Global Thoughts: Trump the promise keeper

Gwynne Dyer is a Canadian-born independent journalist whose column is published in more than 175 papers in 45 countries.

by Gwynne Dyer


Donald Trump is a man of his word, and he promised his ‘base’ to build a wall on the US border with Mexico to stop an “invasion of gangs, invasion of drugs, invasion of people.” It turns out that Mexico won’t pay for it after all, so he has declared a fake ‘national emergency’ to get his hands on the money he needs.

It’s fake because the days when huge numbers of illegal immigrants were coming in across that 3,200 km. border are long past. Fifteen years ago it was more than a million and a half people a year. It had fallen to 400,000 by the middle of Barack Obama’s first term in 2010, and has not exceeded that number since.

The wall is largely symbolic, but it is a very important symbol for Trump. It was one of the key promises he made to the true believers in his ‘base’, and it was striking how angry they got at him when it looked like he would be thwarted by Congress. As Ann Coulter said: “The only national emergency is that our president is an idiot.”

But the ‘national emergency’ will probably do the trick for Trump. It will face all sorts of legal challenges, but he will probably win in the courts in the end. In the meantime, he will have around $8 billion to play with, mostly taken from the military and disaster-relief budgets.

It’s only a third of what it would take to build a full border wall, but it will let Trump look busy and persuade the ‘base’ that he is making progress. So there’s one promise kept, more or less. The other one that really counts is his promise to outlaw abortion, but politically he can’t afford to keep that.

Trump has probably managed to create an anti-abortion majority on the Supreme Court by now, but there is a problem for him and the Republican Party if it gives him what he says he wants.

47% of white women voted for Donald Trump in 2016, but around half of them were not part of his ‘base’. They were just traditional Republicans who voted as they always did, some of them perhaps holding their noses this time.

If the Supreme Court reversed its historic 1973 Roe vs Wade decision that made abortion legal throughout the United States, a lot of these women would be very cross with Trump and the Republican Party. Given that Trump only won by a hair’s breadth in 2016, he cannot afford to lose their votes.

Therefore he definitely doesn’t need a big win on Roe vs Wade in 2019 if he wants to be re-elected in 2020. He will be secretly hoping that the Court just nibbles at the fringes of the issue, not reverses Roe vs Wade outright. And the Court is quite likely to do just that, because senior judges hate to overthrow decisions of long standing that enjoy wide acceptance in the society. (Two-thirds of Americans support the current law.)

Trump doesn’t care about the outcome on most issues, probably including this one. He just wants a ‘win’, and he can conjure it up out of the most unpromising material. If the judges make a few minor changes to the law, he will portray it as a triumph and drop the subject.

The real secret of dealing with Trump? Throw him a fish, and he will go away.

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