365 Days after the Election of Donald Trump
On the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s election victory (not of his inauguration), the IGS group has organised a conference to discuss the track record of the 45th US President. Present at the debate were Anik Cizel, a lecturer in American History and Civilisation; and Laure Mandeville, a major reporter at the French newspaper Le Figaro, and author of the 2016 work titled “Who is the real Donald Trump?”.
“Democracy has spoken”
The conference opened with a simple question: “What was your reaction after the results were announced?” The question serves to underline the fact that, one year on, some experts and academics firstly have yet to overcome the post-election period of mourning, and secondly that some have still not understood – or refuse to understand – the reasons behind Trump’s victory. Anik Cizel falls into both categories, despite acknowledging that “democracy had spoken”. She admitted to being stunned when she woke up to the result on 9th November 2017. Anik Cizel also seems to be one of those who are crippled by their own certainty. This certainty is natural; but it becomes entrenched and solidified in our psyche, it leads to a biased view of the world around us. “I don’t read the Republican press,” she says to the mic. “That’s a big mistake,” retorted Laure Mandeville, head of the American department of Le Figaro from 2009 to 2016. She has a good knowledge of the US, and it shows.
“After a while they asked themselves ‘Could Trump win?’”
“I was invited to the BFM set in New York for the US Election special. Everyone at the table was convinced that Hilary Clinton would win. They were even wondering what kind of ‘First Gentlemen’ Bill Clinton would make. As for me, I was the only one who thought that Trump could win. After travelling the country, I witnessed a deeply-held bitterness towards the Democrat ‘establishment’, particularly in the post-industrial Rust Belt states.” Ms. Mandeville highlights the mistakes made by the media, the experts, and the academics, who became complacent in their own certainty, with a blinkered vision towards the real world. Washington isn’t Pikeville. Los Angeles isn’t Wichita. When the results started to come in, the BFM journalists said, “Wait a minute, could Trump actually win?”. They never saw it coming, and dolefully acknowledged their mistake.
“Obama didn’t carry out any major reforms in the first 18 months of his first term”
While Donald Trump holds the majority of senators and senior representatives, Anik Cizel asked the question “What has Donald Trump done since his rise to power? Nothing!”, to which Ms. Mandeville replied, “You have to be objective, it was 18 months before Barack Obama carried out his first great reform – Obamacare, on 23rd March 2010.”
Trump’s failure to abolish Obamacare is due to the deep divisions on the subject within the Republican camp. “It’s not certain that Trump really wants to abolish it. Some of his policies are more socialist than people want us to believe. Do I have to remind you that – before 1987- Trump was a Democrat, and then again between 2001 and 2009?”, remarks the author of Who is the Real Donald Trump?.
Meanwhile, the American economy “is performing strongly. Unemployment is at 4.4%, the lowest rate in ten years. You can almost say that it’s full employment. Wall Street is breaking all the records, there have been 1 million jobs created in the last year. It’s a reality,” she adds.
Only small sections of the media have reported these figures, preferring to concentrate on the tweets and “Soundbites” of the American president; particularly his foreign policy, and his ridiculous Twitter exchanges with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“We have confused Nationalism and Isolationism”
For Ms. Mandeville, “Trump is playing the ‘Madman’ role with North Korea.” This concept was developed by Henry Kissinger, the former political scientist and American diplomat, and was put into practice by President Nixon to put an end to the Vietnam War (1963-1975). The theory involves giving the impression of being irrational, and therefore unpredictable. “In fact, this ‘tactic’ makes me think that there is some realism in Trump’s policies. For example, on the Syrian issue, I would not oppose Trump and Obama. The former president had already undertaken a prudent approach in terms of the US’s foreign policy in Syria. It’s often said that Trump is isolationist; I don’t think it’s the case. Besides, the US hasn’t closed its borders, or ended its economic and diplomatic relations. We mustn’t confuse nationalism with isolationism,” argues the Figaro journalist. However, both participants agree that the current American President is no ‘Internationalist’; he does not share the post-Second World War values – promoted by the UN – of restraining, or even abolishing all forms of nationalism.
“He might run for a second term, or he might not make it to the end of his first; anything is possible!”
Meanwhile, Trump’s nationalism continues to appeal to his “electoral base”. A recent opinion poll gave the president a 40% approval rating. Despite the daily media reports on his every misplaced gesture or phrase, Trump retains the support of those who elected him. Bernie Sanders aside, the Democrats are in disarray, and seem incapable of toppling Trump. The most telling evidence of this – if any were needed – is the publication of Hillary Clinton’s book What Happened, which concedes no responsibility for her defeat. With the Democrats seemingly unable of beating Trump, the biggest threats to the President seem to stem from his own camp. While this may seem unlikely for the time being, historian Pascal Blanchard seems to believe it possible. On Friday 3rd November, on the 28 Minutes talk show, he said “It won’t be the Twitter scandals or other declarations that bring Trump down. It will be his affairs. Trump manages his presidency like a business. He will quietly step out of the picture[…] in a year and a half he’ll be facing impeachment.” Time will tell.
Amoureux de ma Bretagne et des Balkans.