Trump's first week marked by action and friction

President Donald Trump's first week in office has set the tone for his presidency, analysts say - and it points to a rocky road.

The President spent the week in a flurry of activity, signing a slew of executive orders, essentially acting on his populist campaign pledges.

But he ended it in a spat with Mexico and a war with the media.

The orders included walking out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, green-lighting two controversial oil pipelines opposed by local communities and environmental organisations, and banning federal funding of non-governmental organisations that promote abortion abroad.

He gagged the Environmental Protection Agency, ordering a freeze on new regulations; ordered a wall on the Mexico border, with a beefing up of border security and a crackdown on illegal immigration; and started the process of repealing Obamacare.

That he issued so many executive orders was not unusual; it is common for incoming presidents to do so especially if they are from a different party than their predecessor. Mr Trump's spate of orders played to the gallery of his supporters, but there was also an element of symbolism to several of them.

Some require funding and bureaucratic cooperation, and will take months or years to implement.

Congress, even though controlled by the Republicans, may put up obstacles, and the orders may get mired in legal challenges from civil society groups.

The order on the wall is vaguely worded. It is also clear that American taxpayers will, initially at least, foot the bill for the wall, which could cost in the region of US$15 billion (S$21.4 billion).

The President's power, in reality, is limited. When Mr Barack Obama came to power in 2009 following a landslide victory, one of his first orders required the closing down of the notorious prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Eight years later, it is still functioning.

US President Donald Trump hosts British Prime Minister Theresa May at the White House

  • President Donald Trump hailed a "most special relationship" with Britain and threw his support behind Brexit Friday, as he hosted British Prime Minister Theresa May for his debut on the diplomatic stage.
  • At a tense moment in trans-Atlantic relations, Trump tried to recast the "deep bond" as a meeting of ideological minds: two countries embracing populist policies and taking an uncompromising view of the national interest.
  • Trump pointed to Britain's exit from the European Union as a "wonderful thing" and said: "When it irons out, you're going to have your own identity, and you are going to have the people that you want in your country."
  • "You're going to be able to make free trade deals without having somebody watching you and what you are doing," he added.
  • May brushed aside deep-seated differences on issues from torture to Russia, to pursue a diplomatic charm offensive aimed at securing commitments on trade and mutual defense.
  • May conveyed an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II for Trump to come to Britain for a state visit later this year.
  • The pair even briefly held hands as they walked down the West Wing colonnade.
  • Trump greeted May himself upon her arrival at the White House and then they went to the Oval Office, posing and shaking hands in front of a bust of Winston Churchill.
  • Behind closed doors, May was expected to give Trump an engraved quaich - a ceremonial cup exchanged by Scottish highland chiefs - in a nod to Trump's Scottish ancestry. His mother was born on the island of Lewis.
  • For First Lady Melania Trump, May was to gift a hamper of apple juice, damson plum jam, marmalade, Bakewell tarts and cranberry and white chocolate shortbread cookies.
  • But May also came with a diplomatic shopping list. Trans-Atlantic relations have been rocked by Trump's election and his willingness to rethink NATO, the UN and other foundation blocks of the liberal world order.
  • With Trump largely silent on these issues during a joint press conference, May conveyed what had been said in private.
  • "We've reaffirmed our unshakeable commitment to this alliance," she said. "Mr President, I think you confirmed that you were 100 percent behind NATO." Much of Britain's military power, including its nuclear deterrent, depends on US equipment and systems.
  • In private, European diplomats worry about the influence of top Trump advisor Steve Bannon, who has made common cause with right-wing nationalists and populists in France, Britain and beyond. Many in European capitals are conscious of the continent's previous embraces of nationalism - the Balkan wars and the horrors of World War II, which left millions dead.
  • Trump's break with decades of US support for multilateral trade deals and his preference for bilateral accords did offer May one opening as she seeks to navigate Britain's complex exit from the European Union.
  • Trump nevertheless offered no firm commitment to negotiate a free trade agreement, but did say: "We look forward to working closely with you as we strengthen our mutual ties and commerce, business and foreign affairs."
  • May was not helped Thursday when the White House misspelled her name multiple times when announcing her visit. The reserved daughter of a vicar had promised to be "frank" in her dealings with the unpredictable billionaire. The pair laughed off questions about their personal compatibility.
  • Trump joked that he was "not as brash as you might think" and, turning to May, said: "I think we're going to get along very well."
  • May arrived in the United States on Thursday and received a rapturous welcome from Republican lawmakers gathering in Philadelphia with a speech urging them to "beware" of Russia, and warning US allies to "step up" and play a greater role in global security.

