Why Donald Trump is declaring war on all fronts

February 03, 2017 09:28
By unleashing extreme measures and examining the response, US President Donald Trump can identify his friends and foes in Washington. Photo: Reuters

Almost immediately after he assumed office, US President Donald Trump is quickly delivering on his campaign promises one by one.

Recently, he has been busy signing executive orders in the Oval Office undoing the legacy of his predecessor.

From banning Muslims from entering the US, to building a wall along the US-Mexico border and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), it appears Trump is determined to deliver on his election promises and carry out his blueprint regardless of the opposition and dismay from the liberal elites who used to dominate the political scene in Washington.

Many political pundits are puzzled why Trump is declaring war on all fronts instead of seeking reconciliation with the political establishment in Washington at a time when the country is still recovering from the wounds of his election campaign against Hillary Clinton.

There is a reason for Trump's provocative actions. By upsetting the liberal elites with politically incorrect measures such as banning Muslims from setting foot on US soil, what Trump is trying to do is provoke a backlash from these traditional elites.

And the stronger the backlash, the more likely that moderates across the country would be drawn to his side because they are fed up with the liberal elites, thereby further mobilizing public opinion behind him.

Besides, by unleashing extreme measures and examining the response, Trump can also identify his friends and foes in Washington, so that he can decide who can keep their jobs and who should be replaced by people who share his views and values.

From Trump's point of view, what is threatening his presidency is not Islamic terrorism or illegal immigrants from Mexico but the liberal political establishment in Washington that has been dictating the national agenda for the past several decades.

And Trump is well aware that he would be fighting an uphill battle pushing for his policy initiatives over the next four years unless he can successfully counter the influence of the traditional liberal elites.

Let's not forget Trump got elected because he succeeded in tapping into the grievances of average Americans against the hypocritical political establishment.

And that explains why he is further antagonizing the traditional liberal elites rather than mending fences with them after he took office.

Only by magnifying his domestic enemy and keeping his country polarized can Trump keep those grievances alive and growing, thereby strengthening his public mandate and popularity.

In other words, unlike all of his predecessors, Trump's presidency is built on divisions rather than unity.

In a sense, Trump's approach has quite a lot in common with Mao Zedong's class-struggle philosophy.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 2

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal