Chaos and Canards Take Center Stage
BY PAUL SCHINDLER | There’s little that any reasonable observer could have expected Donald Trump to do in his first days in office that would have eased the anxieties of the estimated three million people — including 400,000 in Midtown — who turned out for Women’s Marches worldwide the day after his inauguration.
But it’s now very clear that the new president had absolutely no interest in even trying.
From a strikingly dark Inaugural Address to a series of stupid fights that reinforce questions about his honesty and that of his team to a burst of policy actions and edicts that reflect a sharp right turn and an autocratic temperament, Trump has proven he intends to bring the chaotic and crude style of his campaign to the presidency.
None of this provides any cause to hope that reason and stability can reign in the worst instincts of this arguably unbalanced man.
With four of his predecessors sitting behind him on the dais at the Inauguration, Trump said, “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.” The barely masked disdain for the former presidents might have been more palatable as a Trumpian populist rallying cry had he not named a cabinet full of billionaires, whose net worth CBS News has estimated at 50 times greater than the cabinet of George W. Bush, the last Republican president.
Trump’s remarks included a stark portrait of American society jarring in its disconnect with the reality on the ground, one that in acknowledging the disadvantages faced by the most economically challenged among us managed to suggest deep pathology in the communities where they live.
“For too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential,” the president said. “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
Pivoting to foreign relations, Trump sketched a retreat from America’s traditional global leadership role in favor of a focus on “America First,” a phrase the Anti-Defamation League has urged him to avoid given its genesis in the pre-Pearl Harbor resistance by American anti-Semites to any US role in taking on Hitler’s Germany.
From that unpromising start, Trump moved into a weekend of childish skirmishes over issues like the size of the Inauguration crowd and whether it was a media myth that he was antagonistic toward the intelligence community, which 10 days earlier he had suggested was acting like “Nazi Germany.”
Both he and his press secretary, Sean Spicer, unambiguously lied about the size of the inaugural crowd, and when they were called on it, Kellyanne Conway was dispatched to warn ominously that if the press “keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms, I think we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here.” Tension between the White House and the media is nothing new, but the president saying that reporters “are among the most dishonest human beings on earth” evidences an unprecedented hostility toward a free press.
By Monday, Trump had moved on to a new canard: his claim, absent any evidence whatsoever, that three to five million “illegal aliens” — his particular obsession — had cast votes against him. His call on Wednesday morning for a “major investigation” into that issue suggested we may once again start hearing about the dire need for cumbersome restrictions on access to the polls, the kind of measures that have tamped down voting in urban communities in the past.
Where the president focused on governing — as opposed to divisive quarreling — the implications were equally troubling. His vague executive order allowing agencies to soft-pedal enforcement of Obama-care provisions threatens to deprive Americans of health care before the Republicans have presented any replacement plan.
With executive orders issued or expected within days on diverting money to start work on the southern border wall — Trump insists we’ll be reimbursed by Mexco — on stripping government funding from sanctuary cities, and on reducing entry into the US by refugees and residents from some Muslim-majority countries, the president is making good on the anti-immigrant fearmongering he and his crowds relished on the campaign trail.
The gag order on recipients of US aid overseas providing counseling on abortion will not merely eliminate discussion of that option from the services provided to poor women around the globe, more importantly it will thin the ranks of groups qualified to offer any kind of sexual health services, including prenatal care, contraceptive alternatives, and HIV/ AIDS prevention and treatment. People will die as a result of this move.
The scrubbing of issues from climate change to LGBTQ rights from the White House website signals that the right-wing zealots who have dominated his early appointments enjoy the upper hand in the new administration. His reversal of President Barack Obama’s actions on the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines represents the first victory for Scott Pruitt, Trump’s climate science-denying nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, where new restrictions placed on employees who previously communicated with the public have raised concerns about a gag order there as well. Americans are being warned not to trust the media. Are we now no longer going to be hearing from our government climate scientists?
This is a dispiriting, though hardly surprising start. Each new day is likely to bring fresh bad news, and we should all mark next Thursday, in particular, on our calendar. That’s when the president will announce his choice to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.