Waiting for Trump

As Donald Trump’s inauguration looms, fear is growing by the day, both at home and abroad. The reason is not that America’s president-elect regards unpredictability as a virtue; it is that much of the world knows his type all too well.

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Like the tramps in Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot, Americans and people around the world are nervously anticipating Donald Trump’s looming presidency. Of course, unlike Godot, Trump will arrive, and everyone knows when. But, like the stranded Vladimir and Estragon, emotions are running high and changing at dizzying speed, alternating between fear, resignation, black humor, and desperation for any ray of hope in the words and actions of the president-elect.

Indeed, as with Beckett’s play, the meaning of the public display that Trump has made of forging his administration is hard to pin down. “Speculation about Trump’s likely foreign and domestic policies is rampant, but little if any of it is meaningful,” says Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Campaigning and governing are two very different activities, and there is no reason to assume that how he conducted the former will dictate how he approaches the latter.”

Haass is probably right, but the fact is that, aside from some softening of Trump’s rhetoric, signs of hope have been almost non-existent in the transition so far. Yes, Trump has backed away – at least for now – from his threat to appoint a special federal prosecutor to investigate his opponent, Hillary Clinton. But that decision followed a string of alarming appointments: Steve Bannon, former CEO of the extremist Breitbart News and an avatar of America’s “alt-right” white nationalists, as senior counselor and chief strategist; Senator Jeff Sessions, whose racist comments led a Republican-controlled Senate to deny him a federal judgeship 30 years ago, as Attorney General; and General Michael Flynn, who believes that the United States is in a “world war” with militant Islam and that America is under threat from Sharia law, as national security adviser. With avowed hardliners in such key positions, fear about the incoming Trump administration has been increasing by the day.

As Project Syndicate columnists reckon with the coming Trump presidency, they have begun to assess its likely political and economic implications. But, regardless of whether Trump follows through on his key campaign promises, one thing is already certain, says Bill Emmott, a former editor of The Economist:“no one should underestimate the next US president.” Comparing Trump to Silvio Berlusconi, Emmott points out that in the last 22 years, Italy’s business mogul-cum-politician “has won three general elections and served as prime minister for nine years.” Those who “continue to predict his imminent downfall, assuming that he will last only four years in the White House, if he is not impeached before that,” should take note.