America Struggles In a Time of Trump Rebuilding – Time To Turn The Page

Presidential elections are always something of a national Rorschach test…

The reaction to candidates, like the perception of inkblots, helps to divulge the nation’s character, underlying disorders and emotional condition. Donald Trump’s unexpected victory showed that America had a split personality.

It also revealed that, among his 62 million supporters, rage and fear were over-riding emotions. “Make America Great Again” not only became a mission statement but a nostalgic catch-all. For many of his white working class supporters, it implied a return to an era when the homeland was more homogenised and the world was less globalised.

What has become clear since Donald Trump delivered his inaugural address is that he has changed the presidency more than the presidency has changed him.

The vocabulary of President Trump, if not all his policies, is much the same as that of candidate Trump. To the White House he has brought the same aggression and plain-speaking that characterised his insurgent campaign.

The first 100 days of an administration, though in many ways a bogus measure, can also be diagnostic. They can reveal the character of a presidency and set the tone.

At his inaugural ball he vowed to keep tweeting. By choosing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” for his first dance, he also gave us a musical clue as to how he would govern. Trump would be Trump. The anti-politician had morphed into the anti-president.

From his ongoing refusal to release his tax returns to his stonewalling of requests to disclose visitor logs at the White House, he has indicated normal rules do not apply to him.

All this continues to horrify his critics but not most of his supporters. They voted for unorthodoxy, and seem to have granted him dispensation to flout norms so long as he delivers results.

And yet, he has received highest marks when he is at his most conventionally presidential.

His speech to the joint session of Congress, which was similar in language and tone to normal State of the Union addresses, was probably the highpoint of his first 100 days. It got far better reviews than his inaugural, both from Republicans and some Democrats.

His decision to strike Syria also trod the path of orthodoxy. Cool-headed and cogent, his late-night statement explaining his decision to strike was also standard presidential fare. Even some of his detractors remarked how in these two moments he truly assumed the mantles of president and commander-in-chief.

Lauded by many Democrats who wished Obama had enforced his red line on chemical weapons, the strike on Syria angered some hardline loyalists.

There’s an argument to be made that Trump is at his most successful in foreign affairs when he’s at his most unpredictable for the simple reason that is when he’s most feared. The Assad regime will surely hesitate before ordering another chemical strike.

Nato’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he’s already seeing the effect of Trump’s focus on financial burden-sharing within the military alliance. The American aid worker Aya Hijazi was released after three years in detention only when Trump raised her case with President Sisi.

At the United Nations, there’s a new focus on reform, especially of peacekeeping operations. This is partly because there is a new reformist Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, but mainly because of the fear that the US, by far the organisation’s biggest donor, could pull funding. Trump has brought a fear factor to the American presidency often absent during the Obama years.

The Trump administration clearly believes “the era of strategic patience” towards Kim Jong-un is over, and that sabre rattling will jolt the Beijing into pressuring Pyongyang. The next 100 days, presumably, will tell.

Overall, there’s a “good cop bad cop” dynamic to the Trump administration’s diplomacy. Mainstream foreign policy types such as Defence Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson adopt the more conventional approach. Trump lends menace, often through his tweets.

Sometimes the very administration seems to have a split personality. Yet the first 100 days have probably yielded more results in the foreign realm than the domestic.

Noticeable in these first 100 days has been the corporatisation of the presidency. There’s a chairman-of-the-board feel to his daily routine, with its meetings and photo opportunities that often place him in a leather-backed chair in the presidential boardroom – the West Wing basically has two, the Roosevelt Room and the Cabinet Room – surrounded by corporate chiefs. His cabinet is also packed with fellow billionaires and multi-millionaires.

There’s been criticism that Trump spends so much time at resorts owned by the Trump Organization.

An aim of staffing the administration with so many executives was to vest government with corporate know-how and efficiency.

Victories are often lost in the swirl of controversy. Illegal crossings over the southern border have fallen sharply, by 40% during the first month of Trump’s presidency, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

That’s the steepest decline since 2009. With immigration arrests up by almost a third in the first month, there’s a feeling among his supporters that he is delivering on his pledge to protect America’s border, even if construction has not yet started on his famed wall.

Trump would argue he has already made the homeland safer.

