domingo, 29 de janeiro de 2017
Donald Trump's first week: carnage, both real and imagined
Donald Trump's first week: carnage, both real and imagined
What started with an ominous inauguration speech has ended with executive orders on everything from immigration to banning refugees and reigniting the fossil fuel industry. What does it mean for his presidency?
Tom McCarthy in New York
Saturday 28 January 2017 15.38 GMT
The crowd was small, the weather was bad and the speech, which described “American carnage”, was dire. For the tens of millions who voted against him and countless concerned others, Donald Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States felt ominous, no matter how widely Barack Obama smiled and no matter how gracefully he and Michelle Obama made the transition from hosts to departing guests.
The feeling of foreboding did not last. It was overtaken within hours by the realization, at the arrival of the first of the new president’s executive actions, that the most outrageous campaign promises Trump had made to the smallest core of his supporters were now official US policy, or about to be.
Within a week, the rally chant “build the wall!” had morphed into a phrase published on White House stationery: “impassable physical barrier”. A proposed ban on Muslim immigrants took shape as a suspension of visa programs from countries that, as Trump put it, “have tremendous terror”. Grumbling about excessive government regulation had become, in one document, an exhortation to bureaucrats to help an oil company skip the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
“He’s delivering the goods to his core constituency in a really visible way,” said John T Woolley, head of the American presidency project at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “But there are a lot of things that he’s raising that may be above what he truly has the ability to do.”
Seven days into his presidency, the accumulation of Trump’s official actions, at the rate of as many as five a day, has created a new national reality on central policy concerns from the environment to voting rights to international commitments to immigration, healthcare and trade.
“You have to consider this a pretty aggressive use of executive power early on,” said Julian E Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. “Using it not only on one marquee issue, which presidents often do, but on a series of major campaign issues, all within just a few days.
“So it’s rapid-fire, but more importantly, each one is a pretty significant decision.”
More difficult to assess than the new president’s official actions, but for many Americans just as significant, has been the impact on the public of Trump’s simple presence in office – the finally inescapable fact, as it were, of Donald Trump as president.
During the campaign, Trump’s lies about the fake scourge of voter fraud, his vain obsession with the size of his crowds (and his hands), and his explosions of bile and irrelevance on Twitter could be semi-ignored as the faults of a mercurial political figure who was quite likely, at least, to lose.
Now Trump is in the Oval Office and his lies are voiced by a press secretary standing behind the White House seal in the Brady briefing room. It was there that Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, falsely declared on the day after the swearing-in that “this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period”. Trump’s audience was in fact significantly smaller than Obama’s 2009 crowd, but members of the media who tried to brandish evidence of the fact were shouted down.
Spicer rolled out another whopper days later, informing the country that the president still (wrongly) believed millions of votes had been illegally cast in November. As supporting evidence, he pointed to a 2012 research report on voter fraud, prompting the author of the report to categorically deny that the report said any such thing.
“Of those votes cast, none of them come to me,” Trump told ABC News a day later, embroidering his fantasy. “They would all be for the other side. None of them come to me.”
For Americans who doubt his leadership, just as disturbing as Trump’s new freedom to spout untruths with significantly inflated authority were early reports on his conduct behind the scenes, as he made his first decisions as the most powerful individual on Earth.
Repeatedly, Trump threw thunderbolts from his Twitter account – threatening to “send in the Feds!” to stop violence in Chicago and impugning Chelsea Manning – immediately following negative coverage of those topics on Fox News, which Trump told the New York Times he watches morning and night.
It was TV coverage of his small inauguration crowd that prompted Trump to trot out Spicer. The bad press had not allowed the president to “enjoy” his first weekend in the White House as he felt he deserved, the Associated Press quoted “one person who has spoken with him” as saying. Trump’s decision to act on voter fraud was inspired, Trump told members of Congress, by a conversation with a German golfer.
