May 4, 2017 10:00 am JST

Editorial: Let's hope the more realistic Trump is for real

Policy pragmatism would put the world at ease and make his own job easier

After 100 days in office and numerous setbacks, there are signs U.S. President Donald Trump may be shifting to a more realistic approach on various fronts -- diplomacy, security and the economy. This, however, has yet to ease the anxiety of the international community.

To put his administration on surer footing, Trump should focus on reducing friction with foreign allies, members of Congress and the media.

Typically, the U.S. media allows a new president quite a bit of latitude in the first 100 days. With Trump, there has been no such honeymoon period, largely because of his long-running hostility toward mainstream news organizations.

Amid the bitter war of words between the White House and the media, Gallup polls put Trump's approval rating at around 40% -- making him the least popular president since the end of World War II.

Another reason Trump's government is struggling to gain traction is that he has failed to bring the Republican Party together. Even though the party holds majorities in both houses of Congress, the administration was unable to muster up the necessary votes for a bill that would have replaced previous President Barack Obama's health care act, known as Obamacare.

Mainstream Republicans, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, advocate a pragmatic strategy of partial reform. In contrast, a group of Republicans with an uncompromising vision of limited government -- dubbed the "Freedom Caucus" -- want Obamacare to be repealed altogether. Trump was unable to mediate between the two.

The rift in the party casts doubt on Trump's ability to implement his overhaul of the tax system, the centerpiece of which would be a dramatic reduction in the corporate rate. Even his much-touted $1 trillion infrastructure investment plan could end up in limbo. Trump's trademark business tactic of talking big to build up expectations could come back to haunt him.

In the global arena, meanwhile, Trump appears to be reasserting America as the "world's policeman," abandoning earlier talk of staying out of international conflicts. But with his close aides -- many of whom are politically inexperienced -- locked in a power struggle within the White House, the administration's goals are hard to pin down.

MISSION: UNCERTAIN A typical example is Syria. Toppling the Islamic State group was initially the Trump administration's priority; the Russia-backed regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was to be left alone for the time being. Yet Trump surprised the world by launching missile strikes on Assad's forces.

Trump's new security posture has clearly cranked up the pressure on North Korea. But without a detailed explanation of what, exactly, his administration hopes to achieve, the dramatic policy shift will hardly support a stable international order. Even more worrisome is the possibility that the shift stems from a desire to divert public attention and shore up Trump's approval numbers.

Back home, Trump's economic policies remain problematic. To his credit, he has so far refrained from labeling China a currency manipulator and withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement -- promises he made on the campaign trail. But his "America first" doctrine is very much alive. Trump still aims to rope trade partners into bilateral deals that would reduce America's trade deficits, using the threat of higher tariffs and other penalties.

At the same time, the president has suggested the U.S. will not be bound by World Trade Organization decisions that run counter to its interests. And he has stated that the dollar is too strong, and that he prefers low interest rates.

Making light of international institutions and attempting to talk down the greenback is unacceptable behavior for a U.S. president.

Though we hope the Trump administration will accelerate its shift to a more realistic policy course, it is too early to count on that. A recent Washington Post poll found that 96% of Trump voters still support him. So a safer bet would be that the administration will continue to prioritize policies intended to benefit low- and middle-income white Americans.

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