Moisés Naím / El País
It is normal for presidents to clash with their political opponents and to have friction with other countries. It is also usual, and indeed healthy, for governments and the news media to not get along; and for presidents to face a bureaucracy that, according to them, does not enthusiastically execute the policies they have promised.
All this is normal. What is not normal is the variety, intensity, vindictiveness, and, sometimes, the banality of the conflicts that originate from the new president of the United States. But Donald Trump is not a normal leader.
Presidents often enjoy a period of high popularity at the beginning of their term. Trump, on the other hand, has the lowest approval rating ever recorded in opinion polls. Attempts to realize his main electoral promises are sinking, he faces threatening criminal investigations against members of his team – some of whom have already been forced to resign – and he fails to fill the vacancies that would allow him to govern better. The leaks of information coming out of the White House are incessant. China is rapidly occupying the global leadership positions that the United States is abandoning, and Putin’s Russia is on the rise and trying to influence the European elections as much as it did the American presidential elections.
In view of the above, one might think that Trump would try to stabilize the situation and build alliances. But the president is doing the opposite. Instead of reconciling, he seeks confrontation; instead of closing the battle fronts, he opens new ones, and instead of uniting, he divides. These are Donald Trump’s three main internal wars.
> The war against his own party: All political organizations have factions and the Republican Party is no exception. Their internal divisions prevented passage of the bill that would have dismantled the healthcare reform spearheaded by Barack Obama. Trump’s reaction? “We must fight them,” referring to the members of his party who were not in favor of his proposal. He has also said that he would support alternative Republican candidates in the midterm elections of 2018 to replace those congressmen and women who do not support him. The reactions from the dissident Republicans were immediate. “Most people don’t take well to being bullied,” said Representative Justin Amash of Michigan. “It’s constructive in fifth grade, it may allow a child to get his way, but that’s not how our government works.” Although both parties will make efforts to show that they have overcome their differences, reality will prove that these divisions have lasting effects. Trump will continue waging war against those who do not support his initiatives, even if it means fighting openly against the leaders of his own party.
>The war against the intelligence community. US intelligence services employ more than 100,000 people working in 17 different organizations. While there have been frictions in the past between this community and the White House, the conflict has never been as strong as it is now. President Trump has said that these agencies are as dishonest as the mass media that disseminate false news. He has also called them “Nazis.” For their part, the intelligence agencies issued a report whose conclusion is that the Kremlin influenced the US elections and that Vladimir Putin has a clear preference for Donald Trump. James Comey, the director of the FBI, has confirmed that his organization is investigating a possible collusion of Trump team members with Russian intelligence agents during the election campaign. The president has said that he now has more confidence in the intelligence agencies “because now we have our people in.” No doubt. But there are about 100,000 people there who are not yet “Trump people.”
> The war against the Federal Reserve. This war against the US Central Bank has not yet begun, but it is coming. Presidents like interest rates to be low, which often stimulates consumption, economic activity, and employment. But if the fiscal deficit increases, so does the amount of money in circulation and prices start to rise, which means it will be the central bank’s duty to raise interest rates to mitigate the risks of high inflation and other economic ills. Again, this tension between the presidency and the central bank, which is common everywhere, could escalate in Trump’s case into a conflict with serious economic consequences. While still a candidate, the current president had already expressed his views about the Chair of the Federal Reserve Janet Yellen. “She should be ashamed of herself,” Trump said. Why? Because Yellen said that interest rates may have to be raised.
These three wars are internal, but Trump’s pugnacity also manifests itself in international relations. And the biggest danger is that his domestic defeats may motivate him to pick fights abroad. He would not be the first leader of a country that uses an external conflict to distract from his internal problems. Putin can give him lessons on that.