If Trump’s character is immutable, however, his executive actions may not be. His orders have the power to guide the conduct of federal agencies and officials, but cannot contravene existing law.
Woolley said: “The question always is – and this is a real question for Trump – whether the president is going beyond the scope of the law, whether he’s infringing on congressional power, and whether he’s infringing on the divides between national, state and local power.
“There’s going to be a festival of lawsuits about almost every controversial action that he takes.”
Next week, Trump is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress and announce a nominee to fill the vacancy on the supreme court.
Here’s what he got done on week one.
The most famous promise of Trump’s campaign was that he would build a wall on the 2,000-mile southern border and make Mexico pay for it. The policy represents a sharp break with the view of Obama’s top homeland security official, who often said: “You show me a 50ft wall, and I’ll show you a 51ft ladder.”
Nevertheless, Trump issued an executive order on Wednesday calling for “the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border, monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism”.
Initially, the project will draw on previously appropriated funds. But for the project to be completed, Trump will need to retain the support of Republican congressional leaders who have said they are willing to put up the money. One Senate leader estimated the border wall would cost between $12bn and $15bn “upfront” – a possible sticking point among soi-disant fiscal conservatives.
Trump’s own estimate of the costs of the wall is significantly smaller. “That wall will cost us nothing,” he said this week, on the same day the Mexican president vowed that the wall would also cost Mexico nothing.
Trump also moved to deny federal funds to “sanctuary cities” – the more than 400 cities and counties in the US that offer some form of safe haven to America’s 11 million undocumented migrants.
On Friday, Trump signed an executive order implementing what he called “new vetting measures, to keep radical Islamic terrorists out”. The order included a 120-day suspension of the US Refugee Admissions Program; the indefinite suspension of the admission of any refugees from Syria; the capping of refugee numbers admitted in 2017 at 50,000; and to severely limit immigration from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, all Muslim-majority countries.
According to draft policies leaked to the media, Trump is also preparing executive actions to limit legal immigration and to judge immigration applications on the likelihood that a prospective immigrant would draw in any way on US social welfare programs.
In a final draft immigration policy, Trump would strip immigrants who arrived in the US as children, known as Dreamers, of protections against deportation extended to them by Obama. The reversal could directly affect 1.2 million American residents who may have little or no knowledge of their origin country.
“I do have a big heart,” Trump said of the policy. “We’re going to take care of everybody.”
Style of government
Trump has brought to the job the same leadership style he applied to his campaign: aggressive, reactive and, most of all, improvisatory.
His slew of executive actions has been unleashed before the agency heads and deputies essential to carrying them out are in place – a majority have yet to be named. His justice department has yet to install a head of the office of legal counsel, which past presidents have relied on to protect their unilateral actions from court challenges. He reportedly did not bother to run his revised torture policy past his CIA and defense department appointees.
It remains to be seen whether Trump is a coalition-builder, in the style of Ronald Reagan, or whether he will keep his distance from Congress, physically and emotionally, in the style of Obama. Trump’s paranoid streak, obsession with leaks and penchant for conspiracy make another president, Richard Nixon, his most natural style touchstone.
Trump’s style is sufficiently original as to render quaint a series of conversations during the Obama years about presidential “firsts”: the first president to participate in a Reddit AMA (“ask me anything”), the first president to sit for an interview with YouTube stars. Trump is the first president to threaten martial law in a major American city on Twitter.
In further contrast with Obama, Trump tweeted his threat to “send in the Feds!” from an account whose wallpaper photo features him signing a document surrounded by seven top advisers – all white men. Whatever Trump’s leadership style is, it is not inclusive across lines of race and gender.
The attention-seeking side of Trump’s style has made him relatively accessible to the media, so far. He sat for television and print interviews in his first week and held his first press conference, alongside UK prime minister Theresa May.
In one of his first meetings as president, Trump told executives from the country’s biggest automakers he would loosen environmental standards, regulations and taxes if they would help him bring back “Made in the USA”. Trump’s promise was quickly ratified in multiple executive orders pertaining to oil pipelines and other infrastructure projects.
