Ben Roback is a Senior Account Executive at Cicero Group and a member of the US Embassy’s Young Leader’s UK programme.
Donald Trump gave an incredible interview from the office of the President of the United States last weekend, as he struck a reflective tone analysing his first hundred days. Struggling under the weight of scrutiny and finding it difficult to navigate legislation through Congress, Trump said: “I loved my previous life, I loved my previous life. I had so many things going.” For the former New York business mogul, whose career success was linked so heavily to a constant relationship with a press that is now deeply hostile, the trappings of Washington do not appear to be all that enticing.
Trump lacks the kind of dictatorial power that would allow him to deliver campaign promises with ease. The judiciary and Congress have been an ever-present thorn in his side since November 2016, limiting the power of the new president in an embodiment of the separation of powers designed to uphold checks and balances.
For candidate Trump, eliminating sanctuary cities was a major part of his rousing stump speeches in towns and cities across America. Last week, a federal judge in San Francisco blocked the president’s executive order withholding funds from sanctuary cities that fail to comply with federal immigration demands.
The White House last week published its tax plan amidst much fanfare and internal spin. In reality, the document was little more than a loose guide to the kind of tax reform that Gary Cohn, the White House chief economic adviser, and Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, would like to see. One side of A4 is no way to propose the largest tax reform since the 1980s. It largely echoed the proposals that Trump outlined as a candidate, with income tax brackets cut from seven to three and the corporate tax rate slashed from 35 per cent to 15% per cent.
However, key elements of Trump’s commitment on the campaign to tax reform were omitted. For observant asset managers, there was no mention of closing the carried interest tax loophole that Trump had campaigned to close. Under current law, carried interest is taxed at the lower capital gains rate (20 per cent) rather than as ordinary income (up to 39.6 per cent). However, in an interview since then, Trump said that the tax break would be “gone”, proving a clear difference between how he has to govern when restricted by compromise with Congress and how he would like to govern as a lone ranger.
The averting of a government shutdown was a rare sign of political compromise and sense in Washington, as both sides stood to lose out. The spending bill, which keeps the government open until September, contained significant rollbacks from the White House, since progress required major compromise with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Despite campaign rhetoric and demands from the conservative right, the bill contained no funding for the border wall and no withdrawal of funding for Planned Parenthood. Irate with the bad deal he was forced to do, Trump threatened a very real political fight in September: “Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!”
Constitutional and Congressional restraints
This all shows that Trump is heavily limited in his power, despite occupying the most powerful political office in the world. It is the very same frustration that Barack Obama expressed when he felt powerless to impose new gun restrictions after a spate of mass shootings. The erosion of this president’s power shows no sign of letting up. By the 2018 elections, opposition momentum seen online and in rallies across the country will give Democrats genuine hope that they can flip the Senate. With the elections to be framed as a referendum on a president who is already historically unpopular, it is hard to see a path for Republicans to increase their majorities in the House and Senate. With a Democratic surge in both chambers of Congress, the power of the president would be diminished even further as the purely mathematical need to compromise increases.
Last week, Trump hinted that this life is a drag compared to the lifestyle he made for himself in Manhattan. “I actually, this is more work than my previous life. I thought it would be easier. I do miss my old life. This – I like to work. But this is actually more work.” Donald Trump pledged in his campaign to drain the swamp. By 2020, he could find that the swamp has drained him. We could be looking at the first one-term president since 1993.