The political establishment in the US has classified him as an aberration, a coincidence of unfortunate circumstances, and a political phenomenon, certainly a nuisance and maybe even a scary, unpredictable man.
They do so because Donald Trump is not and does not want to be “one of them”.
In fact, he campaigned on the elite’s failure to understand the depth of frustration among ordinary people hit by globalisation. He plays by his own rule book, is in his own way consistent, knows what he is doing, what he wants, and how to get there.
To succeed, he needs friends outside the establishment. And he got them. American politics have been taken over by the big oil companies and corporations. The big ambition is to engineer a swing from the US, being the third-largest global net importer of fossil fuels, to a net exporter, mainly through export of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). The larger goal is to create protections for big business, both domestically and internationally.
To pursue these ends, Trump has mobilised the whole state apparatus.
Roadblocks put up by previous administrations are phased out and the green light is given for drilling, including off-shore.
The main activity of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today is not to “protect the environment”; instead, it is busy revoking a long list of regulations and rules introduced to improve environmental quality and protect citizens against toxic substances.
Deregulation normally linked to the 1980s almost dwarfs, compared with the sweeping dismantling of regulatory frameworks that has been happening over the past year. Restrictions on financial institutions introduced after the global financial crisis are disappearing, and the door is opening for financial institutions to repeat the reckless behaviour that provoked the 2008-2009 crisis.
Congress approved a tax reform at the end of 2017. It introduced lower corporate taxes, benefitting large oil and financial institutions, and lower taxes for higher income brackets. Basically, it is Republican policy sold to the electorate as a measure to stimulate the economy, without mentioning the medium-term negative effects for the middle class and public debt.
Foreign policy, too, has been submitted to the pursuit of these goals. The Chinese market for LNG, expected to be the biggest one in the future, must be conquered. That explains foreign policy vis-a-vis China, North Korea, and oil and gas exporting countries in the Middle East.
According to the rumours going around in diplomatic circles, a more aggressive trade policy is in the pipeline. This may involve not only castrating the World Trade Organization (WTO) and leaving the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), but specific cases of temporary import restrictions.
Meanwhile, on the domestic front, to ensure the support of his base, Trump has been keeping true to his campaign promises.
A string of measures introduced to make it more difficult for foreigners to enter the US is presented as a step to protect Americans from terrorism. A superb use of declaratory policy, it sounds good and appeals to the xenophobia among Trump’s supporters.
The wall at the Mexican border is moving from being talked about to reality. In early January, Congress was asked for $18bn to build more than 700 miles of barriers.
Obamacare was not abrogated, but turning off financial flows through executive orders turns it into a shadow of what it was intended to be.
To push through all these policies, Trump has had to control or sideline, in one way or another, all three pillars of the state – executive, legislative, and judicial. He cares neither for the constitution, nor for political traditions and etiquette.
The executive branch is facing drastic cuts in financing and staff, and is focused on dismantling the regulatory system.
Trump likes to operate through executive orders, circumventing the legislative branch. Congress has been pushed aside and almost no time has been set aside for building coalitions. Trump’s partnership with the Republican congressmen has mainly been focused on removing Obama-era regulations.
Trump’s administration has also challenged the judiciary, which has tried to block some of his executive orders. Almost surreptitiously, he has taken advantage of a high number of judicial vacancies to appoint more federal judges, in his first year as president, than any of his predecessors.
He has even been able to exploit the animosity of the establishment media to serve his agenda. Accusing cable networks and newspapers of deceiving the public and publishing “fake news”, he has encouraged his supporters to reject mainstream media outlets. But, more importantly, he has used the media obsession with his persona to drive attention away from major policies he is pushing for.
Much of what he does flies under the radar because the media and general public pay attention to the controversial tweets he posts on a regular basis.
In short, Trump has proven to be quite effective at achieving what he wants. And that makes him quite dangerous.
Over the past year, he has demonstrated that the checks and balances supposedly set in place in the US political system, to prevent a president from pursuing rash and ill-considered decisions, do not really function properly. By the time he is done with his presidential term, he might have done irreparable damage to the US political system and US foreign relations.