BY RUSSELL GARDINER
The Last Week
It was the appropriately named Dinah Washington who coined the famous phrase “what a difference a day makes” and the hilarity is heightened as the original version was written by a Mexican. Such a phrase couldn’t be more applicable to the beginning of the Trump administration because every day, the news is more and more interesting. Part of me is anticipating a Northern border wall to keep away those pesky people from Vancouver.
The inauguration was barely over before we were told that climate change, LGBTQ rights pages et al. had been taken off the White House website. After such a turbulent start, those of us who take pleasure from following US politics were transfixed with anticipation. Within a day of the inauguration, the Affordable Care Act was under threat, Trump instructing his minion-like disciples (I’m insinuating that they are sycophantic rather than yellow and talking gibberish) to begin the process of rolling back the reforms of the last 8 years.
By Monday 23rd January, Trump was pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and green-lighting the Dakota Pipeline. By Wednesday the wall was on the way; and it wasn’t even the weekend by the time he had banned refugees entering the country. So I think it wouldn’t be too overzealous a claim to say that Trump has had quite a week even by his standards. So that’s where we are right now, but what’s coming next for the administration, how are Trump’s cabinet, Washington and the electorate going to warm to their new commander in chief?
On the campaign trail, Trump certainly promised a lot to his supporters, and he seems eager to deliver his unprecedented agenda. But it’s hard to get away from the fact that he enters the White House as one of the least popular holders of the office of president in the history of US polling, he will need to be radical in order to keep his own support base energised if he wants to stand a chance of re-election in four years.
But in the short to medium term, Trump will have reasonably unbridled access to deliver his wider legislative agenda. At the election in November, the Republicans reinforced their strong position in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. A sympathetic legislative branch is of intrinsic importance if the President is to flourish in the role. Trump’s main obstacle could yet be the Supreme Court, some policies such as abortion and also the ban on refugees (if made permanent) could potentially go against legal precedent. Amending abortion legislation established in cases such as Roe v Wade could lead to serious legal challenges and difficulties for Trump. Having said this, there remains a vacancy on the court after Obama was unable to get his nominations through. Trump’s nominee would tip the traditional balance on the court in favour of conservative policies. Changing precedent such as Roe v Wade would still be a huge difficulty, traditional conservatives such as John Roberts have often sided with the more liberal minded side of the court (See National Federation of Independent Business v Sebelius).
Already Trump’s executive orders have proved to be some of the most contentious and controversial of all time. While the protests will likely continue for an indefinite period, in the meantime, it’s also interesting to examine how the relationship between Trump and his cabinet will develop. Will the likes of Mike Pence, James Mattis or Rex Tillerson yield power themselves, shaping their own policy agendas in their respective departments? Or will this instead be a presidency characterised by the cult of the individual (Trump himself)? Most of Trump’s team are from the Washington elite of politics, all have worked in some form of public service over the last decade of their lives. Trump has shown already that he is not keen on tolerating dissenters, acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired in the first week of the administration, after bringing into question the legality of the ban on Muslims.
The Donald has begun to put forward his first executive orders and his legislative agenda more broadly. Many of the policies: such as the temporary ban on Muslims and refugees and the border wall with Mexico were key to his election back in November, most importantly in the swing states. Such policies are obviously a break with the comparatively liberal agenda of the Obama administration, but they also signal a break with the internationalist agenda that has been applicable since the post-war era. Trump’s administration has carved its name into the history books already; this could yet be a turning point for the United States, not only a turning point where the country turns its back on the liberal internationalist foreign policy agenda, but equally turns its back on the more hawkish foreign policy agenda of George W Bush. By pulling out of the Trans-pacific partnership, is Trump going to be the first president in more than a century that isolates the US from the international community and international law itself?