My Take

Donald Trump: learning on the job

It’s doubtful he will ever be a great president but, having discovered the complexities of holding office, he may yet become an adequate one

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 12:11am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 12:11am

Nothing prepares you to be the head of a powerful state. Everyone has to learn on the job. Some do it quickly and discreetly, some slower and more chaotically. After making big mistakes and drawing merciless flak from every side, we may be witnessing the education and enlightenment of Donald Trump. His first speech to the US Congress yesterday may well mark a turning point.

Trump lays out his vision for America in speech to Congress

The US president’s greatest weaknesses are also his strengths. Arrogant and conceited, his first instinct is to think he is right and everyone else is wrong. A man with no core ideological beliefs, he is not your typical conservative or right-winger. Unlike diehard ideologues, he can change his mind when overwhelming evidence and empirical facts demand it. It’s well-known that Trump spends a phenomenal amount of time watching partisan news channels such as the right-wing Fox News. They function like an echo chamber and simplify highly complex issues to the point of caricature.

Whether it was the “one-China” policy, Russia, Obamacare or immigration, Trump came to the job having strongly held, preconceived ideas, yet was deeply ignorant of the underlying issues. Now reality has hit him like a brick wall, and he is slowly turning around. Everyone has a different learning style. Trump’s is by getting a bloodied nose.

Trump has been heaping scorn on Barack Obama’s signature achievement: health care reform. Repeal and replace, that’s been his motto. But many experts have said all along the Republicans don’t have a viable plan to replace Obamacare. Now Trump knows, having examined it firsthand instead of listening to TV pundits.

“It’s an unbelievably complex subject, nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” he said.

People thought it was a gaffe. I find it charming. Likewise, his harsh immigration policy; he is coming around to the idea of granting legal status to millions of illegal immigrants who have not committed serious crimes. He is also trying to get Republicans to lay off Medicare and Medicaid, two of the most expensive entitlement programmes.

Democrats respond to Trump’s Congress speech

Beijing saw a teachable Trump earlier than most. That was why it didn’t freak out when he threatened to end the “one-China” policy and impose a military blockade in the South China Sea.

It’s doubtful Trump will ever be a great president. But he may yet become an adequate one.