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The Legacy Of Donald Trump

November 18, 2020 | Expert Insights

Maj. Gen. Moni Chandi (Retired), a veteran of more than four decades, likes to hone the skills of a soldier, an engineer, a peacekeeper, a counter-terrorist commando, a military scholar, or a corporate professional, by providing holistic and impartial perspectives on contemporary issues

With just one tenure in office as the U.S. President, Donald Trump, with his characteristic ‘Bull in a China Shop’-style has brought a paradigm shift in thinking, to both international relations and domestic politics. Even after he demits office, his legacy will live on, having an impact on contemporary society. What is the Trump legacy which successive leaders are now compelled to contend with? How should President-elect Joe Biden and other liberal world leaders deal with the challenges that Mr. Trump and his like have thrown up?


America First The term ‘America First’ refers to a U.S. foreign policy stance that emphasises the centrality of U.S. interests, even at the expense of international isolation. It first gained prominence after World War I (1914 to 1918), when President Woodrow Wilson used it as a motto to resist American entry into European conflicts. From 2016, Mr. Trump used the slogan to stress U.S. withdrawal from international treaties, organisations, conventions and other obligations. In the guise of the slogan, he tightened immigration laws, denied visas to Muslims, deprived the UN and WHO of funding, and withdrew from the International Climate Change Agreement, as well as the UNESCO.


  • The tightening of immigration laws was also intended to protect U.S. jobs. In the face of the current unprecedented unemployment, it will be challenging for the new administration to encourage foreign citizens to work on American soil.
  • Multilateral organisations such as the UN, IMF, and the World Bank were created after World War II. Funded largely by the U.S., they grew to be preserves of U.S. interests. With the economy in recession, the Gross Federal Debit, estimated at an unprecedented $ 27 trillion and the current year’s federal budget deficit exceeding $ 3.3 trillion, can the new dispensation afford to meet neglected international financial obligations? More importantly, is it time for the U.S. to cede control of these institutions to new powers in Asia, South America, and Africa? 


  • Because of the strength of the U.S. dollar, America remains an attractive destination for international workers. However, until there are visible signs of economic recovery, the new administration is unlikely to ring in major changes to immigration policies.
  • The existing power-sharing in multilateral institutions still appears to mirror the erstwhile Cold War balances of the 1980s. However, the Cold War is over, and international economic practices have changed profoundly. Erstwhile communist countries like China and Russia have embraced aggressive capitalism, while large democracies like U.S. and India see merit in higher minimum wages and robust public health. Instead of pursuing non-existent ideological divides, it may be more prudent for multilateral institutions to evolve with the times — providing more representation to growing economies, laying greater emphasis on merit-based selections, and demonstrating a commitment to impartiality and efficiency. Will the Biden team be able to make these changes, which also involves a less influential role for the U.S.?

Representation for the inarticulate Mr. Trump’s electoral victory in 2016 and his strong showing in 2020 indicates that his support base does not find expression with the vocal U.S. media. Why is he so appealing to his support base? Pollsters have underestimated the Trump support base in two consecutive Presidential elections.

Analysis. While an evidence-based analysis of the 2020 election results may throw up more answers, to my mind, it was only Mr. Trump, who directly addressed job insecurity. Compared with other developed countries, U.S. labour laws are more employer-friendly. Under Federal law, there is no requirement for an employment contract. In fact, most U.S. employment is on ‘at will’ basis, implying that either party (employer or employee) can terminate the working-relationship easily. Further, Federal laws do not require employers to notify employees before termination, with some exceptions. In contrast, both in India and the EU, the employment contract is the basis of all employer-employee relations. At the commencement of the pandemic, in March and April, an estimated 22 million Americans lost their jobs, a number much higher than in the EU and other developed countries.

Assessment Until the pandemic struck the U.S. in February 2020, its economy was booming. Mr. Trump’s success here was due to several disparate and unusual measures. First, unqualified support to U.S. oil and automobile industries, which provides approximately 10 million and 18 million jobs, respectively. Second, staying out of the climate deal. The U.S. is the world's most polluting country, and the pact would have forced unwelcome changes in both industries. Third, imposing trade barriers to prevent competitive imports from entering the domestic market, this would otherwise directly affect the revenues of locally-manufactured products. Fourth, maintaining the price of Brent Crude by keeping out of the market, Iranian and Venezuelan oil products. Though not discussed in ‘vocal America’, ‘inarticulate Americans’ understood this conundrum and believed that Mr. Trump would preserve their jobs, even if it meant losing the leadership position on the world stage and bullying a few lesser developed countries. Can the new administration provide a viable alternative to Trumpnomics?

Walking the Talk, More than any other American politician, Mr. Trump made bold promises and tried to live up to them. Some of his promises were: ‘banning entry to Muslims’ (partially delivered); ‘building the wall with Mexico’ (partially delivered); ‘lowering corporate taxes' (delivered); 'withdrawal from the climate deal’ (delivered); ‘moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem’ (delivered); 'avoiding new overseas military engagements and bringing soldiers home' (partially delivered).

Analysis. While his critics may accuse him of ‘over-promising’ and ‘under-achieving’, Mr. Trump’s ability to make promises and realise them resonates with his voter base. In contrast, many politicians resort to taking ambivalent positions and making confusing arguments; worse still, masquerading the same as a form of intellectualism. As a legacy, Mr. Trump has set a standard for politicians to ‘Walk the Talk’.

Assessment. In contrast, the President-elect has made few promises, other than those which directly conflict with the Trump agenda: revising the minimum wage, expanding Obama Care and re-joining the climate deal. One reason for this shortcoming is that the Democratic Party is a divided house of conflicting views, and it is very difficult to hammer out a common agenda. Second, in the aftermath of the pandemic, the President-elect's plate is full of health, economic, and social challenges. He may have little time to look beyond the immediate horizon.

Impact on International Relations

Emphasising ‘Sugar Daddy’ The Cold War was played out between countries aligned under NATO and those under the Warsaw Pact. In 1991, the USSR had disintegrated, leading to the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and for a short while, the world veered unipolar — demonstrated during the 1st Gulf War of 1990-91. Since his election in 2016, Mr. Trump has accused NATO partners of treating the U.S. as a ‘Sugar Daddy’. There is truth in what he maintains that nearly 70 per cent of NATO’s expenditure is met by the U.S. While America contributes 3.4 per cent of its GDP towards defence, other NATO countries average only 1.55 per cent of their GDPs. Under pressure from Mr. Trump, the Secretary-General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, finally accepted that other NATO countries would increase their contributions to 2 per cent by 2024.

Analysis. In the current situation, a Russian invasion of Europe is far-fetched. In 1994, Russia joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme, and since then, NATO and Russia have signed several other important agreements on cooperation. The Russia–NATO Council was also established in 2002, for handling security issues and joint projects.

Assessment. Since the collapse of the former USSR, the relevance of NATO is in question. While European nations may continue to benefit from collective security arrangements, there seems little merit in the U.S. footing a disproportionate share of NATO expenditure. Mr. Trump was the first President to candidly call out the delinquency of European nations in paying for their security, and the logic will certainly appeal to successive US Presidents.

The Unwanted International Policeman. Both the US-led invasions, of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, were not sanctioned by the UN. They not only weighed on the exchequer (approximately $ 6 trillion), but also led to approximately 7,000 deaths of American soldiers, and achieved questionable results. Mr. Trump's 2016 election promise was that he would stop the endless wars and bring soldiers home. During his term, U.S. forces have largely withdrawn from Iraq and Syria and are in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan. In January 2020, U.S. forces killed Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad, Iraq. It was a grave provocation and met the criteria of initiating war with Iran. Iran responded with missile barrage strikes on two U.S. bases in Iraq, to which the U.S. did not formally respond.

Analysis. Mr. Trump’s tenure has not seen any notable military successes. However, it has not seen any major new military deployments either. Even when confronted with a loss of face, Mr. Trump chose to avoid escalation, in the larger interests of disengagement.

