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Honorary doctor Per T Ohlsson’s thoughts
on President Trump

Lundensaren asked journalist, USA expert and now honorary doctor at Lund University, Per T Ohlsson, about Donald Trump’s first year as president and what can be expected from him in the future.
Donald Trump became president in January this year. Have the policies he has pursued as president been as expected, or have any of the policies surprised you?
“It’s been as expected. Possibly, I have been surprised that he has not been able to gain a somewhat bigger advantage from his own Republican Party’s majority in the two chambers of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The results in terms of legislation have been extremely meagre, of course. This has been most evident on the issue of his predecessor Barack Obama’s health insurance reform, "Obamacare", which Trump and the Republicans want to repeal.” 

What do you think is a sound attitude for those of us in Europe/Sweden to take towards Trump? On the one hand, his statements and actions dominate even the Swedish media and it becomes a kind of spectacle that is hard to ignore, but on the other hand, his policies have real global consequences.
“Yes, there are certainly elements of a spectacle. However, the mass media attention in the rest of the world is unavoidable. It concerns the USA, the world’s biggest economy, the most powerful military power and, at least up to now, the most important democracy.”

Many of Trump’s critics hoped that when he actually came into office, he would begin to act in a more traditional statesmanlike way – a hope that seems to have been dashed. What do you think are the consequences of Trump’s irrational and brusque behaviour?
“Yes, many thought that Trump would be transformed by the responsibilities and obligations of the presidency. Perhaps a little like Ronald Reagan after the 1980 election. As president, Reagan proved to be considerably more pragmatic than as a campaigning politician. However, those who have followed Trump realise that he is what he is: capricious, narcissistic, volatile. The risks of this behaviour are obvious, especially in international crises such as North Korea’s nuclear weapon programme, and in trade matters. In his domestic policy, he has not drawn back from playing on racial antagonism. We have never seen anything like this from an American president in modern times.”

Trump is often presented, by his supporters as well as critics, as a type of president we have not seen before, at least not in a western democracy. Do you think a leader of this kind will cause a backlash in the USA, or does his presidency open the way for more politicians of the same type?
“There will certainly be a backlash. The question is whether it will be sufficiently strong to alter the underlying and paranoid tendencies in American politics that are now coming to the surface. Even though Trump’s general approval ratings are terrible, he enjoys astoundingly strong and enthusiastic support among highly motivated Republican core voters. And without doubt, he has been an inspiration for European right-wing populism, which has made advances in recent years.”

What do you regard as the fateful questions on the horizon for Trump? Taxes, the environment, healthcare, world war?
“With Trump in the White House, every question is a fateful question.” 

Will he remain in office for the entire term until 2020? Do you think he will bid for re-election?
“Yes, I think he will be there for the entire term of office. Now and then, the issue of impeachment crops up in the debate, but it appears impossible as long as the Republicans have a majority in one or both chambers of Congress. In the House of Representatives at least, there will probably still be a majority even after next year’s congressional election. Criticism of the president is widespread even among Republicans in Congress, but his strong position among the party’s core voters means that few Republican politicians dare to definitely distance themselves from him. Trump’s fixation with always winning – it’s like a mantra for him – probably means that he will bid for re-election in 2020.”

Per T Ohlsson is a journalist, writer and Senior Columnist for the Swedish daily newspaper, Sydsvenskan. Honorary doctor at Lund University. Former US correspondent.

Copyright/photograper: Nille Leander