Donald Trump’s first week: carnage, both real and imagined/Includes video of 1st 7 days in office
The Guardian – Tom McCarthy in New York – Saturday 28 January 2017
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?
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.”
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