The president has brought his distinctive approach to foreign policy, the economy, the judiciary, the environment and immigration
by Julian Borger in Washington, Dominic Rushe, Oliver Laughland, Oliver Milman and David Taylor in New York
If there has been one defining trait in the foreign policy of the Trump era, it is confusion – not only in the frequent gaps between the paths taken by the president and his own administration, but also in the morass of contradictions and U-turns in his own impulses.
Trump has insisted on bringing back US troops from Syria and Afghanistan, but has at times shocked his advisers with a bellicosity, towards Iran in particular, that risks starting new wars.
While demonising the government in Tehran, Trump has decided not to directly contest Iranian influence in Syria with US troops. He threatened “fire and fury” against North Korea, but has since claimed to have “fallen in love” with Kim Jong-un, although the young dictator has yet to show any inclination to dismantle his nuclear arsenal.
He is reluctant to criticise Vladimir Putin, boosting suspicions that he is under the sway of the Kremlin. But his administration has arguably taken a tougher line against Russia than its predecessor, piling on more sanctions and supplying lethal weaponry to Ukraine.
There are some themes, however, that make foreign policy in the age of Trump quite different in character from any previous administration. One of them is the personalisation of relations with foreign governments.
Trump evidently trusts his gut instincts more than the advice of the US foreign policy and security establishment, and those instincts have drawn him towards autocrats and away from traditional democratic allies, whom he often views as freeloaders, taking advantage of US might.
Another constant in the Trumpian approach to the world is the drive to erase the legacy of Barack Obama and his other predecessors. Almost everything Obama was for, Trump has been overwhelmingly against, from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran to trade deals in the Pacific or with Europe, or the Paris climate accord.
The distrust of multilateral agreements and institutions is a third persistent theme. Trump’s template for making deals is two powerful men facing off across a table. Round tables with a variety of voices frustrate him, forcing him to listen to foreigners with less power or with different points of view. He chose John Bolton as national security adviser primarily to build a bonfire of US international obligations.
Trump has yet to be tested by an international crisis not of his own making. In the two years to come, we will see whether his (and the world’s) luck will continue to hold.
This is the greatest economy in the history of our country,” Donald Trumptold reporters last year. Two years into his presidency he has plenty to brag about but also some big problems. Many of his own making.Unemployment is close to levels unseen since the first moon landing. It ticked up last month but even that rise came as more workers came off the sidelines and started looking for work. So far about 5m jobs have been created under Trump.It is pretty dubious to claim presidents “create” jobs but they all take the credit when things are good; unsurprisingly Trump is no exception. The current recovery clearly began under the previous president, Barack Obama. Even with the unarguably impressive improvements under Trump, he has a way to go before he can fulfil his promise of being “the greatest jobs president that God ever created”.Bill Clinton holds the record for largest numeric increase in the workforce, 23m jobs over his two terms. Obama, who was elected in the teeth of the worst recession in living memory, added 10m jobs over his two terms.
Trump is off to a great start, but it’s just that. The US has experienced 99 months of consecutive jobs growth and a slowdown seems inevitable.
Trump does, however, already have one over on Obama. Wage growth is finally picking up – a bit – after years of stagnation.
In other areas, Trump’s economic record is more discordant.
Trump’s single biggest policy achievement is the $1.5tn tax cut he pushed through in November 2017. Slammed by critics on the left and right as a giveaway for corporations and the 1%, it helped Democrats win in November’s midterm elections.
And then, of course, there’s Trump’s other most notable economic policy – trade wars. Trump has effectively torn up decades of trade agreements and antagonised his largest trading partners. The impact of the rancor he has sown is still being assessed but it has already triggered dramatic sell-offs on stock markets and may have contributed to a slowdown in the Chinese economy. Apple issued its first profits warning since 2002 earlier this month, blaming slowing business in China. There will be more warnings to come.
Trump’s economic populism helped get him elected. Whether he gets a second term will probably depend on whether he can keep the promises he made in the first, or whether the moves he made in the last two years come back to haunt him.