It’s risky to make conclusions about how a President’s term will work out from only one week. But we can see some outlines of his style and policies from Trump’s first few days as President. Congressional legislation takes time, because laws must be written carefully, with great attention to detail and to all contingencies. In a first week, all a President can do is set a tone by broad gestures.
Rule by Decree:
Trump filled his first week with Presidential decrees, called executive orders, which mainly begin to implement his big campaign promises. Immigration was his first focus: begin building the Wall, hire thousands more border control agents to deport undocumented immigrants, and punish communities which resist deportations by acting as “sanctuary cities”. These orders are just a beginning: it will take Congressional action to actually build the Wall, which requires appropriation of tens of billions of dollars.
Trump appears to believe he can change American policy by himself. He said, “We do not need new laws,” in order to put these immigration changes into effect. That may not be true, but he could slap high tariffs on goods from Mexico, as he has threatened to do to pay for the Wall. What he can’t do is control the consequences of unilateral action by companies impacted negatively, by consumers paying higher prices, or by other countries who retaliate.
Trump’s sudden decree banning entry to all refugees and all citizens of seven Muslim countries caused chaos at airports, even as he claimed there were no problems. White House spokespeople said that all departments had been properly informed, but that was also not true. These orders have already been stayed by federal judges, promising lengthy court battles over immigration. And Trump’s executive order has already been changed. As originally stated, it applied to green card holders from the seven Muslim countries, thus barring many college students. On Sunday, chief of staff Reince Priebus said the order did not apply to green card holders.
Rule by decree has caused confusion.
Ignore Republican Orthodoxy:
Free trade is high on the list of traditional Republican commandments. NAFTA was negotiated and signed by President George H. W. Bush. Republicans in Congress, not Democrats, were the main support of NAFTA. Republicans also supported the Trans Pacific Partnership, until candidate Trump began to criticize it. In one of his first acts as President, Trump rejected the TPP.
In many ways, he has signaled that although conservative, he is not a traditional Republican, especially on trade. His push for a border tax on imports conflicts with free-trade Republicans in Congress, such as Paul Ryan. His nominee for the Interior Department, Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, opposes giving vast federal lands to the states and has voted against Republican bills to support that. On the other hand, most of Trump’s cabinet choices are traditional Republican business leaders.
Keep The Public In The Dark:
One of Trump’s first acts was to prevent anyone in the Environmental Protection Agency or other federal agencies which deal with climate change to talk to the media or inform the public about what they are doing. All mention of climate change was removed from the websites controlled by the White House and State Department. These actions might be what normally happens as administrations change or they might be the beginning of a federal war on science that Trump doesn’t like.
Truth is Optional:
Trump’s first week was filled with Presidential lies, or what his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway called “alternative facts”. He insisted that he had really won the most legal votes in November, because millions of illegal immigrants voted for Clinton. Republicans all over the country disputed this idea. Because there is no evidence for this claim, he ordered a major investigation of the election to try to find some. Trump was annoyed that the crowds at his inaugural were smaller than Obama’s, and so simply said they were larger.
Trump’s response to journalists who point out that he is not telling the truth is that they are the liars, which he has been saying for months.
Nobody but Trump really cares about how many people watched his inauguration. But he cares so much that he ordered the director of the National Park Service the next morning to find photos which proved his crowds were larger than they were.
His claim about massive voter fraud goes to the heart of American democracy. This is far beyond the common political practice of “spinning”, shading the truth for one’s own benefit. He is telling everyone lies: the CIA, other Republicans, the whole world. If Trump will tell big lies for four years, he risks making not just himself, but our country untrustworthy across the world. If he diverts his efforts and government resources to his personal battle with the truth, real issues will get less attention.
Donald Trump goes his own way for his own reasons. His first week shows he will act as President much like he acted as candidate: pursuing his own agenda, which doesn’t fit neatly into left-right categories, but which puts him at the center of everything. Trump’s impulsiveness and lack of concern for detail will continue to cause confusion. When the media report on his policy reversals or outright lies, they will be attacked as the enemy.
And we will wonder, what’s next?
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, January 31, 2017