DESPITE HIS ANTI-WASHINGTON campaign trail rhetoric, his appointments drew heavily on the Republican establishment. Time magazine commented, “While some supporters may balk, Trump’s decision to embrace those who have wallowed in the Washington muck has spread a sense of relief among the capital’s political class.”
He appointed one highly vocal conservative Supreme Court justice and a raft of lower judges, overwhelmingly white men, many of whose legal suitability was immediately challenged by the American Bar Association, which traditionally ranks the qualifications of appointees. Undeterred, the Republican leadership in Washington opened a campaign of attack against this professional body for its alleged bias.
Trump has cut taxes for the rich. His approval of the Keystone and Dakota XL pipelines pleased the oil interests, as does his ongoing assault on the Environment Protection Agency. At the end of 2017, the administration announced that oil companies could drill offshore in the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific Oceans, including in waters that have been protected for decades. Corporate America is also thrilled with the increase in military spending, the attempts to repeal Obamacare and the bonfire of regulations Trump’s administration is spearheading - all of which may well fuel the next financial crisis and taxpayer bailout.
According to the UN, the US under Trump is becoming the “champion of inequality”. Trump’s response was to cut $285 million from the UN’s budget and withdraw the US from UNESCO - reminiscent of Bush Jr’s contempt for this international body.
There’s continuity in foreign policy too, with the customary use of lethal aerial force, regardless of civilian casualties, in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, as well as the increased rhetoric against traditional enemies like Iran and North Korea. Behind the smokescreen of eye-catching, flaky, rhetoric, this is an administration that bears all the hallmarks of continuity with Trumps’ Republican predecessors.
And not just Republican. Those who worry about Trump’s unpredictability with America’s nuclear button should keep in mind this now partially declassified document from US Strategic Command, in charge of nuclear policy, written during the Bill Clinton presidency. It said: “That the US may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked should be part of the national persona we project.”
As the Taliban spreads its influence back across Afghanistan, the US is ramping up its bombardment there. In December, US and Afghan forces conducted 455 air strikes, an average of 15 per day, compared with just 65 for the same period in the previous year. Between August and December 2017, there were 2,000 air strikes - nearly as many as 2015 and 2016 combined. There are now 1.3 million internally displaced people in Afghanistan.
Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel provoked outrage. Guatemala was one of the first countries to follow suit, a sign of the intense pressure the Central American region is now under. To give a flavour: at the end of 2017, the US House of Representatives passed unanimously a law that would make the US use its influence in international lending institutions, such as the World Bank, to block all loans to Nicaragua - now one of the safest countries in the hemisphere - until Nicaragua holds elections of which the US State Department approves. These loans, vital to Nicaraguan education, social programmes and infrastructural projects, are currently worth $250 million annually.
This is all the more grotesque given that the real electoral scandal in the region was in Honduras, where the opponent to the US-backed candidate was ahead in last year’s election, until the electronic count was suspended and the position suddenly reversed. The poll was widely denounced as fraudulent, including by the Organisation of American States, but not of course by the US.
Meanwhile, the US is planning to deport 200,000 El Salvadoreans, who have had their 17-year long “protected status” scrapped, back to one of the most violent countries in the world that is not at war. El Salvador is one of the world’s deadliest countries for women, with one in every 5,000 being killed every year.
This is the vicious side of the Trump administration. There is also the frankly surreal side, such as its briefing to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, which gets its funding from federal government, that the following terms should no longer be officially used: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “foetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”
The media focuses on Trump’s personality at the expense of the real activities of his administration. The New York Times estimated that Trump had lied six times as often in his first ten months as his predecessor did in eight years - 103 lies by Trump, compared to eighteen by Obama. A president who didn’t lie - now that would be news!
As for Trump’s poorer voters, blue collar whites and southerners, they get the tweets, words rather than deeds. In his State of the Union address, as Republican Congressmen chanted “USA! USA!”, Trump shored up his base by castigating “open borders” and immigrants pouring in from Mexico. Except that the borders haven’t been open. Obama deported 400,000 people a year, more than Trump did in 2017. And more Mexicans have left the US for Mexico than come to the US for the last decade.
So, more lies. The gulf is striking between how Trump railed on the campaign trail against Chinese commodity dumping on US markets and the diplomatic tone he took when he addressed his hosts in the Great Hall of the People.
In short, Trump, like Bush Jr and Reagan before him, takes a pretty cynical approach to his poorer supporters. Play the victim, talk up conspiracies, spread the fear that their culture is under siege, but do nothing that will disturb what his administration is really about: enriching the bankers, corporate America, the already fantastically wealthy - business as usual.
Meanwhile the protests continue. The women’s marches called to mark Trump’s first year in office brought millions to the streets across the US, with 300,000 in Chicago alone. The challenge is to unify the growing opposition to Trump into a movement that can oust him.