President Trump makes his mark
Donald Trump launched his presidency with a flurry of executive action, pulling the U.S. out of a major trade agreement, ordering the construction of a Mexican border wall, and beginning the process of dismantling the Affordable Care Act. After the new president was sworn into office last Friday, his first full day in charge was marred by massive protests against his administration (see Talking Points) and his angry reaction to media reports about the modest size of his inauguration crowd (see Controversy). But Trump wasted little time in wielding his executive pen. He pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)— a 12-nation trade deal negotiated by the Obama administration that hadn’t been ratified by Congress—and scheduled meetings with the premiers of Canada and Mexico to begin renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. He directed the Department of Homeland Security to begin constructing a border wall and to strip funding for so-called sanctuary cities, which refuse to hand over undocumented immigrants to federal authorities. “Beginning today, the United States of America gets back control of its borders,” Trump said.
In other executive orders, Trump directed federal agencies to “waive, defer, grant exemptions, or delay” any parts of the Affordable Care Act that it deems burdensome; cleared the way for the approval of the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, which had been halted amid environmental concerns; reinstated the so-called Mexico City Policy, which prevents American foreign aid from going to organizations that offer women advice on abortion; and implemented a hiring freeze on all federal government workers except military personnel. His administration also instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to freeze all its grants and contracts. He was expected to issue another executive order temporarily banning refugees and immigrants from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.
After repeating his unsubstantiated claim that millions of people voted illegally in November’s election, the president said he’d launch a “major investigation” into the issue. “Depending on the results,” he tweeted, “we will strengthen up voting procedures.”
What the editorials said
Withdrawing from the TPP may end up benefiting “a sliver of U.S. manufacturing workers,” said USA Today. But the trade agreement was “America’s best hope for expanding its influence in Asia and limiting the influence of China, which is not part of the deal.” Without the U.S., the TPP’s remaining 11 nations will likely join a rival trade group that “puts China at its center.”
Right from the start, our new president is doing “what he promised,” said the Chicago Tribune—focusing on “creating jobs and boosting wages.” The former businessman told a group of CEOs in the White House that he wants to reduce the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 or 20 percent, and to reduce business regulations by 75 percent. “Those are the kinds of moves that encourage companies to invest more and add jobs.” After the anemic economic growth that followed the Great Recession of 2008, President Trump’s efforts to “spur business activity” are very welcome.
What the columnists said
During the election, journalists were mocked for taking Trump “literally,” not “seriously,” said Jamelle Bouie in Slate.com. Trump wouldn’t literally build a wall or ban Muslims from entering the U.S., we were told—these were “statements of concern” rather than “guides to action.” Now we know Trump really does think voter fraud is widespread; he genuinely intends to build a wall, and to block immigration and visitors from many Muslim-majority countries. His divisive campaign “was not an act.”
From a policy stance, “the Trump presidency is actually off to a surprisingly effective start,” said David Graham in TheAtlantic.com. The leaders of both Canada and Mexico “have signaled they’re willing to open negotiations” on NAFTA, and after meeting with Trump, labor leaders praised his efforts to keep companies from sending jobs abroad. Republican lawmakers “show little interest in investigating his conflicts of interest.” Despite the bad optics of his tweeting and his feud with the press, this is a presidency “moving forward on many of its key goals.”
But this is the “easy part,” said Peter Wehner in The New York Times. What happens “when hard times hit, when crises arise, when other politicians and world leaders do not bend to his will”? If past is prologue, Trump will create enemies—the press, other nations, “even Republican leaders”—and do everything in his power to “delegitimize and destroy them.” A narcissist with “illiberal tendencies, a volatile personality, and no internal checks” now controls “the awesome power of the presidency.” It’s hard to see this ending well.
Trump’s presidency will be “a fascinating test of how strong American institutions are,” said Francis Fukuyama in Politico.com Trump will routinely flout norms, lie egregiously, and attack institutions like the intelligence community and the Federal Reserve. But his authoritarian governing style and extreme domestic and foreign policy stances will eventually meet resistance from small-government conservatives in Congress, the judiciary, his own Cabinet, and the blue states. In the end, “all of these checks will operate to constrain Trump”—or so I hope.
Trump will unveil his pick for the vacant Supreme Court seat next week, said Michael Shear and Adam Liptak in The New York Times. The three leading contenders—federal appeals court judges William Pryor, Neil Gorsuch, and Thomas Hardiman—all have legal philosophies similar to the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s. But Democrats are still seeking to avenge Republicans’ ninemonth blockade of President Obama’s nomination to fill the vacancy. The GOP, which holds 52 seats in the Senate, would need 60 votes to break a filibuster. They could change the rules so that only a simple majority is required—but that could come back to haunt them in future administrations. Either way, prepare for an “allconsuming political fight.”
On the cover: President Trump and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway. Illustration by Howard McWilliam. Cover photos from Getty, Newscom (2)