At the end of many of American president-elect Donald Trump’s political rallies, the Rolling Stones song “You can’t always get what you want” famously and controversially sounded from the speakers. The choice of song puzzled campaign watchers: Was this a message to his opponent Hillary Clinton? Was the man mocking himself? Perhaps the joke was really on his supporters, a warning not to have too high expectations of him? Now that Trump is on his way to the White House – he and his team have about two months to prepare for his inauguration on 20 January 2017– it looks increasingly likely that he will have to backtrack on some of the controversial, sometimes over-the-top promises that made him so popular.
In his victory speech shortly after the election results became apparent, Trump was already more conciliatory, tolerant and presidential. With none of the rowdiness that made him famous and grabbed media headlines, he sounded more like the establishment candidate he had fought on the campaign trail. “To all Republicans and Democrats and Independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It’s time,” he said. “I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans. This is so important to me.”
Trump has not always been consistent in his talk, so it is likely that, as president, he will continue on this course and backtrack on some of the more outrageous ones. So far, contentious utterances have not lost him much support, but it remains to be seen if he can keep his 60 million voters on board as he tries to keep establishment types within the Republican Party and industrial and other lobbies happy.
Banning Muslims from entering the US
Only a day or two after his election, Trump reportedly removed a statement from his website, dated 7 December 2015, which read: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on. … According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population.” Such messages stuck and resonated with his bigoted supporters.
In interviews with supporters in the run-up to and just after the election, banning or at least severely restricting Muslim immigration was one of their priorities.
In interviews with supporters in the run-up to and just after the election, banning or at least severely restricting Muslim immigration was one of their priorities. At a Miami rally, 60-year-old Marilyn, herself a daughter of Paraguayan immigrants, said Muslim immigrants had to be stopped until the US could “vet them 100%”. The attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001 left a big impression on her, she said, and she was convinced that the Qur’an taught murder and hatred.
Kim, a white estate agent from Cleveland, Ohio, said that Muslim people came to America just to terrorise the locals.
Trump also promised “one America, united under one God”, a rallying cry that clearly resonated with many clients at a pro-Trump barber shop that I visited in rural Maryland. People here said that they saw Islam as a threat to America’s Christian foundation – and they voted Trump in the hope that the country would return to its Christian values.
The American constitution guarantees religious freedom and has been amended only 27 times in the past 239 years. It is therefore highly unlikely that it will be amended to suit the whims of a Muslim-hating president.
However, the American constitution guarantees religious freedom and has been amended only 27 times in the past 239 years. It is therefore highly unlikely that it will be amended to suit the whims of a Muslim-hating president.
Building the “great, beautiful wall”
“I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively,” Trump said when announcing his candidacy on 16 June 2015. “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.” He also threatened to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants.
There’s still no consensus amongst Trump supporters over whether his talk about building a wall between the US and Mexico was meant literally and, if so, who would pay for it.
There’s still no consensus amongst Trump supporters over whether his talk about building a wall between the US and Mexico was meant literally and, if so, who would pay for it. Still, none of these details stopped supporters at his rallies from chanting, “Build a wall!” One of the policy portfolios created in Trump’s transition team, titled “Immigration and building the wall”, seems to point to a physical wall, and he states as much in his policy positions on his website. Already, a report on CBS suggests that Trump is backtracking on building the great wall. He told the station that his proposed wall could be “partly fence”. The border with Mexico is more than 3 000km long, of which 1 000km is already fenced or patrolled.
Trump said it would cost USD15 billion to build the wall, although The Washington Post estimated the costs to be nearer USD25 million.
In addition, Trump would need the co-operation of the Mexican president, Peña Nieto, yet the two leaders did not discuss the wall at a meeting a few months ago. Besides, Mexico has made its opposition to a wall clear on a number of occasions.
Obamacare, a health insurance programme introduced by President Barack Obama to widen the net of people with medical care, is one of the first things Trump wanted to see go when he became president. Repealing or amending the Affordable Care Act would, however, not be up to him but up to Congress (which is now controlled by Republicans). Three days after his election, Trump told the Wall Street Journal that he would not, after all, completely throw out all of government-supported health care.
Some provisions of the Affordable Care Act are very popular. This includes stopping insurers from refusing to cover people with pre-existing conditions, as well as allowing young people to be on their parents’ health insurance up to the age of 26.
Still, while supporters complained about the high costs of Obamacare – Kim, an estate agent, for instance, said her employees’ monthly payments for healthcare was killing her small business – many poorer voters are now beneficiaries, never having had health insurance before.
Scrapping free trade agreements
Unemployment in the US stands at just below 5%. Trump has blamed job losses in industries like manufacturing and steel in America’s “rust belt” on imports from China and Mexico. He has promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994 between the United States, Mexico and Canada, and to backtrack on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a broader deal signed this year between 12 nations on the Pacific Rim.
While Trump has some leeway as president in foreign policy, and while most of his voters said they wanted to see these agreements scrapped, most economists say that scrapping free trade agreements are not mainly to blame for job losses. The answer is for America to become more competitive.
Locking up Hillary Clinton
In the second presidential debate, Trump threatened to send Hillary Clinton to prison for sending emails from her private email server when she was Secretary of State, possibly compromising national security. He promised to appoint a special prosecutor to look at her case.
“Lock her up” was a popular chant at rallies. At least one female supporter came to a Trump rally wearing striped jailbird clothes and a Clinton face mask.
In July 2016, an FBI investigation concluded that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against Clinton. However, 11 days before the election, in a surprise announcement, FBI director James Comey announced that the agency was examining newly discovered emails sent or received by Clinton. Just two days before voting, Comey announced that he stood by the July conclusion that Clinton should not face charges.
Trump might still follow through on this threat, but he took a more conciliatory stance towards Clinton in his victory speech: “Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country. I mean that very sincerely.”
He also hinted at healing divisions: “Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division. We have to get together.”
Seeing that Trump has achieved his aim of smearing Clinton and defeating her in the race for the presidency, it is unlikely that he will follow through on this threat. The world holds its breath as Trumps slouches towards the American presidency.