Mr Obama faced opposition from Congress and internal bureaucratic squabbles with the military and Pentagon.

It took more than six years to build about 1,100km of the current fence on the United States-Mexico border. That covers about a third of the total length of the border, which could indicate how much time it would take to finish a wall.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Republican administration would repeal and replace some components of the Obamacare scheme by spring, and address another priority - tax reform - before August.

Said Professor Glenn Altschuler of Cornell University in a phone interview: "There are no real surprises. This is the pursuit of essentially a Republican agenda, a pro-big business rolling back of environmental regulations, and the tough talk on border security and Obamacare."

The week was coloured, though, by President Trump's repeated insistence to the media that the crowds at his inauguration were the biggest ever, and that he would have won the popular vote - which he lost to rival Hillary Clinton by well over two million - had there not been widespread voter fraud, an allegation which appears to have no basis.

Prof Altschuler added: "The President… cannot restrain himself from settling scores, justifying losing the popular vote, and taking it out on media critics.

"This hypersensitivity will make for a volatile and combative administration."

In an e-mail, Professor H. W. Brands, from the Department of History at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote that Mr Trump "continues to focus on matters more appropriate to a campaign - crowd size, for example - than to a presidency".

"And he continues to cast dark aspersions on American democracy - his allegations of massive voter fraud. Nothing much really new. And that is discouraging," said Prof Brands.

Professor Inderjeet Parmar of the Department of International Politics at City, University of London, said that in many respects, these issues were distractions triggered by the President himself.

In a phone interview, the professor said: "Trump is going to stay on the attack, behave as if he is besieged, like a surrogate for an American people under siege.

"It is a populist game which keeps the media in a fury while the rest of the pro-corporate agenda is pushed through."

nirmal@sph.com.sg

Trump sworn in as 45th US president

  • President Donald Trump assumed power Friday with a fiercely nationalistic vow to put "America first," declaring a new political era after being sworn in as the 45th US head of state.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people stood in the rain-splattered National Mall to see the 70-year-old Republican billionaire take the oath of office and deliver a stridently populist call-to-arms.
  • Former US president Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn arrive for the inauguration of President Trump.
  • Former US president Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
  • Former US President George W. Bush and his wife Laura.
  • Bush put up a struggle with his poncho.
  • American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a donor to the Trump campaign.
  • Senators Bernie Sanders and John McCain.
  • "From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land," Trump said, promising an end to business-as-usual in Washington.

    "From this moment on, it's going to be only America First."

  • "Today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, DC. And giving it back to you, the people."
  • While the US capital city no longer provides official crowd counts, the turnout was visibly smaller than for Barack Obama's two inaugurations, in 2009 and 2013, with sections of the Mall and bleachers along the parade route left empty.
  • And as the incoming leader rallied his supporters for the swearing-in, throngs of his opponents also converged on Washington.
  • Most of the protests - by an array of anti-racist, anti-war, feminist, LGBT, pro-immigration and marijuana legalization groups - were noisy but peaceful, though sporadic violence marred the day.
  • Between 400 and 500 masked, black-clad protesters carrying anarchist flags smashed windows, lit fires and scuffled with riot police in downtown Washington, blocks from the parade held in Trump's honour, with over 90 people arrested for vandalism.
  • Even the peaceful protesters were intent on spoiling Trump's party - letting out a deafening roar as the presidential limousine known as "The Beast" rolled by on the way to the White House.
  • "Not my president! Not my president!" they yelled, as the pro- Trump crowd in bleachers across the street chanted "USA! USA!".
  • Trump's inauguration caps the improbable rise to power of the Manhattan real estate magnate who has never before held elected office, served in government or in the armed forces.
  • His speech was far from the typical optimistic inaugural address that tries to bridge political divides and lift Americans' gaze up to the horizon.
  • It was a deliberate and striking contrast from the uplifting message of Obama, the outgoing president who was among the dignitaries in attendance.
  • Obama and his wife Michelle departed the Capitol by helicopter moments after the swearing-in ceremony, turning a page on eight years of Democratic leadership in the White House.
  • At a Congressional luncheon afterward, Trump led a standing ovation for his defeated election rival Hillary Clinton, saying he was "honoured" that she and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, attended his inauguration.
  • When Trump descended the escalators of his glitzy New York tower in June 2015, his run for office was roundly dismissed and even mocked.
  • Trump and First Lady Melania Trump dance during the Armed Forces ball at the National Building Museum.
  • Trump, the first lady Melania Trump, US Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen cut a cake after dancing at the Armed Services ball.


This article was first published on Jan 28, 2017.
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