Outlook 2017

Outlook 2017: Unpredictable States of America

Trump wants to shake things up but bureaucracy and competing interests could prove a formidable barrier This is the second of a five-part series looking at the key events and issues facing the world in 2017. Today, The Straits Times looks at the United States and top tests facing President-elect Donald Trump.

Mr Donald Trump may have no trouble rousing his supporters to boo the media during a thank-you rally in Alabama recently but it is a different battlefield in Washington, where he may not get his way on certain issues. But he will also unsettle his op
Mr Donald Trump may have no trouble rousing his supporters to boo the media during a thank-you rally in Alabama recently but it is a different battlefield in Washington, where he may not get his way on certain issues. But he will also unsettle his opponents with his unorthodox ways. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Lower taxes and more jobs - but not enough jobs. Uncertain health care for at least 6.4 million people. Higher prices at the store if there is a trade war with China.

These are only a few of the ways USA 2017 could be radically different for Americans, compared with USA 2016.

There will be no shortage of political activism as core issues continue to surface.

For conservatives, 2017 is a chance to roll back liberal achievements such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage. For environmentalists, it is to hold back an anti-environment backlash.

For African-Americans, Hispanics and immigrants, the challenge will be to face rising white nationalism. And for everyone, anxiety over terrorism and potential foreign wars will remain.

At the core of the change in America will be the personality and style of the President-elect himself, a maverick billionaire celebrity bent on radical change.

"We don't actually know what President-elect Donald Trump will do when in office so we need to wait and see," said Mr Rafael Frankel, vice-president of Bower Group Asia in Washington, DC.

"In many ways, we are taking a leap into the unknown.

"But there's a strong chance that we are looking at a tumultuous time ahead, and not just in the US."

He added: "Add Trump and his anti-establishment views to the already fraught global climate and the next few years could be marked by rapid change to the political-economic order we've become accustomed to.

"Donald Trump represents a real shake-up of the status quo.

"And that is why he was elected - to shake the status quo, to blow up the political system."

Little about Mr Trump, who barged through the campaign unscathed by incidents that would have written off a conventional candidate, is predictable.

And that is his style.

"We must as a nation be more unpredictable," he said during his public rallies.

But social, economic and even geographical fault lines have come alive. There is a fevered and often viciously partisan political-social media environment. A blizzard of protests and lawsuits will be mounted against Mr Trump's agenda; environmental organisations are already gearing up.

And he will have to contend with a vast bureaucracy.

"Bureaucracy in the US government is all-powerful," said Mr Michael Kugelman, a senior associate at Woodrow Wilson Centre.

"Despite all his campaign trail boasts to shake domestic policy up in a big way, quite a few of Trump's ideas may well never get off the ground.

"Policy revolutions take time."

The fractiousness will be underlined next month at Mr Trump's inauguration. Tens of thousands plan to protest in Washington, DC in the days before and after the handover on Jan 20.

Many will be travelling to the capital from across the country to protest for, among other things, the environment; women's rights; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and African-American rights; and diversity and tolerance.

Their concerns will not go away.

"There's a resurgence of Congress. Republicans are thinking that gridlock is over," said Ms Rachna Choudhry, co-founder of POPVOX.com, a non-partisan platform that tracks Congressional activity. "They'll want to move things like repealing Obamacare, tax reform and repealing Obama's clean power plan."

Not to speak of unleashing a US$1 trillion (S$1.45 trillion) infrastructure spending plan; stepping up deportations of illegal immigrants and curbing immigration and refugee intake; slapping trade tariffs on imports from China; and beefing up the military.

In the year ahead, Americans will have to get used to a very different president.

Mr Trump is the "polar opposite of President Barack Obama", said Mr Frankel. "Obama is analytical, intentioned, deliberative.

"Donald Trump shoots from the hip, says what he thinks, doesn't mince words and likes to keep people off-balance. It's important to give him some credit - that's his strategy, it's purposeful.

"But it's different from anything we've seen in recent memory."

Said Cornell University's Professor Glenn Altschuler of Mr Trump: "He is all tactics, no strategy, a counter-puncher, a score settler.

"His instincts are visceral, to respond personally to attacks, and that is a prescription for overreaction."


Europe: 2016 was a tough year for the continent and 2017 looks to be no better as populists eye victory in key elections.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2016, with the headline Outlook 2017: Unpredictable States of America . Subscribe