Since the electoral victory on November 08, 2016 Donald Trump began articulating the priorities of his government. The issues appeared most crucial to him were the abrogation of the Affordable Health Care Act, deportation of undocumented immigrants, downsizing the government, reduction if not elimination of regulations on trade and business, termination of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP) and giving damn to what's going on in the world. Following the inauguration on January 20, 2017 his focus expanded to include the size of the crowd assembled around the Capitol Hill and berating the media. The day after his inauguration he called the media personnel "most dishonest people" and of late he characterized the mainstream media as "the enemy of the people".
There is nothing wrong in setting priorities of the new administration. Indeed, the smartest thing is to assemble competent people across political divide and task them to work out the agenda with the action plan of the government in waiting. Trump was blessed with a unique position to reach out to people having different political and economic beliefs since he was neither a hardcore Republican nor an eyesore of the Democrats. Some of his electoral pledges coincided with the demands of Democratic Senator Bernie Sander's political cohorts.
AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE: President Trump, however, chose a different trajectory eulogized by ultra-nationalists and ultra-conservatives in the White House. They are committed to undo everything that the previous administration did regardless of the merits of the programmes. One of the executive orders, issued soon after Trump took the office, abrogated the Affordable Health Care (AHC). The AHC, despite some inherent weaknesses, had enrolled over 21 million people who had no prior insurance coverage primarily because of high cost or the insurance companies declined to accept people with pre-existing conditions. AHC had tied up tax credits to income levels and when premium rise, tax credits rise with them, protecting consumers against sudden increases in medical costs. The AHC levied 30 per cent surcharge for those opted to abstain from buying insurance, helped keeping the cost low for low income groups.
By eliminating the cost sharing mechanism the new bill, now debated in the Congress, will increase the deductibles and co-payments for the millions. It will end the Medicaid expansion created by the AHC. Medicaid pays for nearly 50 per cent of the births and long term care in the country. The employers will not be obligated to provide insurance coverage to employees. The new bill will, Congressional Budget Office estimates, leave 14 million people, currently insured, without health coverage at the end of first year. This will soar to 21 million in 2020 and then to 24 million in 2026.
Planned Parenthood provides health care services to millions of working women earning low incomes. The organization is reimbursed for preventive health care, birth control, cancer screenings and sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment. In his election campaign, Trump acknowledged that "millions of women - cervical cancer, breast cancer - are helped by Planned Parenthood." Nonetheless, the new bill calls for defunding the organization for conducting abortions. The new health bill, beyond any doubt, will adversely affect the poor and benefit the rich.
DEPORTATION: Congruent to electoral pledge Trump, in the first month of his presidency, resolved to address undocumented immigrants. He announced to build a "beautiful wall" along the southern border and demanded Mexican government to pay for the wall. When Mexican President emphatically refused to make contribution, Trump ordered deportation. Churches in many states used to be "sanctuaries" for the desperate immigrants and police would refrain from transgressing in the church to apprehend individuals. Now police under instruction of aggressive law enforcement has been rounding up individuals even from sanctuaries and deporting them. There have been appeals from the Republican Senators to exempt the parents of US-born children and not to make the families torn apart. Heartbroken footages have appeared in the media separating mothers from young children for deportation. Human Rights groups have condemned police actions as inhuman, un-American and demanded immediate suspension of mass deportation.
Concerns have been expressed that large-scale deportation would lead to labour shortage in the farming sector as well as in the urban areas. Moreover, the undocumented immigrants should not be viewed as liability and their contributions to US economy must not be undervalued. They contributed $12 billion in the social security program in 2010 and paid $23 billion as taxes in 2015.
DOWNSIZING: The Republicans have been complaining about "dysfunctional Washington" caused by sheer size of the government. They believe the government is behemoth and impede day to day business by making robust regulations. It is estimated that the number federal employees grew by 2.8 million from 1974 to 1997. The new budget will call for a reduction of federal workforce by 1.8 per cent.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development will face a budget cut by $6.0 billion which will oblige the department to undertake massive reduction of housing subsidy and food stamps provided to about 12 million low-income earners. People mostly from North African origins and Latinos are recipient of these benefits. The withdrawal of the safety net has the potential of rendering a large number from amongst the current beneficiaries homeless and destitute which will ultimately create a larger liability for the society.
Environmental Protection Agency will have a budget cut by 20 per cent which will compel the agency, apart from lying off staff, to defund many programmes including climate change research and weather satellite programmes. These two programmes are deeply connected to the Paris Agreement in which the United States is a signatory. Internal Revenue Service, Foreign Aid and the Coast Guards are also being targeted for budget cuts.
The administration has vowed to increase "defence spending" by $54 billion but it is opposed to increase taxes on the corporate houses and affluent individuals while keeping the deficit at the present level. Under these circumstances, the White House has been left with no alternative but to impose "spending cuts" on different agencies. The construction of the wall along the southern border will cost around $12 billion and this will put further strain on the budget.
TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP: Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) brought together 12 countries representing 40 per cent of world economy ensuring fair opportunities to both private and public sectors. It put in place high standards of products and removed barriers in selling American products overseas. In return, TPP countries will have access to US markets. This is the underlying principle of free trade. TPP, in due course, was expected to work as a deterrent against Chinese domination looming large in regional horizon.
Trump has withdrawn from TPP. China promptly came forward and invited the countries in the Pacific region to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a trading bloc being promoted by Beijing. The withdrawal from TPP will have commercial and diplomatic consequences for Washington.
FOREIGN AID: Trump's emphasis on "America First" will undoubtedly result in massive reduction of foreign aid channelled bilaterally as well as through United Nations agencies and NGOs. Trump expressed displeasure for United Nations' very often inability to uphold the wishes of the United States. But he should not lose sight of the fact that UN accomplishes most when the major powers work in cohesion (very often they don't). When major powers are divided and aggressively strive to coerce the UN to serve special interests, it fails to serve the cause it was created for. UN cannot be a party to warfare; it can only be a partner to promote peace.
Defunding the UN or its agencies will destroy the mechanism that still strives to maintain peace in the troubled regions and delivers humanitarian assistance to millions of refugees and displaced population desperately in need.
Trump's rhetoric and deconstruction drive gave rise to hate crimes and vivisection in the society. During the period, in between the election and inauguration, a number of sacred sites of the Muslims, the Jews and the Shikhs came under attacks. Trump took ten weeks to reprimand the perpetrators during his address to the Congress on January 20. But people did not wait. Muslims in Florida raised $91,000 to restore the Jewish cemetery vandalized and Jews collaborated with the Muslims in Georgia to repair the damaged mosques.
The writer is a former official
of the United Nations.
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