Donald Trump's presidency: Despite the bluster, after more than a month there's little to show for it
'...a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.' With due respect to William Shakespeare, this phrase, as of this moment, is perhaps best suited suited to describing the presidency of Donald J Trump.
"...a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." With due respect to William Shakespeare, this phrase, as of this moment, is perhaps best suited to describing the presidency of Donald J Trump.
While White House aide Stephen Miller has claimed, "We have a president who has done more in three weeks than most presidents have done in an entire administration.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Trump, for all of his bluster, has accomplished little more than frightening transgender teens by taking away protections that the Obama administration put into place for them and confirming patently unqualified individuals (Scott Pruitt for the Environmental Protection Agency, Rick Perry for the Department of Energy, Betsy Devos for the Department of Education and Ben Carson for Department of Housing and Urban Development immediately come to mind) to his Cabinet. Let's examine his three major policies:
Fail 1: The travel ban
Trump's most notable and highly-publicised executive action: the travel ban. It has been delayed — indefinitely — after a three-judge panel said the ban did not advance national security and the administration had provided no proof that any of the individuals from the seven countries banned had committed any acts of terror in the United States.
Perhaps the judges were also ticked off at the president referring to one of their colleagues as a so-called judge. Here's a tip — don't p*ss off the jurists — they're the ones who decide what the law says and means.
After which Trump, in his usually braggadocious manner tweeted:
SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2017
(Side note: They're judges. Of course you'll see them in court. Where else would you see them? Also, easy on the caps lock).
Meanwhile, the administration quietly dropped any plans to appeal and decided to come up with a revised order. Which looks a lot like the previous order. The one CNN's Fareed Zakaria described as "so poorly conceived and phrased that it got stuck in the court system and will have to be redone or abandoned."
Hopefully this time, it will be written by actual lawyers and not merely scribbled on the back of a cocktail napkin during closing time at a bar (one assumes). Strangely, the new order hasn't materialised and so far, shows no sign of doing so. It's almost like the White House has no idea what it's doing.
Fail 2: Repealing Obamacare — and replacing it with "something terrific"
During the campaign, Trump called Obamacare a disaster and promised to replace it with "something terrific". So naturally, he signed an executive order directing federal agencies to ease the “regulatory burdens” of Obamacare. Which amounts to less than a hill of beans unless Congress repeals Obamacare and passes a replacement.
According to former Republican House Speaker John Boehner, that is not going to happen. "I started laughing," said Boehner , discounting the possibility of a fast replacement. "Republicans never ever agree on health care."
In the meantime, Republican members of Congress have been facing angry constituents at town halls across the country. As it turns out, people are terrified about their healthcare being taken away from them without a clear replacement, no matter how "something terrific" it might be. Who knew? And Obamacare, without Obama around to defend it, has only become more popular with voters. Thanks,
Fail 3: Building the Great Wall of Trump — and making Mexico pay for it
Trump signed an executive order authorising the building of a wall between Mexico and the United States. Just one tiny problem — the money to pay for the wall is controlled by Congress, who haven't lifted a finger — and have shown no inclination to do so.
And a reading of the executive order shows it mandates nothing beyond what was already accomplished in a 2006 Secure Fence Act, which authorises construction of fencing and fortifications across the border. So, it accomplished precisely nothing.
But let's say Congress does agree to pay the $21 billion it would take to build the wall. That still doesn't fulfill his campaign promise that Mexico would pay for it. How do the citizens of Mexico feel about that? Well, it can be best summed up by former Mexican president Vincente Fox on Twitter:
— Vicente Fox Quesada (@VicenteFoxQue) January 25, 2017
As for the rest of the executive orders, Zakaria referred to them as "mostly hot air, lofty proclamations that direct some agency to 'review' a law, 'report' back to him, 'consider' some action or reaffirm some long-standing practice."
All of which compares rather unfavourably with his predecessor, Barack Obama, who after a month of his inauguration, had managed to pass an 800 million dollar stimulus package through Congress.
A White House mired in scandal and infighting
Reinforcing the theme of a White House in turmoil: The resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn just 24 days into the new administration. The average tenure in the job is around 2.6 years.
Fynn was potentially maintaining illegal contact with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the transition period. By all accounts, Flynn misled (read lied) to senior Trump administration officials, including vice-president Mike Pence about it.
Trump was warned about Flynn by former attorney-general Sally Yates. In a spectacular, if somewhat baffling display of outside the box thinking, Trump eventually chose to fire Yates for refusing to enforce his illegal travel ban. Flynn was shown the door only after the vice-president became aware that he was misled after reading about it in the media. You know, the ones with all the "fake news".
Trump at war with the media: His approval rating is tanking
Some would say Trump's war with the media is a carefully-crafted strategy to discredit an adversarial press. They may be correct—his base is certainly fired up and continue to back Trump—for now. However, for many, even the ever friendly folks at Fox News, Trump crossed a line when he declared the media "the enemy of the people."
His 77-minute press conference decrying the media was so unhinged and divorced from reality, that Robert Harward, a high-ranking vice admiral and former Navy SEAL who was picked to replace Flynn as NSA reportedly turned down the job after he saw Trump's performance, describing the situation as "s**t sandwhich".
And there's evidence that the constant reportage about the White House turmoil and his unstatesmanlike behaviour isn't going down well with the rest of the country: his approval rating is "sinking like a rock". According to CNBC, a little more than a month in, Trump has the lowest approval ratings of any new chief executive in modern American history.
The leaders in the Republican party are watching carefully. Remember, these are the same people who ditched George W Bush once his approval rating hit a record low over his dealing with Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq war. They have their owns seats to save and constituents to answer to. And a president without Congress to back him isn't a president — he's a lame duck.
Trump at war with his own intelligence agencies: Death by a thousand leaks
Trump has been apoplectic about the leaks coming from within the government. And, in his wrath, Trump has made a grievous error: declaring war on his own intelligence agencies.
Make no mistake about it — this is is a war he cannot hope to win — as made evident by the dismissal of Michael Flynn after sources purportedly within the FBI and NSA leaked audio of his talks with the Russian ambassador. Fox News reported that the top spies are allegedly keeping information from Trump because they don't trust him.
The White House also asked the FBI to inoculate the President against the stories tying him to Russia emanating from the pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post. The FBI refused to do so. According to Vox, as many as six intelligence agencies are conducting investigations into the President's alleged ties with Russia.
In the end, you have Trump fighting multiple battles on all fronts: with a re-energised and reinvigorated Democratic voter base, a media that is determined to hold him accountable for his "alternate facts" and intelligence agents who harbour a deep suspicion of his apparently warm, fuzzy feelings for the Kremlin.
Trump may thrive in chaotic situations, but voters don't care about anything except results. And so far, he hasn't delivered.
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