Editor’s Note: This post was written by Elizabeth Vinal.
As with every and any new administration, President Trump will face many challenges and have many opportunities throughout his term. While being a political outsider carries its own challenges, one challenge that might have an even larger impact than this is Trump’s attitude towards other nations, specifically those in the Middle East. This will likely be more of a challenge in the administration because, while President Trump has “outsider” status, he has the advantage of having both legislative chambers controlled by his party. This will allow him to have his agenda with a body full of “insiders” to pass laws to set these plans into action.
Through his campaign, President Trump has rallied supporters against Islamic people and the Middle East. Now that he is Commander in Chief, as well as Chief Diplomat, how will he handle the U.S.’s relationship with these countries? In his article for The Washington Quarterly, Marc Lynch describes Trump’s policy as “belligerent minimalism”, a term addressing the fact that while Trump is outspokenly against what is happening in the Middle East and terrorist groups, unlike a traditional Republican, he is weary of too much military involvement. In line with his “America First” rhetoric, he has shown a desire to keep America out of the Middle East’s problems as well as keep the Middle East out of America, specifically addressing refugees with the travel ban enacted in the first week of his administration. However, without the proper briefing and research into the different issues and situations, President Trump taking a relatively small action could be like dropping a match into a fireworks factory: no one knows exactly what will happen, but odds are it’s going to be dangerous. There are many possibilities as to how this could happen.
Though we have economic ties with many countries in the Middle East that have helped keep certain issues at bay, other relationships we have with some of the countries are ones characterized by malice and aggression. Moreover, something as simple as moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem could cause more aggressive action by the Arabic and Muslim people living in the area, and leaders in these communities have promised so. As previously mentioned, President Trump issued an executive order to stop all travel into the U.S. from nine countries in the Middle East, and though this has now been retracted by the courts, there is still a lasting sense in the minds of many people that the U.S. is no longer a beacon of democracy and acceptance as is stated on the Statue of Liberty, but a nation of self-preservation. This ban on Muslims is exactly the kind of action that makes more people dislike the U.S. and may increase their inclination to join terrorist groups. Since there is so much at stake in this region, how will someone with no political or military experience fare? With the help of the Republican-held legislative branch, probably fairly well.
Along with winning the presidential election in 2016, Donald Trump also helped hold the Republican majority in both chambers, giving him a clear advantage in getting legislation passed. There has been a great polarization in American politics, especially at the highest levels, in the last forty years, so representatives are more likely to vote based on party lines. This is especially favorable for Trump to make good on some of the promises of his campaign, which included retracting or changing many policies that Obama passed during his two terms; many Republican representatives and voters support these actions as well. Together, President Trump and the Republican-held legislative branch can easily repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act once they have an adequate replacement, which is an action very high on the Republican agenda. Some argue that Trump will face opposition once he and the Republicans run out of actions that they agree on, but, even if he did not have support, the power of congressional checks has been decreasing over recent administrations. Neal Devins, a professor of law and government at the College of William and Mary, describes the “toolbox” of the president as “quite expansive” in terms of how he can make sure his agenda gets addressed, so President Trump could easily get around opposition from the hill. Even without using this “toolbox,” Devins notes that it would be nearly impossible, with the current, highly polarized situation, for Democrats and Republicans to come together to stop the actions of President Trump. This may be good or bad for the American people and the world, but there is very little holding back President Trump from acting how he wants to.