Trump’s first 50 days are unprecedented as he tears up rule book

US president’s divisive strategy has unfolded against the theatre of a chaotic White House

US president Donald Trump has completed his first 50 days in office. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

US president Donald Trump has completed his first 50 days in office. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

 

For many it was a possible turning point, the moment when Donald Trump turned from ferocious campaigner to rational statesman.

But within 24 hours of his first address to Congress, this glimpse of an alternative Donald Trump was gone, his attempt at playing president vanished like the many lies and promises he made on the campaign trail.

The first 50 days of the Trump presidency are unprecedented.

Yes, there have been great disrupters before – Andrew Jackson, the fiery, red-headed president who rode to the White House on a wave of populism, vowing to challenge the Washington elite and willing to use his executive powers to the full.

Tellingly, when Trump arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January it was Jackson’s portrait he chose to hang in the Oval Office.

But even Jackson refrained from some of Trump’s more radical pronouncements on the integrity of the judiciary during his clashes with the courts.

Since his inauguration speech on January 20th in which he evoked a dystopian vision of a divided and devastated America, president Trump has torn up the rule book as he has set about governing through a strategy of destruction and division.

In his first few days he moved to dismantle decades of US policy, revoking the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal which was designed to protect America from the economic rise of China, dismantling the Dodd-Frank package of financial regulation created to protect consumers after the financial crisis and issuing an order to build a wall on his country’s border with Mexico.

Within a week he had signed an executive order banning the entry of people from seven Muslim-majority countries, sparking chaos at airports across the country and acting in breach of the constitution, according to several courts.

But it was his attacks against the media, the judiciary and the US intelligence community, communicated mainly through pre-dawn tweets, that have raised most concerns about his judgment, motivation and disposition.

Shifting the blame

The Trump binary attitude of being either for him or against him has led the president to fan conspiracy theories about those who dare to challenge him.

Blaming the media, the courts and the FBI has allowed him shift the blame for the lack of progress on some campaign promises to others.

Over the past week his attacks on the institutions of the state have morphed into a narrative that the state apparatus is seeking to undermine him.

The deep state theory, fed by the conspiracy-laden right-wing websites that support Trump, will offer him a handy scapegoat when it all comes tumbling down.

The drama of the first 50 days of Trump’s presidency has unfolded against the theatre of a chaotic White House.

A picture is emerging of several power centres within the Trump administration competing for the president’s counsel as he sinks deeper into paranoia.

Officials who have had meetings with senior Trump advisers over the past week in the White House say that Trump’s people, though polite and ostensibly professional, are giving little away, apparently unsure as to what the president thinks.

A clue to Trump’s unique working style can be found in the opening page of his bestseller The Art of the Deal: “Most people are surprised by the way I work. I play it very loose. I don’t carry a briefcase. I try not to schedule too many meetings. I leave my door open.

“You can’t be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and see what develops.”

Where will all this lead?

Talk of impeachment seems premature. Such a scenario would need the Republican-controlled Congress to turn against the president, a development that seems unlikely given the reluctance so far of most congressional republicans to criticise even the president’s most audacious actions.

Some see a window in the mid-term elections; for others, all it would take is one international or domestic crisis and the wrong response from Trump to trigger discontent.

While the persistent claims about Trump’s ties to Russia refuse to go away, some experts believe that the president’s business interests and conflict of interest would be the most likely smoking gun if the political will to impeach Trump existed.

Money trouble

In the meantime, Trump’s main challenges in the coming months are likely to be linked to an issue he knows well – money.

A number of signature Trump policies are coming up against the hard wall of fiscal reality.

Among the options being examined to fund the promised multibillion-dollar wall with Mexico are cuts to the coast guard and airport security – the very agencies already tasked with protecting US borders.

Similarly, Trump’s much-feted proposals to raise taxes on imports and renegotiate trade deals will impact those American consumers who can least afford it, but who overwhelmingly voted for the New York billionaire.

But it is the Republican healthcare proposals unveiled this week that are most likely to spell trouble for Trump.

While on the one hand the new proposal has been criticised by moderate Republicans concerned about the impact on lower-income constituents, the proposed replacement for Obamacare has enraged those on the right who are furious at the retention of federally-funded tax credits which they see as a new form of social support.

The replacement for Obamacare falls between two stools and is unlikely to please anyone.

A much-criticised remark by Republican Jason Chaffetz this week on CNN said a multitude about the attitude of Trump and his billionaire appointees who are now shaping US policy.

“Americans have choices, and they’ve got to make a choice. So rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own healthcare,” he said.

As the implication of the new healthcare changes filter through to ordinary people across America, this could be the bread-and-butter issue that shapes public opinion on Trump, more than any grand gesture on immigration.

Mr Trump promised millions of Americans their lives would improve and their incomes would rise under his presidency. The next few months will prove whether or not he can deliver.

Suzanne Lynch is Washington Correspondent

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