Donald Trump embraces US flag © Chris O'meara
A year ago, Donald Trump was elected U.S. president. He had started with many promises. But what is left of it? For Jesuit Father Godehard Bruntrup, Trump has not served his camp badly at all.
Interviewer: Trump had announced a lot: to raise a wall to Mexico, for example – or to abolish the health insurance "Obamacare" of his predecessor. So far, nothing has come of most of his projects. How much his reputation at home in the U.S. has suffered as a result?
Prof. Dr. Godehard Bruntrup (Jesuit priest and USA expert): Among his clientele, his reputation has rather not suffered at all. They have always recognized his slogans as slogans; and they have not taken them for so important either. Trump continues to appeal primarily to two groups: One is the disconnected, the unemployed. The current economic data are not bad, so this group is not dissatisfied. And the other group that voted for him are the value conservatives who wanted a different abortion law and different judges. Here, Trump has cracked down like no president before him. He has appointed so many new conservative judges that even this group is relatively satisfied.
Those who hate it, and that is the majority, continue to hate it. But he did not serve his clientele badly at all.
Interviewer: So what about the conservative Christians who were part of Trump's electorate? Are they rather pleased with what Trump has done so far – or is approval crumbling among this group?
Bruntrup: A large percentage of American Christians are anti-establishment in ways we can't even imagine. Historically, they once fled from their churches in Europe because they were oppressed there and then opened free churches. Anyone could found a church, congregations could elect their pastors.
These free churchmen love someone who stands against the establishment to this day. Trump is not part of either the Democratic or Republican establishment. And these conservative Christians love it when someone says, "He's not fit to be president at all. It lacks the prerequisite". That's a plus in her eyes. That is why he is well received by these people.
He is also well received because he stands up for their rights. For example, by appointing the aforementioned conservative judges who improve the legal position of religious communities – for example, in tax law. With Paula White, that famous evangelical preacher, these conservative Christians even have direct access to Donald Trump in the White House. She goes in and out of there, is practically one of Trump's closest advisors.
Interviewer: On the international stage, Trump has repeatedly caused annoyance, for example with his denunciation of the Paris climate protection agreement. Or also his saber rattling in the conflict with North Korea. How would you summarize Trump's foreign policy so far??
Bruntrup: Of course, all this goes down badly in the world. Americans who are worldly, who value good international relations, are just embarrassed by Trump, including his choice of words and that it's all over Twitter. With his people, on the other hand, such as the regulars' table on the corner, it doesn't go down so badly that someone speaks plainly for once, that someone speaks like them. But much of it is just hot air. For example, America can't withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement until 2020, by which time Trump's term will be over.
In real politics, not so much has actually changed in foreign policy, except that it is typically Republican, that is, a bit more hawkish than Obama's policy. There has not been a really radical change in that sense. Fortunately. We all hope that he will not make any completely irrational individual decisions, but that he will allow himself to be kept in check to some extent by the conservative advisors with whom he has surrounded himself, such as the famous three generals.
Interviewer: But in the case of North Korea, one could get the impression that he does what he wants there. Wasn't that rather close?
Bruntrup: I don't think it was close. I think that was more rhetoric. That was saber rattling. Trump was against the second Gulf War. In my opinion, he is not a militarist, i.e. not one who is quick to plunge into military adventures.
He is a businessman, he wants to sell things, he wants to earn money. He is not primarily someone who wants to conquer the world. In the case of North Korea, I think it was typical male bickering along the lines of "who's the strongest"? I wouldn't put it quite as high as perhaps some others do.
The interview was conducted by Silvia Ochlast.