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The many challenges for Donald Trump in 2018

Donald Trump effectively began 2018 with a one-page To-Do List. The most important bullets were domestic: eviscerate welfare programmes such as Obamacare, build legal and physical walls against immigrants, and spend $1 trillion on infrastructure. Foreign policy made a brief mention - big vague things like recalling US troops from around the world or waging a trade war on China.

world Updated: Dec 31, 2018 08:41 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Donald Trump,Donald Trump world,World news
Malay Karmakar

Donald Trump effectively began 2018 with a one-page To-Do List. The most important bullets were domestic: eviscerate welfare programmes such as Obamacare, build legal and physical walls against immigrants, and spend $1 trillion on infrastructure. Foreign policy made a brief mention - big vague things like recalling US troops from around the world or waging a trade war on China.

His circle calculated, rightly, that agenda would keep supporters happy and approval ratings above 50%. In turn, this would keep the US Congress from giving a green signal to investigators and special counsels circling the US president. As Trump said, “When you get good ratings, you can say anything.”

That was the plan. Then there was the man. Trump spent 2018 as impatient with the tortuous US legislative process as he was in the past. He launched Twitter attacks against Republican and Democrat congressman alike. His domestic agenda floundered, consumed by Brett Kavanaugh, the image of crying child migrants, and a Mexican wall that is still a mirage.

On foreign policy, Trump ended up garnering headlines for the unexpected. After months of abuse, he and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un summiteered in Singapore. Trump explained, “He wrote me beautiful letters and we fell in love.” Nothing has since changed on the ground in Korea, except that Kim is smiling more.

New Delhi has been quietly pleased Trump has not wavered when it came to his tariff war on China. He waged smaller trade skirmishes as well, including against India. His Beijing bashing has been unremitting throughout the year and put a spoke in the wheel of Chinese global economic influence.

But 2018 also saw the Washington establishment beginning to reassert its control. The US worked best when the beltway and Trump were in tandem: going after China, for example. What had been unclear was who would prevail when the two sides were at loggerheads. In 2018, the world found out. Nothing has exercised Washington this past year more than Moscow. The only American who thinks differently is Donald Trump. When the two sides clashed over Russia sanctions, it was the President who lost. Sanctions were imposed and Trump, protesting to the end, was forced to sign them into law.

The mid-term elections brought Trump down another notch. The Democrats captured the lower house and the Republicans took some hard punches in the Midwest - in the same states that swung Trump into the White House.

With 17 investigations against him, the Democratic lower house planning to put the thumbscrews on every Trump official, and his approval rating softening, Trump is ending the year on a note of desperation. The US economic boom is set to fade in 2019.

Which is why he has decided to go back to America First basics, shutting down the US government to get funding for the wall and triggering his Pentagon chief’s resignation by announcing a shock US withdrawal from Syria. Expect Trump’s pronouncements to become ever more Neanderthalic as the noose tightens around him.

First Published: Dec 31, 2018 08:41 IST