Categorized | Middle East, Sharkansky_Ira, USA

Assessing Trump’s first month

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — Less than a month into his presidency, the dust isn’t settling. It’s still rising. The man is riling things domestically and internationally, by changing, or trying to change some rules or widely accepted ways of doing things.

An early poll by CNN shows approval and disapproval about where they were before the inauguration. Measures of support and opposition are stable, with majorities saying that he’s behaving as expected. He’s still the President with the lowest support at this early date. Support and opposition are widely skewed by party, and somewhat less so by age, sex, race, and region.

Leaders outside of the United States may be pondering their own appropriate moves. Their egos are likely to match that of the man who climbed to the top of the US, and they may be immune to the boorish manner in which he may speak to them on the telephone. However, they also have to maintain themselves at home. Several have economic and political clout greater than that of Mexico and Australia, and may be thinking of how to use it against an uppity American who ignores the norms of international discourse.

The man who likes tweets, slogans, and direct speech may come to see that there ain’t no free lunch in international politics, and that America First goes only so far in the 21st century.

Trump’s appointments, executive orders, comments and tweets have touched on sensitive issues of local government, the environment, education, family planning, migrants, and jobs. Us expatriates may be especially sensitive to his expressions and actions with international impact.

Israelis are obsessed, as could be expected, with the change in White House temperature vis a vis Muslims and the actions of our own government.

Right wing Israelis were drooling in anticipation of a friendly White House, but have calmed somewhat (or are beginning to worry) in response to Trump’s reservation about plans to build beyond the 1967 lines. The word from Washington isn’t all that clear. It is that settlements are not a barrier to an agreement, but that extensive building may get in the way of producing an agreement.

Bibi may see himself as a candidate for Donald’s lap dog, with Trump’s nastiness toward Iran and Muslims fitting his own posture. Bibi can’t be immune from worries about police inquiries into his and his family’s behavior. He may be hoping that an embrace with the big man may help at home.

Trump’s speech and behavior seems directed at, and in tune with that part of American society that produced his election. It’s tilted toward men, Whites, and those with less than a college education. The South is the only region where the CNN poll shows a majority supporting him.

Traditionally the heart of Trump’s support was an important element in the Democratic Party. Now the Republican loyalties of White working class Americans speak to great changes in the American economy and society. The industrial worker base of the Democratic Party suffered with the closing of plants in the upper Middle West and their replacement by plants in Southern states less friendly to unions, and outside of the US. Social changes have brought substantial racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities into the Democratic Party, and pushed large numbers of lower-income Whites to the Republican Party despite that Party’s lack of a traditional support for jobs, health care and other social programs.

One can see slogans and symbols becoming more important in presidential politics and tangible benefits less important, with Trump able to exploit his capacity to speak for those who consider themselves left out of the Democrats’ social network.

We’re in the realm of fuzzy politics, or politics less well defined than the stuff of who gets what. Trump so far is distributing slogans and claims that he’s protecting America with his bans on Muslim immigrants and visitors, but critics are saying that he’s endangering American values and not doing much to make gun-sodden and violence prone Americans any safer from one another.

The CNN poll shows that Trump maintains the constituency that voted for him, but the action of a Bush appointee to the federal bench–then backed up by an Appellate Court–suggests that he may have trouble with American institutions. We’ll see if his nominee to the Supreme Court gets a slam dunk approval from the Republicans in control of the Senate, or provides an opportunity for party doubters to express themselves, perhaps by being busy elsewhere on the day of the vote.

Democrats have their own thinking to do. Lots of demonstrations by the faithful against Trump assure nothing beyond a continued splitting of the American population. Established patterns of voters tiring of the incumbents will assure an eventual turnover, but it may take eight years, or even more if the Democrats do not adjust themselves with candidates closer to the center than Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders.

While some Israelis view Trump as their political savior, protecting them from the nasties in Europe, the UN, and the left wing of the American Democratic Party, other Israelis are wondering about getting too close to a man defining himself as outside the normal rules of politics. If Trump firms up his status as a pariah among conventional politicians, Israel’s own marginal status may may not get any better. The US may be the most important single country, but it’s not the largest market for Israel’s commerce, or the largest source of tourism to Israel, and it cannot prevent condemnation from European governments and others..

Benyamin Netanyahu is nothing if not a first class maneuverer, and he seems to be hedging his bets on Trump by dealing with Russia in Syria, cooperating with Egypt and Saudi Arabia against Iran, traveling to European capitals and keeping his options open with respect to Palestinians.

It’s no surprise that Donald’s political meanderings, especially those over the edge of what has been conventional, leave us with more questions than answers.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.  He may be contacted via ira.sharkansky@sdjewishworld.com

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