The main thrust of Trump’s environmental policy – or anti-environmental policy – may be carried out by his pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, a scathing critic of environmental regulations. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt repeatedly sued the EPA and coordinated his selection of cases with fossil fuel interests. If confirmed by the Senate, Pruitt’s oversight may be exceptionally lax.
Trump’s executive actions contained two major and symbolically important moves against the cause of renewable energy. He reopened construction of two oil pipelines, one held up by a federal permit denial and another rejected by Obama. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry tar sand oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf coast, while the Dakota Access pipeline would carry crude oil from a field in North Dakota to a processing hub in the midwest. The Dakota project foundered after months of protests by Native American groups, who said the pipeline crossed sacred ground and threatened their drinking water supply.
Trump has also imposed a freeze on new federal regulations, including environmental regulations.
Trump’s first sallies in national security policy have been highly controversial. He has spoken about and is expected to issue an executive order that would create a pathway to restoring the detention of terrorism suspects at facilities known as “black sites”. Such an order would reverse Obama’s 2009 order to close the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay and open the way to a resumed use of torture techniques by US operatives on terrorism suspects.
In an interview with ABC News, Trump repeated his belief that torture works, “absolutely”, and he said that the US should “fight fire with fire”.
“I’ve spoken in recent days with people at the highest level of intelligence, and I’ve asked them: ‘Does torture work?’ And the answer was ‘Yes, absolutely,’” Trump said. On Friday he backtracked, not on his own belief in the efficacy of torture but in saying, at his press conference with May, that he would defer to his new defense secretary, James Mattis, who has said torture does not work.
A majority of private and public scholarship and Trump’s pick to run the CIA also say torture does not work. US law bans security agencies from using so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.
Manufacturing and trade
“The hour of justice for the American worker has arrived,” Trump said in a speech to Republican members of Congress on Thursday. His recipe for making it so includes withdrawing from trade agreements, loosening environmental regulations and other regulations on manufacturers, and taking smaller steps such as requiring that new oil pipelines use US steel.
In one of his first presidential memoranda, Trump directed the US trade representative (who has yet to be confirmed by the Senate) to “withdraw the United States as a signatory to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to permanently withdraw the United States from TPP negotiations, and to begin pursuing, wherever possible, bilateral trade negotiations to promote American industry, protect American workers, and raise American wages”.
The memo was followed by an offhand description by Trump of how US trade deals would work from now on. “They’ll be one-on-one, they won’t be a whole big mashpot,” he said. If a US partner reneges on any deal, Trump said, the US would send out 30-day notices of impending trade deal termination.
A separate presidential memorandum directed all heads of government departments and agencies to expedite “reviews of and approvals for proposals to construct or expand manufacturing facilities and through reductions in regulatory burdens affecting domestic manufacturing”. Officials are directed to solicit comments from the public for 60 days about how to streamline the permitting process for domestic manufacturers.
Healthcare and abortion
One of the first pieces of paper Trump signed as president was an executive order that began to dismantle Obama’s signature domestic achievement, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
A full dismantling of the act, which conservative analysts estimate has provided health insurance for more than 10 million people who otherwise would not have it, would require action by Congress, which the Republican leadership has expressed eagerness to deliver.
Trump has ordered agencies and officials to avoid imposing penalties on individuals and others who do not obtain health insurance, a crucial plank in the law known as the “individual mandate”. Without it, participants in health insurance markets may decline in number and skew less healthy, driving up costs for insurers and potentially derailing the system.
In a separate memo, Trump restricted funds for global health assistance groups that provide abortion services. The memo reversed a directive that Obama signed upon taking office, which in turn reversed a memo signed by George W Bush. Trump’s memo directs the secretary of state to “ensure that US taxpayer dollars do not fund organizations or programs that support or participate in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization”.