If you were paying attention during his campaign, the start of the Trump Presidency has held relatively few surprises . Much of what he’s done has only confirmed our worst fears and reinforced our impressions of the Trump we saw as a candidate.
We have already seen patterns that are likely to dominate his time in office.
First of all – and there never should have been any doubt about this – Trump as president is exactly the same person as Trump the candidate. He has not become more moderate, more reasonable, more “presidential.” With the exception of Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s opposition to torture, there is no evidence that he has appointed people to the cabinet or to his staff who will constrain his worst impulses or fill in the gaps in his appalling lack of knowledge.
His continuing barrage of tweets, most of them products of his insecurity and fragile ego, is the most visible evidence that Trump is who he always has been. His continued reliance on his family, including the appointment of Jared Kushner to a position on the White House staff, demonstrates his need for a security blanket to insulate him from opposing points of view. Trump’s fundamental boorishness and insensitivity to anyone other than himself were on full display during his visit to CIA headquarters.
Second, despite Kellyanne Conway asserting that we had paid too much attention to the literal meaning of his words during the campaign, it turns out he often meant exactly what he said. He has signed executive orders to start dismantling the Affordable Care Act, to begin the process of constructing a wall along the Mexican border and to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Some people are grasping at the straw of his promise to protect Medicare and Social Security, but so far there’s no evidence that his is going to honor that pledge.
Third, for those who believed that Kushner and First Daughter Ivanka were going to play a moderating influence, the decision to go ahead with the cruel and ineptly fashioned Executive Order banning Muslims should end that fantasy forever. Similarly, even though Kushner was in the room when it happened, Trump issued a Holocaust Remembrance Proclamation that made no mention of Jews or of the events that it is essential that we never forget.
Kushner may be Jewish, but he gives every indication of being a real estate developer first and foremost. The idea that he can negotiate peace in the Middle East would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. Kushner has no experience in public service, knows nothing about foreign affairs or diplomacy but has been handed a West Wing office solely because he’s in the family.
The hostility, not merely blindness, to ethical constraints highlighted during the campaign by his refusal to release his tax returns is a thread that binds many of his cabinet nominees. They have been slow and evasive in filling out financial disclosure and ethics forms. As one example, Tom Price, the nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services, took advantage of his congressional position to get sweetheart deals on stock purchases and engaged in what looks an awful lot like insider trading. And meanwhile, Trump brazenly asserts that the public doesn’t care about his tax returns.
Two other patterns are worth adding to this list. Trump supporters–and let’s remember that they constitute less than half the voting population–continue to be undisturbed by anything he says or does. They remain blindly loyal to him despite his demonstrable lies, his bizarre behavior and his actions, some of which will surely bite them in the tail – and the pocketbook.
Some observers believe their loyalty will be tested when he can’t bring back the coal industry and produce large numbers of manufacturing jobs, but I’m not so sure. So far, what he has “given” them is the Muslim ban, an intent to go ahead with the wall on the Mexican border (even if there’s no way he can get Mexico to pay for it), and his constant attacks on the mainstream media. Whether all of that will compensate for their loss of health care coverage will be a bigger test of their commitment, but so far they are not wavering.
Finally, the unwillingness of Congressional Republicans to speak out or oppose any of his actions is appalling. It may be early, but their silence makes them complicit if the public turns against the Trump agenda. Many Republicans have stopped answering their phones or allowing constituents into their offices as opposition to the early wave of Trump initiatives builds. You have to assume, however, that a few of them will eventually realize that an energized public may come out and vote in 2018 and 2020 in numbers that jeopardize their chances of reelection.
Citizen activism is the most encouraging bit of news in the midst of the ugly start to the Trump Presidency. Sustaining it may be difficult, but it certainly looks like Trump will continue to provide grist for the opposition. While I wish I could close on that relatively positive note, I am going instead to offer two warnings.
The first is that Trump, Conway, Sean Spicer and others in the administration will continue to do everything they can to distract attention from what they are doing. The press seems to be starting to understand that challenge, but it’s going to be an ongoing struggle and not an easy one to overcome.
Last is a truly ominous note. With a full appreciation of all the risks of citing this historical event, I worry about Trump or Steve Bannon or another of his minions creating the modern equivalent of the Reichstag fire that opened the door to Hitler seizing emergency powers in Germany in 1933. The combination of Trump’s radical goals and his insatiable quest for power means that we need to be alert to even the most far-fetched scenarios.