Assessment. The U.S. did not engage in new expeditions involving the fresh deployment of troops during his tenure. While bombings, special operations, and drone operations continued, there was a drop in military expenditure and a reduction in overseas manpower deployments. Given the current economic situation, the new administration is also likely to restrain ‘international policeman’ activities.

Double-speak in International Relations. Despite recent push backs, we continue to live in a globalised world, where countries find themselves in a complex conflict of interest situations and leaders requiring to make pragmatic decisions. The U.S. is the world's most admired country, and the manner it deals with challenges is both a beacon and a case study for others. Some leaders choose the tactics of ‘double-speak’, when confronted with difficult situations. They articulate two or more conflicting points of view, without really embracing any. Listed below are three questions that have an obvious ‘politically correct’ answer, but also imply accompanying adverse consequences for the U.S. economy.

(a) Will the U.S. re-enter the Paris Climate Change Agreement on the earlier terms, even though it would have an adverse impact on domestic oil and automobile industries?

(b) Will the U.S. restore relations with Iran and Venezuela, even though the removal of sanctions will flood the international crude oil markets, further suppressing Brent Oil prices?

(c) Will it lift trade barriers even though it will render U.S.-manufactured products uncompetitive on pricing?

Analysis. Many U.S. politicians have resorted to ‘double-speak’ when confronted with these contentious questions. Mr. Trump blatantly chose the American side, even though it was parochial, elitist, and perhaps even irresponsible. Will Mr. Biden do it differently? It would be challenging to find solutions that are beneficial to all stakeholders.

Assessment Essentially, the new administration has three choices. First, it could revert to double-speak, as in the past. Second, it could silently endorse Mr. Trump’s actions, without giving him credit, though Mr. Trump has already done the dirty work and the heavy lifting. Third, it could find a new way by embracing technology and transparency, with its associated risks. Will the Trump legacy force the change? 

The Reality of the People's Republic of China (PRC) Since 1978 to date, the PRC’s GDP has grown at an average annual rate of 9.5 per cent. This implies the per-capita GDP has grown from $ 300 to $ 18,000, an astonishing 60 times! Since 2012, the U.S. trade deficit with the PRC has exceeded $ 300 billion annually, enabling the PRC to accumulate forex reserves of $ 3.9 trillion (as of March 2020), also the highest accumulation of forex in the world. Despite the rhetoric of the ‘China Virus’, the PRC’s response to the pandemic has been rapid and effective. In September, Mike Ryan, Executive Director of WHO Emergency Programs, publicly stated, ‘…deepest congratulations to frontline health workers in China and the population who worked tirelessly to bring the disease to this very low level…’.

Analysis The PRC is currently unpopular both with the U.S. and India. However, as far as the management of the pandemic is concerned, facts speak for themselves.















Assessment China is a transformed and progressive country, which has institutionalised efficiency and discipline. No matter how much we dislike them, they are the largest economy in the world, with currently available fiscal surpluses to implement changes and a skilled and disciplined workforce. If the world wants fundamental changes, the world needs to work collaboratively with PRC resources. Will the new administration be able to navigate past the provocative optics, to convert threats to opportunities?


Donald Trump is a bad loser; he is yet to concede defeat and congratulate President-elect Joe Biden. In the last four years, he has provoked, heckled, and threatened organisations — irrespective of their standing; communities — without respect for their values; nations — irrespective of their leanings; academics — despite their credentials; bureaucrats — despite their experience; and politicians of all hues. Though his attacks and barbs were a diplomat’s nightmare, his candidness and forthrightness have also served as a reality check.

While he may have lost the election, there are still those who support him and many who appreciate the candour with which he exposed paralysis and hypocrisy within centrist viewpoints. Democrats may have won this election, but if they wish to keep their lead, they may benefit from remembering Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural speech, ‘… to do all which may achieve and cherish, a just and lasting peace, amongst ourselves and with all nations.’