The first news conference given by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump since his election victory in November — coming just nine days before he is to take office next week — appears to have done little to allay mounting uncertainties over the incoming administration. Roughly two months after his upset win in the presidential race, there seems no indication that Trump and his team have refined their campaign rhetoric into coherent policy principles that will guide his administration, leaving broad concerns about the unpredictability of U.S. intentions on his watch unaddressed.
He claimed that he will be the “greatest jobs creator that God ever created” as he cited his efforts to bring businesses back to the United States. But the only specific tool he mentioned to achieve that was the repeated threat of imposing heavy border taxes on firms that shift operations overseas. He heaped praise on automakers that either canceled a plan to build a new plant in Mexico or disclosed a plan to boost capacity in the U.S. — in response to his tweets bullying companies seeking to move their production out of the country.
“You’re going to pay a very large border tax if you want to move to another country and fire all of our great American workers that got you there in the first place,” he said. He doesn’t seem to care much about facts when he goes after individual companies to try to pressure them into changing their business plans to please him — Toyota Motor Corp., which joined the ranks of firms targeted by the president-elect’s tweets last week, has no plans to cut or relocate its operations in the U.S. but is building a new car plant in Mexico.
Trump may have been consistent in his protectionist agenda during and since the campaign, but it would be pathetic if that is really going to be a pillar of the new administration’s economic and trade policies. There may have been hopes and expectations that many of his radical remarks during the election were mere campaign rhetoric and that he would take a more pragmatic approach to his presidency. We still may not know, but the Wednesday news conference at Trump Tower in New York did not give many hints that he has fleshed out his policies in concrete terms barely a week before the Jan. 20 inauguration.
His basic posture on U.S. diplomacy also remains to be heard. For the first time, Trump acknowledged that Russia likely hacked the Democratic National Committee and the emails of top Democrats during last year’s presidential campaign, but that does not seem to have been enough to issue a clear rebuke of Moscow for an act that appears to constitute interference in the election in his own country. His stated hopes for better ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, if it results in greater cooperation between Washington and Moscow, would indeed be positive for resolving various international problems, such as crises in the Middle East. But Trump has yet to lay down the principles of U.S. policy toward Russia under his administration that will be convincing to the domestic as well as international audience. His words at the news conference — “If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability” — seem to sum it up.
His “America first” vow to “make America great again” may have been useful as a campaign pledge to woo voters. But just days before taking the helm of the world’s largest economy, his interest still appears to be solely on what matters to his own country. He bemoans the “hundreds of billions of dollars of losses on a yearly basis with China on trade and trade imbalance, with Japan, with Mexico, with just about everybody.” But all he suggests as a solution is the threat of heavy unilateral tariffs on imports from trading partners — without any thought given, it seems, to the impact such protectionist actions would have on the world economy that no doubt would affect the U.S. as well.
Trump said he is confident his administration will win more respect from other countries — naming Russia, China, Japan and Mexico among others — than did the outgoing President Barack Obama or his predecessors. It’s not clear what he meant by “respect,” but the president-elect has yet to show us what values and principles he will pursue to make the U.S. so “great” that other countries will look up to it.
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