Let’s assume you had decided that American politics in the age of Donald Trump was simply too much, a risk of non-stop heartburn, high blood pressure and elevated angst. So, you checked out, perhaps burying yourself in literature or art, binging on TV or simply retreating somewhere off the grid. But November is fast approaching and, not wishing to neglect your patriotic duty to vote, it’s time to catch up now. But how?
Just try digesting the bile fed the country and the world by Donald Trump! If only there were some way or some single issue that would make up for that time lost in your sublime isolation and could encapsulate all you needed to know about the leadership of Donald Trump without reading back issues of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist or this fair publication.
Racism in America Leaves Its Soft Power Greatly Weakened
Lucky for you, there is. Consider the US decision on July 6 to cease student visa issuances to foreign students intending to study at any one of America’s 4,000-plus universities and colleges and hundreds of boarding and secondary schools in the event those institutions went to all-online classes as a result of the pandemic. The decision affected not only those first-time students starting their schooling in the US in the fall. It also would have impacted those already here studying, or perhaps in their respective countries or elsewhere abroad for the summer for jobs, internships, research or family and would not be able to return to complete their studies if their respective institutions moved toward all-online instruction.
It’s All About Reelection
The first lesson one would learn is that for Donald Trump, it’s all about his reelection in November. Obviously, schools out of session or forced to resort to online classes to minimize pandemic health risks would not be a good look for his campaign. Among so many other things, it’s imperative for him that students are back in school and parents and guardians are back on the job, creating the vital economy on which he’s staking his reelection. He has no other achievement on which he can count.
How does he do that? That is the second lesson of this sordid affair. His administration has utterly failed to present a cogent, effective plan for combatting the virus, which would have reduced infections, hospitalizations and, most importantly, deaths, and would have allowed these institutions to reopen in the fall, as those in Europe are planning to do. In fact, he’s effectively surrendered to the virus and resorted to a trademark of his presidency: bully the target group into submission.
For elementary, middle and high schools, that has meant threatening those that resort to online classes with loss of federal support monies. That could mean billions in lost income for public schools already facing horrendous budget cuts. For colleges and universities, it was the visa suspension or cancellation policy. That is, institutions open classrooms or lose the income from more than a million foreign students who study in the US annually. That amounts to some $41 billion in tuition, fees, boarding charges, etc. Some 425,000 jobs may also be at stake.
A third lesson in understanding the US administration is how it approaches major policy decisions affecting the nation and its people. There was no consultation, no outreach to university presidents or educational organizations, no public vetting in advance, no intergovernmental policy deliberation, not even proforma sounding of businesses to get their thoughts. Rather, Trump brandished the blunt club of student visas and held it over the heads of these institutions. It was Trump’s way, or pay.
Moreover, little thought was given to the economic contributions of these foreign students to the economies where they live and study. Restaurants, bars, apartment complexes, car rentals and dealers, shops, barbers and hair salons, grocery stores and many other businesses had already suffered when the majority of these institutions closed in late winter and the spring to minimize the risk of COVID-19 on their campuses. Now, Trump was going to foreclose any possibility of these businesses salvaging the year. It was a thoughtless, self-centered push to bend others to his misguided, ham-fisted will.
Put Up a Wall, Even Against Legal Visitors
Lesson four, and not surprising, is that there was also no thought given to the intangible contributions that foreign students make to their institutions and communities in terms of exposure to different cultures, languages, ideas, values and perspectives, all of which contribute to the uniquely enriching experience of university study in the US. Inability to understand this contribution is another characteristic of the Trump presidency, its xenophobia. That was always evident from his constant drumbeat over erecting a wall along the US-Mexican border.
There was yet a fifth lesson, this administration’s patent inability to foresee the secondary and tertiary effects of its decisions and resultingly to be caught flatfooted when they arise. In this case, the administration was clueless to the firestorm of reaction that followed the announcement of the visa policy. Institutions such as Harvard and MIT immediately mounted a legal challenge. Universities in 20 states and the District of Columbia joined together to file a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security. Petitions signed by hundreds of thousands of foreign and American students — the latter of whom vote, by the way — flooded the administration and Congress.
Major professional associations representing university admissions and counselors also issued strong statements in opposition to the administration’s ill-considered move. Media had a field day pelting the administration with all manner of justified criticism of the policy. Even administration supporters, including Republican members of Congress, were left scratching their heads in wonder how this would make Trump look good or benefit the country.
Of course, it didn’t. At all. The administration was forced to back down from the visa edict only days after issuing it. The decision to announce it in the first place was a blunder of colossal proportions and emblematic of a presidency and administration foundering, heedless to the needs of the nation or to the damage it does when it acts on virtually every policy issue based on distorted impulse or dyspeptic gut instinct.
So, to our somnolent citizen seeking to exit the torpor of three and a half years of escapism, there you have it. While you blissfully slumbered, America was led by a bullying, single-mindedly reelection-obsessed, blundering, club-wielding, visionless xenophobe. Now, ponder those and the many other failings of this president and apply them to foreign policy, national security, economic policy, racial equality and justice, trade, climate policy and more, and you’ve got a pretty fair idea of the state of the country under Donald Trump. You’re all caught up!
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.