I met Senator John McCain a few times this year and a couple of things he told me about Donald Trump stick in my mind. First, on what the commander-in-chief might do next: “How the hell should I know?” Second: “Don’t judge him on what he says, judge him on what he does.”
So, with both comments in mind, let’s consider ten good things that Trump will do for America and the world during 2018, all with the caveat that forecasting his tomorrow let alone his next 12 months is perilous at best. Are they predictions? Are they naive? Almost assuredly. Or take them as free advice to a struggling president whose approval ratings, with under a year until crucial midterm elections for Congress, are so deep the basement you can hardly find them.
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1. He will never wean himself from Twitter, because he uses it so effectively to reach and pep up his base. But it is also where he did himself the most damage in 2017 by filling his feed with egregious provocations – remember his re-tweets of anti-Islam images first posted by Britain First – and insults, especially to the media but even to the leadership of both parties on Capitol Hill. That’s the Trump talk that McCain and others despair of. Watch as Trump gets more artful in his use of social media and less needlessly destructive.
2. It’s finally time to engage with the Democrats on the Hill. He promised to do precisely that on Twitter last week. “At some point, and for the good of the country, I predict we will start working with the Democrats in a Bipartisan fashion. Infrastructure would be a perfect place to start. After having foolishly spent $7 trillion in the Middle East, it is time to start rebuilding our country!” Of course that will require the Democrats to respond in kind. With the mid-term elections looming next November, they may prefer not to. But Trump knows he must try.
3. London is calling. He will go and achieve something like grace even in the face of a frosty welcome. His failure so far to drop by America’s most trusted ally is starting to get embarrassing so expect it to happen soon, perhaps as early as February for the opening of the new US Embassy at Nine Elms on the banks of the Thames. The American media will lap up the trip even if he doesn’t get to Buckingham Palace and with expectations set so low, it shouldn’t be beyond his diplomatic skills even to make the British like him a little better than they do now. You never know, maybe thereafter they’ll invite him back for the big Royal wedding in May.
4. As he himself has signalled, the first fruit of a new relationship with the Democrats could be finding the cash to upgrade America’s crumbling infrastructure. It’s one of the big promises he made during the campaign that so far he has done nothing about. And it’s also the one thing that the Democrats would have trouble resisting. It would mean jobs. And wherever you live in America, the years of under-investment in roads, railways, bridges, airports are are plain to see. It’s not clear that the tax bill he signed on Friday will do much to save the Republicans from a drubbing in November. This could be his political-game changer of 2018.
5. He will quit kissing Vladimir Putin. There is no getting away from the fact that the investigation by Robert Mueller into alleged collusion between his 2016 campaign and Moscow is going to give him grave heartburn next year. The release in May of a tell-all book by James Comey, the fired former head of the FBI, will fuel the fire. Trump will resist the temptation to fire Mueller and get serious about Russia and the threat it poses to democracy. He knows that unless he can put the Mueller probe behind him in some less-than-devastating fashion there is a real danger of impeachment proceedings against him if Democrats regain control of the House in November.
6. Understanding that any benefits Americans might see from the big tax bill could quickly be eclipsed by their soaring healthcare premiums will persuade Trump it’s time to stop taking the hatchet to Obamacare and reach out to Democrats to find ways to fix it instead. Sign-ups to Obamacare have surged, proof that it is more popular among ordinary Americans than the Republicans admit. Before the midterms, Trump and Congress will be forced to find money to subsidise participating insurers so they resist the temptation to withdraw from the system.
7. An AP poll of editors finds that nothing resonated more with Americans in 2017 than the sexual harassment cases that have toppled famous men across the entertainment, political and media landscapes and the #metoo movement that followed. Trump will stop offering support to the likes of accused molester Roy Moore, the failed GOP Senate candidate in Alabama, and stop trying to rewrite history about that Access Hollywood tape that has him boasting about his own history of harassment. With women voters and candidates ready to take centre-stage in the midterm elections Trump will go further and apologise for his own sordid history, especially as several women accusers of Trump himself may have their day in court in 2018.
8. This is the year that Trump will get family out of the West Wing – bye bye Ivanka and Jared – and sever all ties with Steve Bannon, his one-time senior advisor and populist firebrand who is now engaged in a campaign to topple some of the Republican Party’s top leaders ahead of the November elections. Few expect Rex Tillerson to survive 2018 as Secretary of State and Trump will find a replacement who can rescue the collapsing morale of America’s diplomats, which rules out Nikki Haley at the UN and Mike Pompeo at the CIA, who might be his first options.
9. As soon as he returns from his holidays in Mar-a-Lago, Trump will focus on persuading Congress to pass legislation to forestall a mass deportation of so-called Dreamers, young immigrants who were brought illegally into the country, mostly from Mexico and Central America, by their parents when they were children. The deadline for finding a compromise is 5 March.
10. As Trump seeks to expand his base ahead of the midterms, he will identify three areas that might help. They are climate change, guns and race relations. He will moderate his stances on all three. No more using things like the NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to further exacerbate America’s race relation woes, no more pandering to the NRA and a televised address on climate change accepting that actually it is a problem that requires urgent action. It will also be the year the US resumes some kind of engagement with the Paris Climate Accord.