Donald Trump: US President marks another year of controversies

Washington, USAUpdated: Dec 27, 2018, 06:10 PM IST
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File photo of US President Donald Trump. Photograph:(Reuters)

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A political novice, businessman and former fledgling real estate figure whose presidency has been filled with controversies, policy upheavals and high profile exits.

This is President of the United States for you.

A political novice, businessman and former fledgling real estate figure whose presidency has been filled with controversies, policy upheavals and high profile exits.

2018 was no different.

In June this year, Trump held a historic summit with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un

The meeting aimed to lay the groundwork for ending a nuclear stand-off between the countries. The joint statement signed at the end of their meeting pledged to work towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula while Washington committed to provide security guarantees to North Korea.

But as the world applauded the US and South Korea in bringing the unpredictable Kim Jong-un to the talking table, disappointed allies looked on as Trump pulled out the US from a 2015 international agreement with Iran designed to deny Tehran the ability to build nuclear weapons.

Trump said he planned to restore the full force of US sanctions on Iran as the deal was flawed since then Trump has imposed sanctions on several countries trading with Iran, slapping sanctions on them as well including India despite certain waivers.

"In a few moments, I will sign a presidential memorandum to begin reinstating US nuclear sanctions on the Iranian regime. We will be instituting the highest level of economic sanction. Any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States. America will not be held hostage to nuclear blackmail," Trump said.

Kim was not the only dictator Trump cosied up to. In July, he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, talking without aides present for over two hours, then emerging to declare that Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial of meddling in the 2016 election.

In November, Trump took the side of the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who allegedly directed the murder and dismemberment of journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. And as the world leaders reacted sharply to the murder of Khashoggi, his own CIA confirmed that they had audio proof of the Saudi crown prince MBS ordering his brutal murder; a defiant Trump called the proof unconfirmed and speculative.

While most countries have believed in hyphenating the relationship between Israel and Palestine and promising a two-state solution, the US under Trump this year also shifted its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14. Trump's decision to break with decades of US policy and recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel caused significant criticism and violence, with 40 Palestinians being killed by Israeli troops in Gaza during a six-week-long border protest.

So, Trump made several policy shifts, symptomatic of his presidency. He's also had several run-ins with the press.

President Trump left the Group of Seven summit early and announced he was backing out of the joint communique issued by the other leaders aimed at maintaining a fragile consensus on the trade dispute between Washington and its top allies pushing for free, fair and mutually beneficial trade leaving the leaders in disarray and slapping tariffs on steel, aluminium imports from China, the EU and Mexico.

But the biggest blow was yet to come to the global economy. Trump hit China with sanctions on Chinese imports worth US $285 billion, promising more as stocks world over fell, oil prices spiked and currencies tumbled on a potential trade war.

Months later, in December, US and China announced a ceasefire in their tariff wars a pause on the trade wars for 90 days and holding off on raising tariffs by 25% and imposition of additional levies.

The tariffs started small, with duties on washing machines, then ramped up with steel and aluminum, then escalated into a broad range of levies affecting allies like Canada as much as economic foes like China. Agricultural exports were hit hard.

Trump touted his renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), in which Mexico and Canada agreed to new terms ostensibly better for us industry.

Trump also withdrew from what he described as a "hypocritical and self-serving" United Nations human rights council on June 19 over what it called chronic bias against Israel and a lack of reform. The withdrawal, announced by US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, followed the US pulling out of the Paris climate agreement and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. It also came as the United States faced intense criticism for detaining children separated from their immigrant parents at the US-Mexico border.

Trump's choice of the Supreme Court judge Brett Kavanaugh plagued his presidency for months with accusations of sexual harassment against the nominee, but Trump brazened it out as he did on his alleged relationship with adult star Stormy Daniels and the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

He's changed the constitution of the Supreme Court. Approximately one-sixth of all federal appellate judges are now Trump appointees.

He also spurned fiscal conservatism in 2018, boosting spending toward a US $1 trillion annual deficit and ballooning the national debt by the US $1.9 trillion. He also abandoned his populist economic promises, which included raising taxes on hedge-fund managers, providing universal health care, spending on public works and reining in prescription drug prices.

Donald Trump came to the presidency by surprise and has been a disrupter ever since. He's stoked political divisions, breaking policy norms, weakening institutions and disavowing decades of US strategy- how different will 2019 be?