Will Donald Trump put his policy where his mouth was?

Donald Trump, US president-elect, with president Barack Obama, White House. (REUTERS)

As arguably the most eccentric person to hold the most powerful political post in the world, every action of Donald Trump is being held up to tight scrutiny. Politicians everywhere regularly make promises and announce policies on the campaign trail that they dilute or jettison once they come to power. At times, the policies enacted are the polar opposites of what has been said in public. This practice has become so widespread that it is a reason why voters have turned to mavericks like Mr Trump — there is an aura of authenticity about these non-establishment political figures.

Mr Trump has been particularly difficult to read because he often took contradictory positions during the campaign. So far, he seems to be holding to three elements of his campaign platform. One is to make it much harder for immigrants to enter the United States — most strikingly by building a physical wall on the Mexican border — and to crack down on illegal migrants. Two, to scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership and broadly shift the US to a trade policy in which unilateral actions are more prevalent. Three, to divest the US of its international obligations under the Paris agreement and other climate change deals. On the other hand, he has already begun watering down his earlier opposition to the healthcare programmes of US president Barack Obama and it evident that a Trump administration will be far more muscular in its approach to China and the Islamic State than the outgoing administration.

It helps to realise that Mr Trump’s positions are not necessarily as out of sync with present trends than they may seem. He has announced he will expel three million illegal immigrants in the US. That resonates: Many Americans support immigration, but few support migrants who break the law. More importantly, it is a policy already in place. The Obama administration has expelled more illegal migrants than any presidency in recent history — 2.9 million between 2009 and 2015. The US-Mexico border is already a fortified barricade and adding more cameras and barbed wire will make little material difference.

The real issue will be whether Mr Trump will also put restrictions on the movement of highly-skilled migrants that India is concerned about. On this, he has blown hot and cold. The new administration is on more touchy ground, and not allied with public opinion, in declaring climate change to be a falsehood. It remains to be seen whether Mr Trump will put his policy where his mouth was in this area. What seems evident so far is that the president-elect is prepared to defy not only mainstream opinion but his own party leadership in certain policy areas. But he is not above moderating his stance. Where and why he moves between insurgency and the status quo, however, remains unclear.

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