US president gains popularity: Do policies trump the person?

Adil Rasheed
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It is often hazardous to argue against conventional wisdom, particularly when there are strong beliefs and sentiments attached to a popular line of thinking. Perhaps, the best way to introduce a contrarian position in such a situation is to ingrain it in the general psyche through subterfuge, a kind of Trojan nuance that exploits any internal chink or contradiction through a plea for a morphed approach. This method is often employed by the accomplished intellectual or a suave political figure like former US President Barack Hussein Obama.

It was through this approach that Obama could present himself as an agent of change in the 2008 elections, but managed to perpetuate the stranglehold of big banks and businesses over the US economy without any opposition from his leftist supporters. He also employed his deliberate ambivalence towards extremist uprisings during the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ that wreaked havoc on the security and stability of the Middle East. He even ramped up NSA spying, kept Gitmo going and allowed a large number of extrajudicial drone killings without sullying his image as a Nobel peace laureate. Thus, President Obama has remained a darling of the liberal bourgeoisie and one of the most popular US presidents around the world.

In complete contrast, we have his much vilified successor in President Donald Trump. Decried as being loud and crass, this president has been called a White supremacist, a Russian agent and a disrupter-in-chief. Whatever the veracity of these charges, Trump is less devious than his predecessors and quite clear about what he stands for. Far from being unpredictable, his policies are remarkably consistent as he takes his promises to the electorate quite seriously. Many political observers may be rightly upset over his brash style and often unbecoming language and conduct, as well as his wrong choice of cabinet members and his lack of sympathy for international causes. But unlike his predecessors, Trump puts America ahead of any imperial globalist agenda and does not care about hiding his failings and shortcomings, which in itself has its benefits and drawbacks.

In fact, President Trump who had Watergate-level opinion poll numbers at the beginning of his term has recently seen a sea-change in his job approval ratings. Two surveys conducted by US media outlets, CNN and Associated Press, have found remarkable similarity in their outcomes — with 35 percent approval ratings in February rising to 42 percent by March. One of the reasons for this notable fillip has been the good performance of the US economy.

According to employment report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in March, the American manufacturing sector added 222,000 jobs, resuming a recovery that had paused in 2015 and 2016, at a rate quite strong by the standards of the last three decades. What is even more impressive is the growth in wages, which is the strongest in more than eight years, while the overall economic growth has been at its highest in 13 years. Another highlight is that this flattering picture is not limited to big business, but small business optimism, as gauged by the National Federation of Independent Business, has reached its highest level in its 45-year history.

According to Trump himself many American and foreign companies are now setting base in the US. Thus, he stated in the State of the Union address in late January this year: “Chrysler is moving a major plant from Mexico to Michigan, Toyota and Mazda are opening up a plant in Alabama … Apple has just announced it plans to invest a total of $350 billion in America, and hire another 20,000 workers.” Trump’s tax cuts on middle class and deregulation efforts are touted as reasons for the present economic upswing.

Even on the highly controversial ‘trade war’ bullying tactics, Trump seems to be scoring some early victories for now. Heeding the pleas of many US allies in Europe, Trump is said to have agreed to grant temporary reprieve against his spike in US steel and aluminum tariffs in lieu of help to bring down the US trade deficit. Many steel companies and car making giants, from Germany to South Korea are reportedly falling in line with US demands. Trump’s brinkmanship is also said to be taming the Asian dragon, with China of all countries urging the WTO to intervene in order to avoid tit-for-tit tariff reprisals across the globe. The fears of a global trade war have since receded with stock markets recovering, as China has started holding talks with the US to bring down the burgeoning US trade deficit, which now stands at a record $375 billion. Perhaps, Trump knew from the beginning that China would concede as the Asian giant has more to lose being largely an export-driven economy.

The possibility of the first ever meeting by a US President with North Korean leader, after Trump’s acrimonious exchanges with Kim Jong Un on twitter over the months, is also a cause for rise in the US president’s increasing popularity in his country. The fact that the North Korean leader at China’s behest has become open to the idea of denuclearization is itself a significant development and could have major implications for other obdurate powers in the Middle East that are still adamant on opposing US demands.

The manner in which possible US-North Korea parleys unfold would be interesting to observe. It is surprising that even though Trump’s personality is still not liked by most Americans, discount the fact that a majority approves of his policies. Perhaps, Trump can never be a popular US president around the world, simply because he openly pursues an ‘America First’ agenda. Still, the time has come for the world to understand and reconcile with Trump for what he is and accept him with all his unique strengths and flaws.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the viewpoint of Al Arabiya English.

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