The hostile commentary on him is similar to the scorn heaped on Ronald Reagan. Yet the movie star president is now widely seen as the leader who, by winning the Cold War, ended America’s long national nightmare after Vietnam and Watergate.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was pilloried as a racist vulgarian, but nonetheless enacted transformative legislation such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, dismantling segregation, and launching Medicare.

History remembers John F Kennedy’s early presidency for the elegance of his inaugural address and the photogenic beauty of his New Frontier, but his first months in office were full of missteps.

They included the Bay of Pigs, a string of congressional setbacks and a disastrous summit with Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, which emboldened the Soviet leader to build the Berlin Wall. While Trump cannot yet boast much of a record of accomplishment in these first 100 days, there are still 1361 to go.

Donald Trump’s executive power has continually been constrained. After signing that early executive order banning entrants from seven mainly-Muslim countries, the courts intervened to block him.

With TrumpCare, it wasn’t the courts that blocked Trump but Congress. As he sought to repeal and replace Obamacare, Trump could not even secure a simple majority in a House of Representatives under Republican control.

The Republican leadership, frustrated by these checks, successfully removed one of them: the use of the filibuster in blocking nominees to America’s highest court – in this instance, Trump’s nominee Neil Gorsuch.

This did not involve an amendment to the constitution, rather a revision of Senate rules, but it was nonetheless momentous. This nuclear option, as it is called, delivered a clear win for the president: the elevation of Judge Gorsuch to the bench.

However, the filibuster remains intact to block his legislative agenda, and Democrats will use it to thwart Trump.

Just as Republicans, the great practitioners of the politics of No, used the constitution to stymie Barack Obama, Democrats are relying upon it to impede Donald Trump. For them, the constitution must now seem timeless and timely. A number of Democrats have told me that the genius of the Founding Fathers was to anticipate this kind of presidency.

In these first 100 days, we have been reminded of the power of states and municipalities. We have seen an inversion of the doctrine of states’ rights. For decades, states’ rights was the battle-cry of white supremacists determined to uphold segregation in defiance of federal court orders demanding integration. Now progressive states are using this principle.

Some of the biggest cities in the country, including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington DC, are wilfully obstructing Trump’s immigration crackdown. Thus, sanctuary cities have become to the progressive left what segregationist citadels were to the racist right, emblematic battlefields in a tug of war between local government and the federal government.

Protest power has also emerged as a significant force, as something akin to a national passion play has unfolded on the streets. The sea of pink pussy hats at the massive woman’s marches on the first weekend of the presidency vividly highlighted a new sense of personal political empowerment: people ready to take matters into their own hands.

Constrained by Congress, the courts and his own party, so far this has not been an imperial presidency, the phrase coined by the historian Arthur M Schlesinger Jr to describe the Nixon White House, which was accused, even before the Watergate break-in, of pushing constitutional bounds.

Rather it has been an inhibited presidency, in which Donald Trump has been made all too aware of the limits of his executive power.

Donald Trump’s promise to Make America Great Again was primarily an economic pledge, and there were early signs of a Trump Bump on Wall Street and Main Street.

Just three trading days after the new president took the oath of office, the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke through the 20,000 mark for the first time in its history. Investors expected him to slash corporate taxes and set fire to business regulations. Not since 2000, a report suggested last month, has consumer confidence been so buoyant.

As for the impact of Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” doctrine, it is too early to judge. Industry groups have voiced concerns it will raise costs, making it prohibitively expensive to build the new bridges and roads. The tech sector is worried Hire American policies will block or discourage high-skilled immigrants. The tourism industry is reporting a “Trump Slump,” because of the off-putting effect of the travel ban and its author.

One sector that has undoubtedly benefited from a Trump bump is the media. The New York Times and Washington Post have seen subscriptions soar. CNN, a network of which obituaries were being written only a few years ago, is enjoying a ratings windfall. Twitter, whose once stagnant user numbers have risen, is finally winning again.

Despite high-profile exits, Fox News remains the most influential news channel in America, if only because its breakfast show Fox and Friends is what Trump watches in the morning.

Overall, the response of the US journalistic community to Trump’s presidency has been to become more adversarial. Reporters like Jim Acosta, anchors like Jake Tapper, and even mild-mannered Wolf Blitzer have adopted a more hard-edged approach. The New York Times has replaced bland headlines with more judgmental wording.

