Sulky America is out, not playing any more and we don’t know whether to snicker or sob. The repercussions at home will be many – dented pride now, dented profits soon. A talent drain is sure to ensue, unless the situation is reversed. But that can’t happen for four years. Or eight.
OK. America not showing up for the World Cup in Russia next year has nothing to do with President Grump. They got beat by Trinidad and Tobago last week and their qualification dreams were shattered. (More than a dream – ESPN, the sports network, had, until Tuesday night, put the chances of the US team getting through at 97 per cent.) But still, you could almost imagine Trump on the stump last year: “FIFA is the most corrupt sports body in the history of the world. The worst. It’s horrible. When I am elected I will withdraw America from the World Cup”.
I can hear the whoops. Trump has shown that even attacking athletes is cost-free for him politically with his trashing of the National Football League for allowing players to kneel during the national anthem. And folks here care a lot more about American football than soccer.
I can imagine it because the man really does have a fetish for pulling the US out of things. Unesco? Don’t like it, let’s quit before they remember we owe them a ton of money. The 2015 nuclear deal with Iran? Not keen on that either, so I’m not gonna certify it this time around and either Congress toughens it up or I cancel it. That was just last week. What’s next? Nafta, the free-trade deal with Mexico and Canada that has been in place since 1994, would be a lot of people’s guess.
His real fetish, though, is delivering on the promises he made during the 2016 race. Failing to do so is intolerable to him. Anathema. This might be admirable. Part of the cynicism of voters has to do with politicians saying one thing in the heat of a campaign and then forgetting it the moment they are elected. Hillary Clinton said she’d withdraw the US from another trade deal – the Trans-Pacific Partnership – but almost no one believed she’d do it. Trump said he would and he did.
Some political leaders fret about being trapped by pledges foolishly made to voters. Lordy, did I really say I’d hold a referendum? By all the evidence, Trump is not that kind of politician. There isn’t anything he said on the campaign trail that he isn’t gagging to get done or, at the very least, create the impression they are getting done. With some, that’s proving difficult. Like the wall. And draining the swamp, which isn’t going well at all. On those issues where there is an obvious political downside to action, he doesn’t seem to see it. Or just ignores it.
Take Obamacare. Last week saw Trump threw two grenades at the Affordable Care Act passed in the first term of his predecessor. Essentially, they were deliberate acts of sabotage. If he took special pleasure doing so, it’s because probably the worst moments of his presidency so far came when Republicans in Congress repeatedly failed to repeal and replace the law – as promised. He had made the same commitment and thought he’d finally found a way to do it.
But having taken those steps – one allowing small businesses to group together to offer insurance plans outside of the strictly controlled Obamacare framework and the other ending federal subsidies to help the poorest purchase plans under the law – he will also have to now take responsibility if the health insurance industry now goes into a tailspin and premiums skyrocket, as is likely now to happen. Blaming Democrats and Obama will no longer do.
If we had to pick one – just one – promise made by Trump to his voters that he really, really should have let languish it was surely the one about rescinding the nuclear weapons prohibition deal negotiated by the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China with Iran and sealed in 2015. Yet on Friday, he waded straight into waters that just about everyone – America’s main allies, the EU and all three of his top national security advisors – had urged him to avoid. He disavowed the treaty and said he was refusing to re-certify it this time around, even though the United Nations’ own nuclear agency continues to say that Iran is abiding by all its provisions.
The certifying thing was the big problem. It stuck in his craw. As part of its acceptance of the Iran deal two years ago, Congress required the president – then Obama – to go through the re-certification process every 90 days. Trump had done it twice before deciding he just couldn't bring himself to any more. How could he give his seal of approval to a treaty he had so viciously denounced to the Americans who voted for him? He dug in, ignored his advisors, including Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Advisor, H. R. McMaster, and refused.
And, politically speaking, so far so good. His base is celebrating. Trump belongs to them and he has made good in as many days on two big things, Obamacare and Iran. Or started to.
Yet, if there is peril with what he did about Obamacare, something far more dire threatens on the Iran front. He did not rescind it, passing the baton to Congress to amend the law as pertains to the deal to make it far tougher on the regime in Tehran, including automatic triggers to snap back sanctions if it strays out of the treaty’s bounds and possibly removing sunset causes that foresee restrictions on its nuclear programme expiring on certain dates. But that will not be easy, not by a long chalk, especially where 60 votes in the Senate would be required. That means Democrats joining hands with the Republicans on the issue.
Trump, however, stated that if Congress fails to do as he is asking, he will unilaterally pull the US from the deal. The implications of that are not pretty. The US would be isolated from its allies. Iran would feel emboldened to take its own exit from the deal and resume whatever it was doing before in the nuclear field. America’s credibility seeking to negotiate any similar deals with other countries – North Korea is one candidate – would be shot.
None of that is good. Not for the world and ultimately not for Trump either. But he slept well last night knowing he’d made his base happy doing what he said he’d do.
David Usborne: Trump will ruin the US to deliver on his campaign promises