Relax. The US Constitution is designed to hobble presidents. It divides power between the president, US Congress and the judiciary , giving no branch an overriding authority .Each is subject to checks and balances. Neither legislators not judges feel inferior to or obliged to kowtow to the president. He has to negotiate with even minor Congressmen for legislative support. If instead he tries to bludgeon his way forward, he suffers humiliating setbacks.Trump has proved that repeatedly. Again and again he has charged forward with high-volume rhetoric and been tripped up. With every trip, he looks less fearsome, and sometimes comical.
His latest humiliation has been the forced postponement of his Bill repealing Obama’s healthcare scheme, something central to his platform. His own Republican Party’s right wing refused to go along, saying Trump’s changes were not radical enough. Trump says Obamacare will implode anyway . But the world now knows that the Republican ma jority in Congress has a mind of its own -as was true of Democratic majorities when Democratic presidents were in power. Trump will have to wheedle and cajole, not bludgeon. He may have to dilute or abandon many proposals.
Earlier, Trump made headlines by imposing stringent curbs on the entry of any citizen of seven Muslimmajority countries. This affected even US green card-holders and honchos of multinational companies and international organisations.Many panicky Indian US residents cancelled foreign trips for fear they would not be able to re-enter the US.But the courts quickly struck down the visa curb. Disappointed but not cowed, Trump reintroduced the curbs in a new form. Once again the courts said no.
He has sworn to bring jobs back to the US, and stopped a fast-track route for Indian software engineers to get H-1B visas. Panic spread when one legislator introduced a Bill to raise the minimum wage for H-1B visa holders from $60,000 to $130,000 a year. But this Bill was introduced by a Democrat, not a Republican, and is not taken seriously.(Silicon Valley is dead against it.) US legislators routinely introduce hundreds of new Bills per year, of which 90% never see the light of day .According to a top US lobbyist, the few such Bills that pass take on average six years, well beyond Trump’s current term. So, while Trump will at the margin affect Indian software companies, panic is unwarranted.
He is keen to identify and detect illegal immigrants. But many big cities (including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, Boston and San Francisco) are `sanctuary cities’: they refuse to act against illegal mig rants, viewing these as valuable wor kers. Trump has threatened to cut funding to sanctuary cities, yet they have not budged. In India it would be unthinkable for mayors to defy the government on illegal migration, but the US is very different.
Against the Wall
Trump wants to build a huge wall on the Mexican border and get Mexico to pay for it, maybe through a tax on imports from Mexico. There’s no sign of Congressional support for such a tax, which would violate WTO rules.
He has promised a big tax cut along with massive infrastructure spending to revive the economy . The stock markets are looking forward to a big fiscal stimulus. Yet the Re publican core strongly opposes lar ge fiscal deficits, so Trump has his work cut out.
To bring jobs back, Trump propo ses a Border Adjustment Tax (BAT).
Many variations of this are being discussed. One version will stop allo wing imports as a cost to companies, increasing the tax burden of compa nies that import. This will make im ports more expensive but yield few additional jobs. Big retailers like Wal-Mart are lobbying fiercely aga inst any move that will greatly incre ase consumer prices, especially for the cheap goods bought by low-income folk forming Trump’s core constituency . A long hard legislative battle lies ahead for Trump.
None of this means he is powerless. He has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama, and sworn a shift to bilateral trade deals. But that’s less than revolutionary , since TPP had already been nixed by US Congress last year. That humiliated Obama, showing yet again how limited a president’s powers are. Earlier, President Bill Clinton painstakingly negotiated the Complete Test Ban Treaty (CRBT), but then Congress said no.
Trump has vitiated the US atmosphere on race, religion and migration.Yet that vitiation happened long ago, and actually facilitated his election.He is inconsistent, makes false or dubious charges, and ignores political courtesies. But he was elected by voters aware of these many traits. Opponents fear his new Supreme Court appointments will make it right wing. But all presidents are entitled to choose judicial candidates.
In sum, Trump will indeed change the US in various ways. But the US Constitution ensures that presidents are subject to major checks and balances. That will limit what he can do to minority rights, immigrants and internationalism.