Elsewhere, cultural lines are being blurred, an inevitable response perhaps to a president who turned politics in a new reality show genre. Comedians, faced with the dilemma of satirising a self-satirising White House, have adopted a more journalistic persona. John Oliver and Samantha Bee mix gags with serious reportage, much of it directed against Trump.

Stephen Colbert, who struggled at first as David Letterman’s successor after shedding his mock right-wing persona, may overtake apolitical Jimmy Fallon in the late-night ratings.

The mimicry of Alec Baldwin and the casting of Melissa McCarthy as Sean “Spicey” Spicer has once again made SNL appointment viewing.

Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, which imagines as president Charles Lindbergh, the aviator who became the spokesman of the America First Committee in the early years of World War II, has also enjoyed a revival. Hulu is streaming a dramatisation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which imagines a totalitarian America.

On Broadway, a stage adaptation of 1984 is in the works.

Next month unveils the fifth season of House of Cards, but in the wake of accusations of Russian meddling, its plotlines, once considered so outlandish, now seem more run-of-the-mill, a case perhaps of life overtaking art.

There has long been two Americas, one that favours pick-up trucks over Prius hybrids, Walmart over Whole Foods, Duck Dynasty over This American Life. This age of Trump, as well as accentuating those divisions, has brought with it new identifying markers.

Do you wear a scarlet Make America Great Again baseball cap or a pink woollen hat? Would you buy an Ivanka Trump dress? Do you agree with Alex Jones, the host of the far-right Infowars, or Van Jones, CNN’s leading pundit? Or, more simply, do you have faith in the president? Increasingly, how you respond to Trump determines which America you inhabit.

Many Rust Belt voters continue to adore Trump because liberals hate him so. They voted for the billionaire partly to punch sneering bicoastal liberals in the nose. They are enjoying the sight of elite blood being shed in such quantities.

Because of the shadow cast by the Russian allegations, these first 100 days have sometimes felt like the final days of an ailing administration. Trump is routinely cast as a modern-day Richard Nixon. Yet while it is difficult sometimes to see how this administration can remain viable in its present form, it is harder to imagine how it would be brought to a premature end.

Barring some catastrophic revelation emerging from the FBI’s investigation into Team Trump’s alleged links with the Kremlin or some massive financial scandal, the Republican leadership is unlikely to move against him. In the unlikely event that it launched impeachment proceedings, here the constitution is his friend.

It is hard to dislodge an incumbent president.

The Founding Fathers, who came up with a governing model that has constrained Trump, also came up with an electoral model, the Electoral College, which has already helped him and may do so again. That will be true if the Rust Belt remains a stronghold.

The Founding Fathers, who came up with a governing model that has constrained Trump, also came up with an electoral model, the Electoral College, which has already helped him and may do so again. That will be true if the Rust Belt remains a stronghold.

The overwhelming sense, based on the popular vote in November and opinion polls since, is that more Americans are anti-Trump than pro.

But the sense also is that many blue-collar battlers remain fiercely loyal. So to write him off would be to repeat the same analytical mistake commentators have made since he first announced for the presidency, that of underestimation.

For while Liberals regard their new president as a national embarrassment, most of his supporters continue to view him as a potential national saviour.

One hundred days into a presidency the like of which this country has never seen before, the state of the union is disunion, and the battle continues.

Derivative Source: Nick Bryant

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One comment

  1. Billie Patterson · April 30, 2017

    I voted Trump and I love the things he has done so far. I am pretty poor, never made over $12 an hour despite working 35 years in factories. I have a small IRA and I love the way it is growing. After the fuss was made over Ivanka’s clothing being banned from many stores, I bought one and would have bought more if I didn’t already have so many clothes. I would never have bought it if the fuss hadn’t been made about it. I have a Make America Great Again cap and wear it proudly. If the darn democrats loved America, they wouldn’t put up roadblocks. President Trump is making good on his promises, despite being attacked by the MSM and democrats.
    I predict that many democrats will come over to the republican sides, as common sense ones will be sick and tired of all the protests and calls of impeachment when life is getting better for them. If the democrats don’t want to lose elections, they had better get on the Trump train and quit resisting. I hope they keep acting like asses, I want more to come to our side and #MAGA!


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