Trump's Ghost Of A Mandate

14/11/2016 13:19

As commentators from all sectors try to piece together the early stages of a narrative within which to understand the reality of Trump presidency, one of immediate difficulties is the lack of material upon which to base it. There are a litany of pledges, promises and demands that have been made in the time since he has gone from primary candidate to President of the United States. But there has been few if any detailed or costed pledges that might form the basis of a recognisable manifesto or policy platform. There are rhetoric heavy, simplistic promises that are in many cases incoherent or contrary to previous or concurrent pledges. In order to find out what President elect Trump's actual mandate is we find ourselves scouring through various speeches, debate performances and his '100 day plan'.

My own research focuses on security and US foreign policy, and so I tend to stick to the material that can shine some light on how Trump sees his leadership of the country in terms of geo-politics. Beyond the grandstanding, we can piece together some tendencies. We learn for instance, that Trump is something of a proliferation optimist, meaning he believes that countries attaining nuclear weapons lessens the likelihood of them being involved in conflict. Yet Trump himself famously questioned a group of foreign policy advisers three times in one meeting why, if the US has nuclear weapons, it can't use them. Perhaps the most eye opening revelation from this incident was Joe Scarborough's claim that the President elect's frustration with the responses as to why the US doesn't use its nuclear arsenal is "one of the reasons he just doesn't have foreign policy experts around him."

That might explain the highly inconsistent or contradictory nature his foreign policy rhetoric. On Russia for instance, Trump has pledged to pursue closer relations with Vladimir Putin, and to work with him to fight ISIS (much to the deep unease human rights campaigners). But when a Russian jet buzzed the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic in May, Trump stated he'd have no problem shooting down planes if warnings weren't heeded as this was 'disrespecting' the country. Trump and VP Mike Pence's very public differences on Putin and Russia are well documented. This is itself reflective of the split amongst Republican voters- between those who want America proactive in meeting global security challenges, and the 54% of Trump voters who maintain America 'does too much' to fix the world's problems. This is to say nothing of the problems that might arise for him if the current investigation into Russia's links to his presidential campaign produce material of interest.

And undoubtedly, the issue of singular importance for the rest of the world when it comes to a Trump foreign policy, is climate change. A UN environment report released just prior to the election stressed the need to cut carbon emissions by roughly a quarter of current outputs by 2030 to have any chance of avoiding dangerous climate change. Even Barack Obama's much vaunted Clean Power Plan is suspected yield reductions well short of this target, with as little as a 9% reduction by 2025.

But one thing the President Elect has been fairly clear on, even these limited plans are about to go up in smoke. The few hundred words that makes up his plan for the first 100 days in office includes a pledge to end restrictions on fracking, coal and domestic oil production. He promises to speed up major energy infrastructure projects like Keystone XL. And he promises to end America's participation in UN climate change programs. That this comes as grim reading for policy makers attempting to make progress on global climate policy is quite an understatement. Already, many commentators are claiming that the recently signed Paris Climate Pact is now dead on arrival. Whatever ones thoughts about how effective that deal might have been, its death will likely have a profound impact amongst states on the perceived likelihood of any enforceable emissions reduction framework.

Trump would seem to have dangerously free reign in a number of key global interest areas. Much of this stems from the extent to which the candidates in this election were able to avoid any serious interrogation of policy. Explosive revelations and personality politics combined to alleviate the burden of outlining coherent governance strategies. Brexit comparisons have been common in the wake of the result, and this is another area that bears striking resemblance. There is little detail here to substantiate a number of significant departures from existing policy. Pledges to renegotiate or abandon major treaties, or to defund or withdraw from international regimes, have profound implications for citizens both in the US and everywhere else. Manifestos and policy outlines don't just serve to offer detail about what will be done by an administration, they also offer some restrictions as to what won't be. Trump has a frighteningly unbounded mandate, arising from a lack of sustained interrogation of the basis for his pledges at every step of the campaign.