14 December 2017
One Year Down…
…seven to go?
by J.R. Thomas
Mr Trump has probably never doubted that was his destiny if he wanted it, but might his party be starting to think that way?
Nothing succeeds like success of course. Mr Trump’s world tour is generally seen as a success with no missteps or mess-ups; far from it, he seems to have created a favourable impression in many of his destinations, most of all China. The White House revolving door of senior advisers and Secretaries of State keeps on spinning, but with little political impact. The various smoking guns refuse to fire in spite of Michael Flynn’s attempts to pull the trigger. Indeed, what seemed extraordinary a year ago seems almost normal now – and Mr Trump’s personal ratings in the polls have moved up.
But… Donald has made much noise over the last year, but has few legislative points to chalk up, not good news for a party currently with control over both Houses, which may slip away in the midterm elections due next November. Thirty three seats will be up for grabs in the Senate (more if any Senators resign or move to a higher place), and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives. Many congress members have already announced their intentions – with an unusually high number of Republicans saying that they will not stand again. Some find themselves out of sympathy with their President, but more think their chances of winning are poor (running for high office in the US is a very expensive business).
A sign of what may be to come was the result of the Alabama senate seat race yesterday; it should have been a walk over for the GOP but turned into a very narrow victory for the Democrats – their first national office win in Alabama for many decades. The Democrats are already proclaiming the result as the end of the Trump surge, especially as Donald threw his support behind the controversial Ray Moore, accused of inappropriate behaviour with a number of women. It may be, almost certainly is, that a “cleaner” candidate than Moore would have walked it for the Republicans, so as a portent of change this particular result might be best disregarded. But one statistic will be worrying the Republicans : Moore won big majorities among white voters – 62% – but only 12% of black males (oddly, 18% of black women). That is a shocking result for a Republican in 2017, even in the south. It will be causing great concern among the Republican leadership in Washington for what it implies about a reversal of long term trends about voting on racial lines.
Next problem are the Dreamers. That is, those who arrived as children but illegally in the United States, mostly through that unwalled, or partly walled, border with Mexico. Around 800,000 such young people have been issued with residence permits ( a “Daca”) since President Obama introduced a programme to try to regularise their position in 2012. That is half an answer to their uncertain status, but for people who regard the US as home, and in truth mostly have no other home to go to, it is a large loose end which needs sorting out. The answer is of course to grant them full residential rights and citizenship, and, perhaps not surprisingly in a country which was formed through immigration in the almost recallable past, there is huge public support for so doing (around 85% says opinion polls). Mr Trump (Scottish mother, German grandfather) seems minded to do just that. He has given Congress until the end of March to sort out how best to do it; a large majority of Republicans and Democrats want it to happen. So does business, seeing a large and enthusiastic young workforce. Cheap also, a cynic might add. So what is the problem? The details, there is the problem. The Devil has done his usual thing and got in amongst the details.
Mr Trump and the Republicans want regularisation legislation to include enhanced border security – no soft borders on this land mass. That to Mr Trump means the Wall. To most of the GOP it means, if not the Wall, certainly a lot more spending on border patrols by the Immigration Agency – who say that illegal immigration arrests are up 40% since Mr Trump took office, though arrests at the border have dropped a quarter. (That does not mean the Agency are getting worse at their job – in fact detection and interception is getting better, but a lot less crossings are being made.) The Democrats wanted to get the Daca position sorted in a catch all spending bill now passing through the House in a quick and low-key solution, but the Republicans will not agree this. Nor can the parties agree on what the legislation might say, how inclusive it should be, or whether it should include funding for the Wall.
On to simpler things. Jerusalem. You may remember, if you followed the Trump Presidential campaign with interest agog, that candidate Trump promised to move the American Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. So maybe it is not that surprising that candidate now President T has announced that that will be happening, though not when. It seems to have caused great surprise in Washington though, and, unsurprisingly, great annoyance in the Arab world, especially among Palestinians. The whole thing is dripping with symbolism; Jerusalem is de facto Isreal’s capital now. The President is there, the Prime Minister is there, the Knesset is there, the ministries, much of the civil service. What aren’t there the embassies of other nations, currently down that long mountain road by the sea in Tel Aviv.
Mr Trump’s decision could cause a lot of trouble for American representation in the Middle East, though as a statement of intent it is far from a done deal. So why has he done it? Perhaps, say Washington insiders, it is a move in a long term reengagement between Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt, that confirms new alignments in the Middle East, and it may be a quid pro quo for greasing a move by the Israeli government to try to ease tensions with the Palestinian authorities. That may sound a bit far-fetched – but we live in far-fetched times.
Meanwhile the tax cuts which the Trump Administration is trumpeting are not going down well. In Europe, that is. Even in the UK, where Mr Chancellor Hammond has joined in with his European counterparts to protest at this blatant bit of lightening the tax load and leaving tax payers with more of their own money to spend. No, you are right, the Finance Ministers did not put it quite like that. They objected that it was part of a move to put America and American business interests first, introducing protectionism and trade discrimination. Not that the EU would ever do anything like that of course. For all the huffing and puffing it seems unlikely that Mr Trump is lying abed worrying about Mr Hammond and his friends too much.
Is he worrying about the renewed accusations of sexual misconduct, now gathering up a storm? This is old news, repeating chatter and well ventilated rumours that were around during his campaign last year. Which is not to say they are not true, of course, and if they prove to be so, that would undoubtedly be the beginning of Donald’s defenestration from the West Wing. But he does not seem bothered at the moment, saying the accusations are manufactured, without merit, and that he has never even met the four key accusers. Time no doubt will tell on that one.
But let’s end with the stars, or a little closer. The President has ordered NASA to get a man on the moon pronto, and then send him on to Mars. No technical reason why not, such things are much easier than they were fifty years ago. Just needs a lot of money. With the economy booming the way it is, even that might be forthcoming.
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