If we keep score, based on President Donald Trump’s campaign promises, there is the failure to repeal Obamacare; the achievement, though with a dubious Senate rule change, of confirming a conservative Supreme Court justice; and the huge unknown of tax reform.
On the world stage, however, success and failure are often harder to measure. Many Americans cringe at some of the conflicting steps Trump has taken during his 12-day trip to Asia: forgiving, but then critical, toward China’s trade policies; and having only a brief encounter with Russian President Vladimir Putin, then puzzlingly accepting Putin’s denial of meddling in the 2016 election; and calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “short and fat” in a tweet.
President Trump seeks attention and seemingly always gets it. Even at crowded summits, including the many stages on his lengthy travels in Asia, all eyes are on him. The world is still trying to figure him out. He jabs at America’s foes, and even sometimes at its friends; while Trump’s critics find it hard to land a solid blow because they are not sure what they are criticizing.
We may never know whether Americans will benefit from Trump’s style of globe-trotting. Would America’s standing in the world have been better with Hillary Clinton as president?
Conventional wisdom is that she would have done better, compared with the political novice who is learning the ropes in his first year as a policy-maker while defying norms of acceptable behavior.
Yet those who felt America’s prestige and influence were slipping during the Barack Obama years — and that faction apparently numbered nearly half of the voters in the United States a year ago — are equally certain that the global scene needed a disruptive shake-up.
International trade is a complex topic, but it is at the core of U.S. economic life. Again, it is hard to know what would have happened if Clinton were president and America had continued to embrace the multi-partner economic deals that Trump rejects.
But is Trump correct, or is he simply marching along a path set by his former strategist, Steve Bannon, who helped turn a real estate tycoon into America’s great economic nationalist? Trump — who decided to remove the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership accord — claims that the United States will enjoy more prosperity if he negotiates one-on-one deals with dozens of nations that pledge reciprocal trade.
In Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and finally the Philippines, he offered to negotiate separate trade deals with any country that “plays by the rules.” At least 10 of the Trans-Pacific Partnership nations, including Canada, signaled that they will first focus on forming their own trading bloc to exclude both China and the United States.
One result may well be higher prices to be paid by Americans for clothing and electronics from Asia, including many small consumer items that we have loved to buy cheaply for decades. U.S. manufacturers also may find some foreign markets harder to enter, in the name of the president’s “economic nationalism.”
Watch Trump closely as he returns to what he calls the swamp of Washington: back to questions that include the fate of his tax proposals and the Russia collusion allegations. When he ad-libs and shares his latest moods on Twitter, the president may seem a bit more quirky than usual.
Cut him some slack, as the cause may mostly be jet lag.
Dan Raviv is senior Washington correspondent for i24News.