Donald Trump aims to keep his loyalists happy

Many of his supporters were soured by the lengthy and damaging shutdown of the US government
US President Donald Trump delivers his second State of the Union address to a joint session of the US Congress in Washington, February 5, 2019(REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump delivers his second State of the Union address to a joint session of the US Congress in Washington, February 5, 2019(REUTERS)
Updated on Feb 06, 2019 05:29 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByHT Correspondent

Traditionally when a United States (US) president makes a State of the Union address in his penultimate year, he sets out to explain to voters why he or his chosen successor should be re-elected. President Donald Trump did so on Tuesday in his own inimical way: Suddenly moving between statesman-like calls for unity and comity and thinly-veiled attacks against the opposition Democrats and blood-curdling claims about the security of the country’s borders.

Mr Trump’s priority was to communicate to his electoral base: The disenchanted, white working class that represent little over a third of US voters. Since the Republicans ceded the House of Representatives to the opposition in the recent midterm elections, the president is working to immunise himself against the pathogens that lengthy, hostile congressional investigations will throw up. This requires him to preserve the blind loyalty he has inspired among the Republican base and, as a consequence, lock in the support of a Republican leadership which still sees him as an outsider. His speech was notable for the portrayal of the US border being overrun by hordes of illegal immigrants and the overriding need for a wall to keep them out. Mr Trump also iterated his determination to pull US troops out of Syria and Afghanistan. A final throw-in was a rant against late abortions. All of these had the sole purpose of keeping his loyalists happy. A goal made all the more necessary because many were soured by his lengthy and damaging shutdown of the US government.

Mr Trump’s doubling down on his anti-immigrant rhetoric as well as his continuing criticism of the US military presence in Afghanistan will trouble New Delhi. While it is possible that nothing may come to pass on the ground, constructive action on either front will be largely impossible as they become key themes during the protracted US presidential campaign season. India will take greater comfort in the US president’s insistence that there will be no end to the economic frictions between the US and China until the latter carries out major — and probably impossible — structural economic reforms.

There is no certainty as to who will win the coming US presidential elections or, more importantly, whose vision of the world’s most powerful country will hold sway for another four years. All polling evidence shows the US more polarised than it has ever been for decades. If Mr Trump has staged a coup d’etat against the Republican Party, the new Democratic Congress saw a similar battle between the party mainstream and its socialist wing. The state of the American Union: already knee deep in the waters of a turbulent political battle.

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