Trump is a commercial tycoon turned political typhoon. He’s taken a sledgehammer to the political establishment, steamrolling through the Republican primary and then snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in the US presidential election. Since then, there’s been no break from this dizzying roller-coaster ride. Core foundations and political tenets have been shaken. The transatlantic alliance, NATO’s collective defense, free trade, a free press, rule of law, all have been challenged. It’s been bunker, not beacon America.
Yet, looking beyond the fog of Trump’s tweets, it’s becoming clear that, in spite of Republican control of both houses, his Presidency isn’t going to be all smooth sailing. What seems to be effective in countering Trump is a “Gulliver strategy” – a convergence of many different smaller actors to contain him, as in Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels. In this classic, the protagonist Gulliver is washed ashore after a shipwreck and awakes to find himself pinned down by a multitude of tiny people, inhabitants of the island country of Lilliput.
What we are seeing is a multitude of smaller actors outside of Washington D.C. restraining Trump. Lawyers, judges, attorneys and citizens all rallied against Trump’s immigration order back in January. At least 44 US states are so far resisting the voter data request from the Trump Commission. And an army of mayors are countering Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.
The last in particular is an example of how he can be side-lined. Trump may proclaim that he’s withdrawing the US from the Paris deal, but US climate ambition can continue without him. Just recently, 1.400 US mayors, Republicans and Democrats, pledged to support cities’ adoption of 100 per cent renewable energy by 2035. Governors and US states have also pushed ahead. And they can make a huge impact. According to an analysis by Carbon Brief, these states have enough power to reduce their own emissions to such an extent that the US could still meet the CO2 reduction target committed to under the Paris Agreement.
These actors need strengthening! That means it’s time to dust-off the old city partnerships, build bridges between European regions and American states, and bring different players together. For example, the German region of Baden-Wuerttemberg has together with California launched the Under2MoU climate initiative in 2015. It includes a total of 176 jurisdictions representing 1.2 billion people and Trump’s Paris withdrawal is the perfect opportunity to now bring more US states and cities to join this initiative.
There’s been too much hoping that individuals in the administration like McMaster, Tillerson, Kushner or House and Senate Republicans might have a stabilising, tempering influence on Trump. They don’t. Trump is a one-way train. And as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German anti-Nazi dissident and pastor, once said “if you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction”.
House and Senate Republicans are likely to discontinue their support of Trump once their voter base starts to shrink. But in the meantime, the checks and balances on Trump’s Presidency are the many local and regional actors, the brave men and women doing their jobs working in the media, judiciary, law enforcement, and so many other places.