Democracy in peril as Trump arrives

Donald Trump has been sworn in as United States’ 45th President. This marks the start of an era in the US politics that is widely expected to be controversial and confrontationist. He has entered the White House with a 40% approval rating, according to a CNN/ORC opinion poll conducted on the eve of his inauguration, the lowest for any US president at the start of his presidency. The honeymoon period of previous American presidents with voters have lasted for at least a few months into their presidency. Not so with Trump. His honeymoon with voters appears to have ended even before it began. Trump’s inauguration has triggered a wave of uncertainty at home and abroad. Many Americans are understandably worried about the implications of a Trump presidency for America’s democracy, its institutions and processes. Will these institutions survive his style of functioning, his contempt for dissent and reluctance to consult experts in policy making decisions? Worryingly, he has done little to distance his business interests from public office. His appointment of his son-in-law as a senior adviser has raised eyebrows as have his nominees for key cabinet positions. His cabinet is stacked with billionaire CEOs, known for running business corporations and brazenly violating laws than for administrative experience in running a government.

Politicians are known to moderate their positions once they occupy office but Trump is unlikely to do so if his conduct and comments in the run-up to his inauguration are any indication of what lies ahead; his unseemly response on Twitter to Congressman and civil rights icon, John Lewis, indicates that he will continue to use his tweets to diminish, delegitimise and denigrate critics and those with different views. This is hardly presidential behaviour. Importantly, he continues to hold on to the controversial views he aired during the election campaign on issues like torture, immigration, Muslims etc. He continues, for instance, to harp on building a wall to keep Mexicans out of the US.

There are institutions such as Congress that can restrain Trump from following through on some of his controversial campaign promises. The question is whether a Republican-dominated Congress will do so. It is expected to go along with Trump with regard to repealing the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, for instance, which Republicans across the board are opposed to. Where Trump and many Republicans are likely to differ, such as how aggressively the government should probe Russia’s role in the presidential election, deal-making with the President can be expected; Republicans will cede ground to Trump to advance the larger Republican agenda. With Trump in the White House, the US seems poised for uncertainty ahead.

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