Trump has done little apart from shaking up Washington

Mr Donald Trump hopes to regain momentum in his presidency with new chief of staff John Kelly, who enters the White House today.
Mr Donald Trump hopes to regain momentum in his presidency with new chief of staff John Kelly, who enters the White House today.PHOTO: REUTERS

Disruption and uncertainty have marked his first 6 months in office

Just over six months in office, United States President Donald Trump is doing what he promised - disrupting Washington.

He has slashed Barack Obama- era regulations and appointed Supreme Court judge Neil Gorsuch, which tilts the court bench towards the conservative.

But he has won few friends in Congress. Allegations of Russian interference in last year's election, and possible collusion by members of his own team, continue to dog him and he regularly lashes out at the media.

His promised tax reform has been delayed. An infrastructure boost has yet to materialise. His job approval ratings have plunged to a historic low of less than 40 per cent - though they remain high among his largely white middle-class rural American base.

On the foreign front, while he appears to get on well with key leaders such as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping, his pullout from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Agreement on climate change and his public Twitter diplomacy have raised questions about the retreat of America's moral leadership.

And how Mr Trump will deal with a North Korea persisting with intercontinental ballistic missile tests remains unclear; thus far he is buying time by tightening sanctions but a diplomatic solution is not in sight.

Relations with Iran and Russia have deteriorated.

POPULIST MOVE

He seems (to be) on a permanent campaign. It's not the logic of governance, he has not built bridges with Congress. It's the logic of mobilisation of a particular bloc.

PROFESSOR INDERJEET PARMAR, a professor of international politics at City University of London, on how Mr Trump's message is aimed at his voter base.

BUT NOT PRACTICAL

He likes doing things he's good at and rallies feed his ego. He can say the public loves him, despite his low national approval ratings. But it doesn't do anything to advance his programmes.

PROFESSOR CHARLES BULLOCK, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia, on Mr Trump's strategy so far.

Still, the basic alliances have remained intact, with the President restating support for Japan, South Korea, Nato and Saudi Arabia.

"The standard liberal establishment critique is that he is disrupting the international order, the allies don't trust him because he is unpredictable," Professor Inderjeet Parmar, a professor of international politics at City University of London, told The Straits Times.

"On the other hand the international order is deeply embedded in a whole range of relationships."

At home, some analysts say last week was Mr Trump's worst since taking office. He turned on long-time ally and conservative pillar Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, haranguing him for not investigating alleged wrongdoing by his erstwhile election rival Hillary Clinton.

An abrupt announcement of a ban on transgender individuals in the military took the Pentagon by surprise and ignited condemnation. The Republicans' healthcare Bill failed in the Senate as three Republicans, including the widely respected Senator John McCain, broke ranks.

The Boy Scouts had to apologise for a brash political speech by the President at their annual jamboree. His communications chief exposed infighting in the White House.

But Mr Trump has moved to reinforce his outsider image, not dilute it. He pushed out three Republican Party stalwarts - Mr Sean Spicer, Mr Michael Short and Mr Reince Priebus - and appointed new communications director Anthony Scaramucci and new chief of staff John Kelly, completing the picture of a team not just of Washington outsiders, but political outsiders.

Mr Kelly, moved from his spot as Secretary of Homeland Security, is a former Marine general. Mr Scaramucci is a fast-talking financier from Wall Street.

"This nation is a disruptive start-up," Mr Scaramucci told the BBC. "It was a group of rich guys that got together and said we're going to break away... and start our own country. The President... is bringing it back to its roots, we're going to disrupt and hack the political system and take care of the American people."

  • First six months in numbers

  • 36% Mr Donald Trump has had the lowest approval ratings in the history of presidential polling.

    0 Major Bills passed, but Mr Trump used executive orders to withdraw the US from Trans-Pacific Partnership and Paris climate deal.

    1 Number of news conferences held.

    5 Number of campaign-style rallies held.

    >80 Number of mentions of "fake news" in tweets.

"He is right," a political insider, who asked not to be named, told The Straits Times. "We have to take that seriously instead of getting lost in minutiae."

The message is aimed at the President's base. At a rally in Youngstown, Ohio, last Wednesday, Mr Trump told the crowd: "I'm back in the American heartland, far away from the Washington swamp."

"He seems (to be) on a permanent campaign," Prof Parmar said. "It's not the logic of governance, he has not built bridges with Congress. It's the logic of mobilisation of a particular bloc."

In a phone interview, University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said: "He likes doing things he's good at and rallies feed his ego. He can say the public loves him, despite his low national approval ratings. But it doesn't do anything to advance his programmes."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2017, with the headline 'Trump has done little apart from shaking up Washington'. Print Edition | Subscribe