Jesse Harrison Lowe interviewed Dr Andrew Priest about what to expect from President Donald Trump
It’s not new news. Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential election back in November, and today marks the day of the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States.
Much has been made of the businessman’s rise to political power, yet other than his aim to “make America great again”, little is known about Trump’s plans or policy. We took it upon ourselves to learn some more about the new President. There have been significant doubts cast over Trump’s ability to fill the Oval Office, so we interviewed academic expert on America, and Essex professor, Dr. Andrew Priest, in a bid to learn some more about the star of The Apprentice turned Commander in Chief.
“Many people in the Republican Party don’t like him, and some hate him”
JHL: Trump made lots of promises over the course of his campaign. What is the likelihood of any of them coming to fruition?
AP: This is, of course, a very difficult question to answer because Trump is such an unusual candidate with no political experience. He has one obvious advantage at this early stage and that is that the Congress is Republican, so he should, in theory at least, be able to work more easily with it than if it was Democrat. Having said this, many people in the Republican Party don’t like him and some hate him, while his political capital will have to be used carefully. He will have it in the early stages, but it can quickly slip away, especially because he will have to think carefully about which areas he chooses to focus on. Take one of those areas: healthcare reform. At the moment, Trump and the other Republicans are generally united against ‘Obamacare’. They seem far less clear on what will replace it, and this might soon expose some deep divisions (see Trump’s general comments in the last few days) when they don’t have Obama to complain about. On the many other issues, it will depend on which issues Trump chooses to prioritise and how much resistance he gets. Some kind of push on immigration reform seems likely. Whether this means the infamous wall will be built remains to be seen…
JHL: Is the Trump we see the ‘real Trump’?
AP: I can’t answer this question. Perhaps listen to that infamous tape to get a sense of the real Trump?
JHL: Would you be able to give a short forecast with regards to the US’s current relationship with Russia?
AP: As a historian, I’m reticent to make predictions, but Trump’s behaviour towards Russia is out of step with many on both sides of the political divide in the US, as both Democrats and Republicans regard Russia with suspicion. Following last week’s ‘revelations’ about Trump’s visit to Russia, as well as the reports of Russian hacking, who knows what will happen, but I wonder whether Trump’s re-set of relations with Russia and Putin will be as easy as he thinks. Others, including the Obama admin, have tried to do it and failed. The main issue this exposes is Trump’s inexperience and willingness to oppose a government agency, the CIA, while appearing to be more supportive of a foreign nation, with which the US has had a difficult relationship. This is, frankly, bizarre and does not bode well. I expect he’ll have to modify his position or face domestic opposition in the future.
“The main issue this exposes is Trump’s inexperience and willingness to oppose a government agency”
JHL: There have been growing comparisons between Reagan’s presidency and predictions for Trump’s. Can these comparisons be deemed valid?
AP: The comparisons with Reagan are mostly Trump’s own as far as I can see because Reagan is loved by conservatives in the US and he’s hoping that some of Reagan’s stardust rubs off on him. There are a few things that seem Reaganesque, especially cutting taxes (almost certainly for the rich) and increased spending on the military. Other areas seem to be a bit less so. Trump has talked about a big public works programme that Reagan would be deeply suspicious about (again, whether Trump will be able to do it is open to question). More broadly, I can see that Trump’s populist rhetoric is somewhat appealing to similar constituents as Reagan, although Trump speaks very differently from the way Reagan did. I would always urge caution when making these kinds of historical comparisons, but one president Trump does remind me a bit of is Richard Nixon. Nixon was a very odd character, who exploited people’s fear at a time of great uncertainty, especially by focusing on law and order and changing the nature of American foreign policy (although differently from Trump’s ideas). One very big difference is that Nixon was publicly quite staid and really let rip in private. Trump is very public about people he doesn’t like… But both Reagan and Nixon had political experience. Nixon had been a Senator and Vice-President. Reagan was involved in the movies, but he had then become a political figure, first in a small way as president of the Screen Actors Guild and then as Governor of California. Trump, on the other hand, is a businessman who became a reality TV star.
JHL: To what extent could Trumps rhetoric impact how the world views progressivism in America?
AP: I think it already has. Just think of the contrast with Obama. It’s impossible to imagine him doing anything of the things that Trump has done and said. For me, the rhetoric is important here. Obama has actually been harsh on immigration, deporting many illegal immigrants. Yet it’s the language that Trump uses that people take notice of, in the US and beyond, whether it’s about Mexicans, Muslims, women, or whoever. This gives licence to certain people and groups and marginalises others, especially minorities. Perhaps more than this, however, I think many people around the world are simply baffled that Americans could have elected someone like Trump.
Our thanks go to Andrew for taking the time to answer our questions, and give a clearer indication of what we can expect from the Trump presidency. Much has been predicted to change in the United States under Trump and today signals the start of that process. Only time will tell how different the world is once Trump has left office.