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Ilya Kravchenko

PhD in political science, RIAC expert

2017 has started dynamically for the political life of the USA. The auditions on the Donald Trump’s cabinet appointments began right after the first session of the new 115th Congress. Acting President Barack Obama gave his farewell speech in front of his supporters, and President elect Donald Trump held the first press-conference since the elections.


Two events happened in the USA a week after the New Year, both important, but drastically different in their message: acting President Barack Obama’s farewell address to his supporters and President elect Donald Trump’s first press conference. Both are the experienced speakers who skillfully use not only their vocabulary, but shocking moves like drying tears or a provocative attack against journalists asking their questions. But, in the first case, the politician, in fact, summed up his eight years of presidency, while in the second his successor outlined the transition from the election rhetoric towards real politics.  


Credit: globalekonomi.com.tr


Barack Obama is one of the popular US presidents supported by 55% of the population over his two presidential terms. This is due to Obama’s personality and the fact that he is the first Afro-American holding the post of the US president, a number of his bold initiatives like Obamacare (a healthcare reform) or stringent foreign policy regarding complying with the international law – condemning Russia’s actions in Crimea, in Ukraine, and Syria. Obama’s main message was not directed towards his already existing adherents, mainly representatives of different minorities, but to those who have voted for the notorious Republican, Donald Trump. The problem is that before his official taking the office which is to happen on January 20, 2017, the President elect has already stated that the USA would be much stronger after his eight year’s presidency than it was during Obama’s rule. Trump publicly says that he will definitely run for the second term and Obama cannot allow this.


Barack Obama realizes that Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential elections is capable to cross out many of his achievements, some of which have already been implemented. On January 12, 2017 the Senate voted for the abolition of Obamacare. The fact that after the eight year’s presidency a businessman-showman won the presidential elections is itself a particular failure of Obama’s policy. He could not provide the succession of his political beliefs.


That is why in his speech Obama talked much about the issues of racism, immigration, liberty, and equality (emphasizing the importance of following the Founding Fathers’ messages), global warming, healthcare, that is, all those issues where his stance significantly differs from Donald Trump’s one.


Symbolical is the fact that Obama gave his farewell speech in Chicago, a city where he began his political career. Moreover, despite many American presidents, Obama is not going to quit political life. His family will stay to live in Washington D.C. and he will consult on the political issues. 


On the contrary, in the course of his first press conference, Donald Trump used his forceful style first to knock off all attacks and accusations towards him and then took the aggressive offensive. Speaking about the first case, the “hacker scandal”, provoked by the information contained in the disclosed materials of both the official government bodies (the Congress, FBI) and the mass media (BuzzFeed, CNN). The key point is that the hacker attacks initiated by Russia facilitated Trump’s victory in the presidential elections in November last year, and that Moscow has compromising information on the President elect. As a result, Trump had a ready answer for questions having named journalists “rude” and “fake news” without even giving them a chance to respond.


Of course, these are only speech patterns. Leave them be analyzed by philologists. In our case another fact draws the attention: for the first time, Trump acknowledged the fact of hacker attacks coming from Russia. He added that such actions are taken by other states too – China, for example. But, again, this is only a speech to get attention. Acknowledging the fact of hacker attacks is an important aspect. Trump did not stop here and added: “Do you honestly believe Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me?” Another point of his speech is worth attention too – when Trump stated that Russia would respect the USA more than before. Is this a strong shift in his rhetoric? Definitely, it is. His team members’ speeches serve as proof of that fact. In particular, during the Senate auditions regarding the appointment of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, he announced that he considered Russia’s actions in terms of Crimea to be the “annexation”, and he placed, though not openly, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin among war criminals, adding that such questions are in the competence of court. Trump and his cronies are slowly but steadily moving from tentatively neutral statements in terms of the building up the relations with Russia towards the general political vector currently dominating in Washington.          


Moreover, Obama did extend the sanctions against Russia for one more year on Friday, January 13, and the Congress is preparing a draft known as Countering Russian Hostilities Act 2017. Nevertheless, executive power’s sanctions is one thing, while draft preparation (to adopt it, the Republicans and the Democrats will have to find a common ground as the simple majority is not enough for it) will have much more depressing aftermath for the Russia-US relations, as it will have the force of a law, and the President will not be able to abolish it easily. 



With regard to the anti-Russian sanctions, an interview, given by the President elect to British The Times and German Bild, on January 16th should be mentioned. Apart from topics often brought up by Trump, such as immigration (he has criticized Merkel’s actions on this issue), NATO (Trump stressed the importance of the organization, pointing out that “the majority of its members do not pay as much as they must pay, this is not fair towards the USA”) or protectionism (he threatened the automobile company BMW with 35% import fee, if the latter constructed a factory in Mexico), the President elect made highly questionable statements in terms of Russia.


On the one hand, Trump thinks, Washington and Moscow need each other to fight against terrorism, in particular, the Islamic State. On the other hand, Russia’s actions in Syria led to a “terrible humanitarian situation”, and, in general, were “a very bad thing”. The President elect does not exclude the construction of normal relations with Russia and personally with Vladimir Putin, especially in the context of nuclear disarmament. Alongside with this, Trump will keep the existing sanctions against Russia, established by Barack Obama’s administration, despite the latter being so often criticized.   


A few days before Donald Trump’s inauguration, current President Barack Obama gave his last press conference as head of the executive power in the United States. This event symbolically sums up two-term presidency of the 44th president. In remarks to reporters, Obama commented on and gave answers to many high-profile issues such as his recent decision to release Chelsea Manning (soldier Bradley Manning changed sex in 2014), convicted for passing classified material to WikiLeaks, or cancellation of the policy of “wet foot, dry foot” (Cuban migrants who make it to the United States’ coast, after one year can apply for a residence permit). In fact these two actions perfectly describe Obama's policies – a negative attitude towards all forms of discrimination; certainty, but at the same time justice of punishment; and the desire to improve relations between the states on an equal footing. Speaking of Russia, Obama expressed regret that the two countries could not reach understanding on a variety of issues, but particularly emphasized that his side have made many attempts to do so. As a follow-up to the “Russian issue”, answering the question of the CBS News journalist Margaret Brennan about the future of sanctions and the US policy toward Russia during Donald Trump’s presidency, Obama said that if President-elect is able to normalize relations (for example, in nuclear disarmament), it will be commendable, but noted that during his second term he tried to do it, but Moscow “has been unwilling to negotiate”.


We fill find out soon whether Trump is after all going to adhere to the anti-Russian vector of the US policy or to try to put in practice his election promises. Currently we can state for sure that President Trump will definitely be different from the candidate for presidency, Donald Trump.    


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