Our Take

What You Need to Know About the 45th U.S. President

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Not only Americans but the world waits to see if Donald Trump the campaigner is different from Donald Trump the president.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Donald Trump will have both houses of Congress to help him push through his agenda.
    • He has already said he plans to repeal Obamacare.
    • The billionaire real estate entrepreneur has held no public office previously.
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  • Audio

    Audio

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U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at election night rally in Manhattan, New York
It's full speed ahead to uncertainty. Source: Reuters

1. What is to be expected of Donald Trump’s foreign policy?

The United States will not withdraw from international relations, contrary to many forecasts. Mr. Trump’s personality and his idea of “America the Great” leave no room for “splendid isolation.” Like most U.S. presidents, he’ll want to shine on the international stage to show his strength at home. He will benefit from the interaction with Vladimir Putin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Angela Merkel, the stage of major political summits, the celebration of power and influence in Camp David. A departure from foreign policy can be nothing more than an illusion for commander-in-chief of the U.S. military with its 1.4 million soldiers and 7,000 nuclear weapons, 10 currently active aircraft carriers, 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles and 8,850 tanks. It is still unclear whether his foreign policy will be hostile or conciliatory and intent on cooperation. At this point, it is safe to say Mr. Trump probably doesn’t know himself.

2. Will global free trade end under Donald Trump?

Despite all of his anti-free trade rhetoric, no U.S. president can make good on this promise. America is addicted to imports and wants to boost its own exports out of its own self-interest. Its trade deficit of $550 billion between January and September is far too high for it to abandon the free movement of goods. Mr. Trump didn’t promise Americans to end to free trade, but rather to get better deals.

3. Is TTIP dead?

It seems more probable that Germany will bring difficult points. Despite Berlin’s free trade rhetoric, the current state of negotiations is not acceptable for Germany. The United States insists on a “Buy American”-clause obliging all authorities, ministries, and the U.S. Army to exclusively order American goods and services. This clause is in turn based on provisions made by the 50 states, which no president will nullify. TTIP will live on — but lead a shadow existence.

4. What will be President-elect Donald Trump’s largest and most influential initiatives?

Taking his stated intentions and his language as evidence, Mr. Trump has been studying the biography of the most successful U.S. president of all time: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Mr. Roosevelt, also a wealthy native New Yorker, not only led the anti-Hitler coalition and ultimately forced the Wehrmacht to its knees, but also boosted the domestic economy by government-funded infrastructure programs. He solved the mass joblessness of the 1930s, when a quarter of employable Americans were without work. Because of the war economy and a rekindled construction boom, 12 million Americans  found a job again. The unemployment rate fell from 24.9 percent in 1933 to 1.2 percent in 1944. President-elect Donald Trump’s announcement on Election Day was clear: He will launch a major program to modernize the eroding United States’ infrastructure. Mr. Roosevelt spoke repeatedly of the “forgotten man.” On election night, Mr. Trump declared that “forgotten men and women” would no longer be forgotten.

5. Will he reconcile the Republican Party with itself?

The party now has less power than before. The victory is mainly Mr. Trump’s triumph; the establishment which rejected and opposed him will have to bow to him. The winner takes all. As long as his popularity ratings remain high, Mr. Trump has nothing to fear from the old warhorses Mrs. Bush, McCain and Romney. Only the strong man on Capitol Hill, the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, is likely to keep himself at a distance. He is still in waiting. The 46-year-old former vice presidential candidate sees himself as a contender for the White House. He would have preferred a one-term President Hillary Clinton.

6. Will Mr. Trump have one or two terms in the White House?

If he has his way, definitely two. In the end, his health and the Republican Party will decide. Even an incumbent must in theory go through primaries but is typically spared them. But if the party is dissatisfied with its president, it can insist on primaries. That’s what happened to President George H.W. Bush after four years in office. While he won the 1992 primaries against Pat Buchanan, he lost the election to Bill Clinton.

7. What will happen to Obamacare?

Mr. Trump has pledged to axe the European-style health insurance system President Obama created. Given his majority in Senate and Congress, he’ll be able to do that. It is, however, rather unlikely that he’ll leave America’s 290 million insurees worse off. He will try to reach a deal with the medical-industrial complex, represented in Washington by hundreds of lobbyists, to arrive at an “Obamacare plus.” There will be no return to the situation before Obamacare, when 50 million Americans were completely without health insurance, because that would immediately sap his popularity.

8. Will Mr. Trump favor the rich and super-rich?

Yes, and no. He won’t give them tax benefits or fashion new possibilities for write-offs because he wants to protect his reputation as a Robin Hood of the white lower and middle classes. But: Yes, the infrastructure program, new trade agreements and a strong focus on the domestic market in terms of economic policy, research and procurement will help the owners of large- and medium-sized companies. The business world can expect less regulation from Mr. Trump, a businessman himself. Big Business in Detroit, Hollywood, on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley is looking forward to it.

9. Will there be a wall?

During the campaign, Mr. Trump promised: “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall.” There’s already a 1,100-kilometer border fence between the U.S. and Mexico. Mr. Trump will likely expand this monstrosity, which in some places is 3.5 meters taller than the Berlin Wall, and beef up the border installations in general. In 2015, around 400,000 illegal immigrants from Mexico came to America, of which only a small portion crossed the green border. The problem can’t be solved by border fortification alone. Mr. Trump will probably tighten visa laws and take a more aggressive approach to deportation.

10. Is the gun lobby this election’s big winner?

This is a fair assumption. His statements during the election campaign are in line with his fundamental belief. Mr. Trump considers carrying arms not as folly or playing with fire, but as an individual’s fundamental right to protect his freedom. The Constitution’s Second Amendment clearly states: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

11. Will President Trump further polemicize against Hispanics, blacks and women?

The new president will tone it down. Given the fact that Hillary Clinton won over 200,000 more votes in total, his popular support is fragile, and he will fight from the outset to broaden his electoral base. We’ll see a more moderate and probably conciliatory Donald Trump. The strict protocol of the White House, which is controlled by diplomats committed to protecting the domestic and foreign reputation of the super power, will most probably discipline him. Trump is now in the capable hands of the establishment he fought so hard during the campaign.

12.Who are the most important personalities behind the 45th president of the United States?

Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, the experienced governor of Indiana, will play a central role. He may act as a bridge to the Republican establishment. The former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, is expected to take a top position in the Trump administration. He is regarded as a security expert. Though already in political retirement, Newt Gingrich, 73, could make a comeback as a strategy consultant. Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, who is heading the team organizing the transition from the Obama to the Trump administration, could get an important cabinet post. Mr. Trump’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., is said to be interested in joining the cabinet.

13. Will he live in the White House?

That address is too prestigious for someone like Donald Trump to pass up, even though it will be more confined than he’s accustomed to. The Oval Office is only about 100 square meters (1080 square feet). While the residential space for his current family of three will amount to several hundred square meters, that will be smaller than his residence in New York’s Trump Tower. But if he needs a bit more space at any time, he can always head to the luxury Trump International Hotel he opened in Washington on October 26 – it’s just a few minutes’ walk away.

To contact the author: steingart@handelsblatt.com

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