises they have made. Suddenly the same people who had been identified as troublemakers and insincere appear as wise counsellors and close friends. The capitals of the world are filled with what may be called the “Permanent Elite”, whose words and consciences are supple enough to ensure that any leader who reaches the top believes that they are his or her friends. That their advice, although based on self-interest and in support of vested interests, is the best and needs to be followed. After the votes were cast and the result declared in the 2008 Presidential race, Barack Obama moved away from the very people who had been with him through some of his most difficult days, and embraced those who had mocked him during the time when others and not he held the highest office in Washington. During his second term in office (and especially after Hillary Clinton left the administration to concentrate on the 2016 Presidential race, Barack Obama showed a few flickers of his pre-November 2008 self, especially in the way in which he reached out to Cuba and worked out a nuclear agreement with Iran. Both policies very helpful to the US interests alhough opposed by the Wall Street-Atlanticist alliance that has dominated US policy since the Eisenhower period.
Fortunately for him, Donald John Trump has not followed the collaborationist policy of Barack Obama except in a few instances. Most of his picks for Cabinet and other high level offices are outsiders to Washington, and several indeed have for decades conducted a battle against the bureaucracy. Obviously, this will create frictions in both their nomination process and in their work, but should Trump continue to avoid being “house trained” by the Wall Street-Atlanticist establishment and work out the realism-based policies he has championed for at least the past two decades, his first term in office (2017-2021) will bring much greater change than Obama’s. In his inaugural address, President Trump struck a statesperson like tone, brushing aside differences of race and gender by pointing out that every citizen (white, black or brown) has red blood. Candidate Trump was forthright about the need to ensure better relations with Russia, and to avoid the Saudi Arabia-Turkey-Qatar-France-UK trap of backing Al Qaeda elements in Syria on the excuse that they are “moderate fighters” when even a cursory examination of the speeches and writings of several such individuals would reveal their ultra-Wahabbi orientation. Because President Obama remained committed to most of the policies of Clinton and Bush in West Asia, the region has become a
cauldron of extremism. Although some of Trump’s picks are from the Wall Street-Atlanticist stable, it is reasonable to expect that the strong-willed billionaire will be able to impose his preferences on them rather than follow Obama’s habit of going along with the policies of the Clintonites he empowered following his victory, and who in the final weeks of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign reduced him and his wife to the role of boosters and cheerleaders, travelling across the country reading from points given to him to repeat by the Clinton campaign headquarters. Had President Obama shown the courage to back Senator Bernie Sanders, the candidate who was close to the “old” (pre-victory) Barack Obama, the Vermont Senator may have defeated Donald Trump, a feat that was impossible for a candidate as steeped in a flawed and unpopular past as Hillary Rodham Clinton. Perhaps Obama’s fear was that upon being elected President, Sanders may have actually fought for change, rather than make only the cosmetic gestures that Obama did during much of his two terms in office, and this would have thrown into the spotlight the 44th President’s own caution (or cowardice) in challenging the policies of the Wall Street-Atlanticist establishment the way Donald Trump gives promise of the Oval Office. As indeed, the White House is a golden cage that will seek to work its insidious spell on the 45th President of the US the way it has on so many of its earlier occupants. In such a context, it is refreshing that First Lady Melania Trump has declined for the moment to move into the White House, preferring to reside in her New York home with son Barron. In the same way, Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner have declined to move in with the President, and will stay elsewhere as ordinary citizens. President Trump himself has made it clear that for him, it is still New York rather than Washington that is home. These are good auguries, as are the fact that so few of President Trump’s choices for top jobs have come from long stints in the government. Previous administrations were dominated by those who had been in government for much of their lives. Donald John Trump was chosen by voters because he was an outsider, so if the President had chosen mostly insiders for his team (the way so many predecessors did), that would have been a betrayal of his mandate. His first year in office will show whether President Trump has escaped the anti-citizen effects of the golden cage of power that closed around him on January 20. His first months, indeed, will show whether or not he remembers that he was elected to transform the chemistry of power from the past to the future. Those voters do not expect him to merely sign on to the failed and faulty policies of a Republican leadership that is heavily infused with those serving the interests of the WallStreet-Atlanticist US policy establishment. Trump’s carefully thought out choice of new faces rather than retreads from previous administrations is a sign that President Trump has the will and the courage to stay true to the
promise of change made in his January 20 Inaugural Address. It gives the world confidence that he will not follow the example of Barack Obama, who once in office embraced the very establishment he had warned against and fought against during the electoral campaign, and who joined hands with Hillary Clinton in the unethical marginalization of the Democratic Party leader who may have defeated Donald Trump on November 8, 2016, Senator Bernie Sanders.
(The writer is a senior columnist and Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian)