US presidency: The Irish Times view

Trump sends a signal

 

The shape of Donald Trump’s administration has become clearer now he has appointed 21 of his cabinet members.

Sixteen are white men, three are former generals and most are billionaires – so much so that this is 50 times wealthier than George W Bush’s cabinet and it is collectively worth more than the 43 million poorest US households combined. Trump defends his choices as capable of doing the deals and taking the action to make his country great again.

Like him, they will certainly face many conflicts between private and public interests in office; lacking governing experience it remains a huge open question what they will actually do, and how capably, at home and abroad.

Trump’s radical right-wing populism made a nativist appeal to white working-class voters left behind by globalising economics and promised to turn those tides. His cabinet appointments so starkly contradict that social profile as to invite ridicule from his opponents and scepticism among sympathisers as to where his true interests lie.

Trump believes better deals on trade, market access and government appropriations will create jobs and boost the economy. His willingness to drive infrastructure renewal and disregard budget limits brought in by the Obama administrations fills out a domestic programme that has already moved global bond markets.

But given existing levels of trade interdependence between the US economy and competitors like China there can be no certainty his approach will deliver jobs to such deindustrialised communities. They have suffered as much from technological change as from outsourcing abroad.

Like other Americans they will be the losers if the pursuit of these deals leads to trade conflicts and military escalations with the Chinese and others rather than more advantageous terms for US business. Trump and his team will disregard existing sources of political, diplomatic and governing expertise at the risk of delivering on his programme.

In other areas of domestic policy like healthcare and climate change Trump’s appointments signal a clear determination to reverse reforms made by the Obama administration. It will be easier to do this with the Republicans controlling both houses of congress.

But as they set about it the US may be in for a much more turbulent period of protests and political opposition to government policy. The collapse of bipartisan co-operation and trust with Democrats will reinforce this trend.

Trump’s foreign policy signals are so far fewer in number and more incomplete. Yet a new deal with Russia, growing tension with China, hostility to Iran and a more single-minded pursuit of US economic and strategic interests are already visible.

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