The first hundred days of Donald Trump
The “hundred day” benchmark tradition of U.S. Presidential assessment started with President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and the rationale is that the 100 days constitute the “honeymoon period” of a first term President. During this time frame, optimism is generally riding high and the President is deemed to possess a sizable repository of “political capital” in the form of personal integrity, sound leadership skills, credibility and a solid agenda to move the country forward. His imputed capital is as good as gold and generally helps ensure Congressional cooperation, agreeableness and support from lawmakers in policy and legislative matters. Presidential political capital can also be effective in garnering support and deflecting criticism from large swathes of the populace, widely cognizant of the enormous weight of the office and willing to make allowance for reasonable delays, gaffes and hiccups. Indeed, candidate Trump recognised the 100 day Presidential report card tradition and touted certain major achievements his Administration would have under their belt in his first 100 days stemming from his “leadership qualities, unrivalled skills set and unique Herculean abilities.” His proclamations were often prefaced with the words: ‘‘Only I”.
President Trump is credited with running a deeply controversial and fiendish political campaign, in which he advocated violence in dispatching dissenters, stoked and harnessed racial, religious and gender intolerance, and signaled “open season” on minorities, whom he tarred and declared to be hindrances to progress.
The severest havoc attributed to him was the ensuing, major seismic shifts in social harmony and delicately poised societal underpinnings. Unsurprisingly, he has accomplished precious little in his first 100 days, in terms of real domestic or international gains. He has expended his energy and valuable political capital on moves to annihilate the personal integrity and political accomplishments of his predecessor, President Barack Obama, whose dignity, exemplary statecraft and legacy seem to be a source of personal torment. This is amply borne out by the fact that in his attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obama care,” President Trump is prepared to sacrifice circa, 24 million of his own compatriots, many belonging to his support base, by depriving them of health care.
In so doing he chooses to overlook the cruelty of his actions, instead rendering those affected as burnt offerings on his pyre of hatred and callous superficiality in pursuit of a ‘‘win” at any cost. His ill-fated health care replacement plan was even strongly opposed by members of his own party and more recently by mainstream U.S. medical institutions and experts, in its reincarnated form. In his obsession to destroy any laudable achievements made by Obama, Trump is committed to go so far as to engage in acts of political kamikaze. Regrettably, he has succeeded in infecting sizable chunks of his party and coterie with his dangerous brand of leadership, most of whom have assumed the role of enablers. To the over 1 billion people in Africa and 169.1 million Africans in the Diaspora, Obama remains a symbol of honesty, integrity, faith, pride, hope, strength, nobility and sheer brilliance. He is uncontestably a role model par excellence and a veritable bridge-builder.
On the international relations front and concomitant diplomacy, Trump’s lack of any articulated, cogent and meaningful policies is deafening. Historically, the U.S. State department’s traditional role is to unfurl and implement U.S. foreign policy. An integral aspect of the agency’s mandate involved the wielding of “soft power,” made possible as a result of decades of carefully crafted diplomacy, based on cultivating open lines of communication, mutual respect, trust and a common desire for sustainable growth and progress. However, the Trump administration is in the process of down grading the agency, having proposed a budget slash of 37 per cent. This will result in the hacking of jobs and programmes and will also affect image boosting U.S. foreign aid, disaster relief and international development assistance. To near universal disbelief and consternation, the world has recently witnessed Trump’s mawkish public praise of dictators.
He has recently expressed admiration for the likes of Kim Jong- un of North Korea, Recep Erdogan of Turkey and Rodigo Duterte of Philippines, all of whom denigrate human rights and are unrepentant despots. For us in Africa, where millions have suffered and died under the jackboots and oppression of military and other authoritarian regimes, this turn of events is not only shocking and disheartening, it constitutes nothing short of an outrage and a betrayal of the struggle for democratic governance, values and principles. It is also bitterly disappointing to those governments trying to improve fragile democracies and to their respective citizenry, of which I am a member, who entertained genuine hopes of a brighter future. Without being sarcastic and in all honesty, one wonders if General Idi Amin at the height of his “powers” would have been similarly courted as a “strong man.” At what point is the line drawn precluding current American Presidential approval?
Equally important, at what juncture is a “strong man” uninvited to the White House? With the massacre of thousands or tens of thousands of his own people?
Concerning positive or inspiring lessons African countries can imbibe from the Trump Presidency, pertaining to the protection, respect and promotion of key pillars and institutions of a functioning democracy, as charitable as one may be inclined to be, there are none. President Trump has publicly attacked the American judiciary, while his incessant, venomous vitriol is reserved for the American free press, which he is succeeding in emasculating. These developments are beyond the pale and a leap into darkness. The problem is that there are potential dictators waiting for the right cue to usurp power and brandish their form of unbridled authoritarianism. President Trump seems to be holding up their cue cards. African democracies do not have the proven Executive branch checks and balances which exist in America. It would seem that tyranny has been given a free pass and if allowed to flower in any African country, would in all likelihood degenerate into full scale bloodshed and mayhem. In his first hundred days in office, President Trump has earned the following epithet from the undersigned, “the black man’s burden.” The question is what price will we have to pay?
• Fowler is an international lawyer.