HAVANA — Donald Trump came to the presidency of the United States while opposed by the leaders of his own party, without the support of the main economic groups, under attack by the mainstream media, and despite the vote of a majority of the electorate.
Such an alienation from the system’s basic mechanisms, by themselves beset by political polarization and the discredit of their components, was inevitably reflected in the composition and functioning of his Cabinet, as well as in his relations with the rest of the state apparatus.
The governance team, formed counter to the traditional criteria for selection and the fears of possible nominees, was finally shaped by a rather eclectic mixture of fundamentalist conservative ideologues, big-businessmen, retired military officers and close relatives, perhaps the only people who the president really trusts.
These persons are not united by visions and common projects, which explains the image of chaos, the divisions and the internal conflicts that have characterized the first few months of the Trump administration.
That environment has also been seen in Trump’s relationship with Congress. Despite enjoying a Republican majority in both houses, Trump has been unable to articulate it in terms of his main proposals, and none of his legislative initiatives has been passed by Congress, so far at least.
To this should be added the siege created by the mainstream media, plus the start of several investigations related to national security issues, i.e., the alleged illegal links to Russia or possible acts of corruption due to the role of his enterprises in the world market.
Under these conditions, Donald Trump’s domestic policy has been limited to trying to reach some sort of consensus with the political class he criticized so harshly in his campaign. That explains the reversion of some of his proposals and the anxious search for allies, especially among the Republican Congressmen, themselves preoccupied by their own divisions.
To a great degree, foreign policy falls hostage to this situation and shows the same lack of definition. So far, it is not possible to identify a foreign policy doctrine that could serve as a guideline to the actions of this administration, thereby the incoherence (even the contradictions) that emanate from the discourse and actions of Trump himself and his principal functionaries.
Cuba is a good example of the toxicity this dynamics can acquire. Beyond the obsession to overturn everything the previous president did (a factor not exempt from the racism that unified the white Republican electorate), there isn’t a single reason to justify the distancing from the policy designed by Barack Obama toward the island. Donald Trump himself acknowledged this at the start of his campaign and said so with few reservations.
Later, he changed his mind. First, to gain the support of the more conservative Cuban voters in South Florida. Eventually, it wasn’t a determining vote (not even a majority vote) in the Cuban-American community, but under the conditions of the campaign, especially at the time of the primaries, it was important from a symbolic point of view, given that his main opponents were conservative Cuban-Americans.
After he gained the presidency, the problems to approve his initiatives arose with the Republican vote in Congress. So did the investigations, which even threaten him with the possibility of impeachment.
Because of this, the Cuban-American Congressmen acquired a special value. Of particular importance was Marco Rubio, a senator destined to keep his post for the next six years, a member of the Committee on Intelligence in charge of these investigations. During the campaign, Rubio received the support of some of the most important Republican financiers.
Rubio allowed himself to be loved and offered his support in exchange for a commitment to revert U.S. policy toward Cuba. He didn’t do so because it represents the interests of a majority of Cuban-American voters or because he clings to a patriotic feeling but because it was a way to regain the weight that the Cuban-American right enjoyed regarding the issues of Cuba and Latin America in general. It was like a dog urinating to mark its territory.
What Rubio sought was the recognition of his influence on a national scale; a policy of rapprochement with Cuba conspired against that.
It was simply an exercise in domestic policy, where Trump sold U.S. relations with Cuba for a support that he considered convenient for his government, even for his own survival. It wasn’t a gesture of force but a manifestation of weakness — something that could be very dangerous.
Trump must have though that it was a good deal, because Cuba is not among his political priorities and he thought he could auction it. He even might have thought that he didn’t sell the substance of the product and what’s done is reversible — if the business world recommends something else tomorrow. To understand all this, you need a pocket calculator.
However, because all policies require rationalization, there are people in the Trump administration who could take advantage of the opportunity to fill the doctrinal vacuum with their ideological visions.
Already, Vice President Mike Pence, a fanatical conservative with a manifest interventionist vocation, is talking about “regional responsibilities” to explain U.S. policy toward Cuba and Venezuela.
That is worth paying attention to. It’s more important than the spectacle of the big blond guy parading through Miami like a turkey in a hen house, eager to receive the frenzied adulation of a group of Hispanics who evidently he likes more than others. Maybe because of the fantasy of the Bay of Pigs, whose true story apparently nobody has told him.