During the 2016 US presidential election campaign, the world was introduced to billionaire businessman Donald Trump. The populist candidate repeatedly touted his self-described unrivalled deal making skills and criticised President Obama for making deals that harmed the United States, its economy and its reputation as global leader. Candidate Trump insisted that his success in real estate and the negotiation skills that he had developed in that field would translate well into politics.
However, as President Trump marked the one-year anniversary of his inauguration in January 2018, he was unable to either prevent or swiftly put an end to the government shutdown that marred the occasion. The shutdown came into effect because President Donald Trump refused to accept a bipartisan solution to various immigration issues, including the building of the US-Mexico border wall and the renewal of the Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals program. This led to a three-day stalemate, during which the Democrats refused to fund the government until immigration was dealt with, and the Republicans refused to consider the immigration issues until the government was funded. Throughout this impasse, President Trump, according to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, was "glaringly absent".
President Donald Trump’s inability or unwillingness to take a leadership role in difficult negotiation processes is a concerning development not just for US domestic politics, but also for US foreign policy and diplomacy. The international community expects the United States to play a leading role in peacekeeping and peace building processes. This confidence in the United States requires its leader to be a fully involved and well-informed participant in negotiation situations, both at home and abroad.
However, while President Donald Trump’s lack of leadership during this recent government shutdown is a concerning development, it is not an entirely new one. Throughout 2017, President Donald Trump made repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, one of his key campaign promises, but was never able to close the deal. As it has often been demonstrated during his first year in office, President Donald Trump does not have an adequate understanding of policies and policy making processes aside from those that address or affect trade and the economy.
President Donald Trump’s lack of understanding of various policy areas is not only harmful to his branding as an effective dealmaker, but also poses a great risk to the United States’ survival and national security. It has become evident over the past year that President Donald Trump is often easily influenced by the polarising opinions of his advisors, members of his cabinet and others around him at any given time due to his lack of understanding of policy.
In order for the United States to retain the world’s confidence in its status as being a global leader and remain a viable and revered party at negotiation tables, President Donald Trump must realise that "negotiating in politics is a lot different than real estate" as Republican strategist Alex Conant stressed. As Donald Trump himself said during the 2013 government shutdown that occurred under President Barack Obama’s watch, "the President has to lead". This means that further chaos in the form of government’s shutdowns should be avoided or at the very least contained with the President at the helm.
The President has a responsibility to his population and to the international community to familiarise himself with the United States' wide-ranging domestic and foreign policy objectives. While some failed deal making opportunities may be overlooked or forgiven due to the turbulent nature of domestic politics in the United States, potential diplomatic failure at an international level with countries such as Iran or North Korea would have a devastating effect on the security and stability of the international community.
This is why the value of deal making should never be underestimated, because President Donald Trump is the one person in the world who can least afford to do so.
Meghna Srinivas is the United States Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs.