In just a few pen strokes and just a few days, President Donald Trump trimmed U.S. involvement in global trade, started building a wall, and banned Muslims from 7 countries. As a follow-up act he began the process to eliminate Obamacare and freeze contracted government hiring while expanding the military.
For many the biggest surprise is that none of these policy issues are surprising. Each was touted during the presidential campaign and are being carried out as promised. The hoped-for mellowing of Trump to a more presidential posture has not occurred. In fact, Twitter temper tantrums made famous through the campaign continue as does alienation of anyone opposing his policies including journalists and other politicians including those from his own Republican party and even leaders of other nations.
The early and controversial spate of Executive Orders, Memoranda and Proclamations along with a set of rich, conservative, homogenous “government-experience-shy” senior advisers, foreshadows a presidential term of defiant policy making running roughshod over those who disagree and without congressional vetting.
During the presidential campaign, Trump touted a “total and complete ban” of all Muslims from traveling to or migrating to the United States. When pressed by journalist, George Stephanopoulos on ABC television asking if Trump was bothered by being compared to Adolf Hitler, Trump said, “No.” He continued by comparing his policy to President Franklin Roosevelt creating Japanese internment camps during World War II, “Because what I’m doing is no different than FDR... We are now at war.”
Immediately thereafter, U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, spoke out against Trump’s policy proposal, calling it “Anti-American.” Fast forward to barely one year later and the Speaker of the House now supports Trump’s Muslim Ban, “President Trump is right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly who is entering our country.”
In signing the Executive Order against Muslim majority nations, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, Trump cited learning lessons from 9/11. However, the 9/11 terrorists came from four other countries – Egypt, Lebanon, Saudia Arabia, and United Arab Emirates – none of those countries are on Trump’s Muslim ban. In addition, Trump has businesses operating in the four countries left off the Muslim ban list.
Finally, Christians have been granted priority from the seven banned countries, “including when the person is a religious minority in his country of nationality facing religious persecution,” essentially setting up an unprecedented religious litmus test for admittance into the United States. No such exception for admittance is granted any member of a Muslim sect facing religious prosecution. Syrian refugees have been banned indefinitely and for the next 120 days, all refugees from the banned nations will be denied entry.
Just as FDR’s discriminatory policy toward Japanese internment was ruled unconstitutional, a Brooklyn judge acted swiftly in ruling against sending refugees that were being held in U.S. airports, back home. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was crucial in advocating on behalf of refugees being held in airports across the country and won suits in various jurisdictions including Alexandria, Virginia, Boston, Massachusetts, and Seattle, Washington.
Trump chose Holocaust Remembrance Day to roll out his anti-Muslim stance. He never mentioned Jews in his statement.
Trump’s campaign promise to build a wall on the southern border buoyed the TV celebrity in the Republican polls. Last week he issued Executive Order: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements to make good on that pledge. With a written plan to empower local law enforcement to implement national immigration policy, increase border agents and construct a border fence, Trump fails to discuss financing the increased resources.
In a several-way tie for which foreign country he alienated first, Trump threatened to cancel a planned U.S. visit by Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, who has repeatedly stated his country will not pay for building the wall. Peña Nieto received a much-needed domestic approval rating bump when he pre-empted Trump’s threat by cancelling the visit himself.
The Trump administration floated a plan to finance the wall construction by a 20 percent tax on Mexican goods. That idea fell flat with free market policy makers from the president’s own party and tequila lovers across the country.
The November victory for opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) was short lived. When President Obama refused to grant federal permission to build the pipeline in the wake of massive national protest in support of indigenous populations most affected, celebration was brief and met with objective skepticism. In Trump’s first week, the skepticism proved appropriate as Trump directed agencies to “review and approve in an expedited manner” the pipeline. Furthermore, Trump asked departments to expedite environmental requirements, the biggest concern to water advocates worried about ground contamination. In further insult, the indigenous nations located near the pipeline route were never contacted before or after the document signing, nor were they provided a set of signed documents.
Trump took time during the DAPL signing to also advocate for building the Keystone Pipeline from Canada to Nebraska. His intentions were clear as he stated he wants to streamline the process and, “get this thing built.”
Moderate Republicans are worried that the Trump stamp on their party will determine “what the party stands for” for decades, putting them in the uncomfortable position of defending or remaining silent on things as varied as the Muslim ban and pull back from free trade policies that has been key to the Republican party platform. Trump’s executive action to pull out of Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations is relief to the Chinese but not to free market Republicans. Likewise, his desire to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is unsettling for free trade Republicans. Any division within the GOP has been successfully squashed thus far as party leaders have fallen in line with their leader.
Democrats and other progressives have been less forgiving. A new round of protests are expected in collaboration with indigenous communities in the wake of those considered successful in halting the building of the DAPL and Keystone pipelines under Obama. The Trump administration may spur even further collaboration among indigenous communities around the world fighting for resource preservation.
Additional “Muslim ban” protests are expected after those carried out at airports across the country and the legal success headed by the ACLU. At Denver International Airport, JFK, San Francisco, L.A. and airports around the country, the protests drew international praise and fueled organized opposition to multiple Trump proposals.
U.S. politically moderate and progressive groups are reeling after the whirlwind of executive actions issued by Trump in the first several days of office. For these communities, organized and well attended reaction will determine whether policy direction can be changed or will harden a stubborn newly elected president.