Tor­nado Trump Strikes Amer­ica

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - Seema Sirohi

It’s only been 12 days of Don­ald Trump as pres­i­dent, but the US al­ready feels different. Its pri­or­i­ties and direc­tion are changing at a faster pace than an­tic­i­pated. There is no prece­dence for easy ref­er­ence.

He was called the ‘chaos can­di­date’ and it seems he will be a chaos pres­i­dent, mov­ing speed­ily on prom­ises he made to sup­port­ers and cre­at­ing dis­or­der on the side to keep the op­po­si­tion in a tizzy. He is dish­ing out so much so quickly, the Democrats do not know where to tar­get their guns.

Ex­pect grid­lock and de­lay on con­fir­ma­tion of Trump nom­i­nees, es­pe­cially those seen as ‘toxic’ by the Democrats. It will be war by an­other name. A stream­lined, fully-func­tion­ing Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion may take longer to come into place.

The sev­enth floor of the State De­part­ment is empty with the en­tire se­nior rung of diplo­mats purged be­fore Rex Tiller­son, the in­com­ing US Sec­re­tary of State, takes his seat. Could it be a de­lib­er­ate move de­signed to hob­ble Tiller­son as some spec­u­late?

The mas­ter of tur­moil is Trump’s chief strate­gist Stephen Ban­non. He is shap­ing this ad­min­is­tra­tion more than any other. His in­flu­ence on for­eign and do­mes­tic pol­icy far ex­ceeds that of cabi­net mem­bers. A hard Right man, he is be­hind Trump’s spree of life-al­ter­ing ex­ec­u­tive or­ders, in­clud­ing a tem­po­rary ban on cit­i­zens of seven Mus­lim coun­tries.

The re­sult is po­lit­i­cal un­rest on a scale not seen in decades.

Air­ports have be­come bat­tle­grounds for im­mi­grant rights, fast-food restau­rants the new of­fices of vol­un­teer lawyers try­ing to res­cue de­tained trav­ellers. Con­fu­sion reigns on the im­pli­ca­tions of hastily writ­ten or­ders. The health in­sur­ance mess — Trump’s first ex­ec­u­tive or­der was about dis­man­tling large parts of Oba­macare — will also take a toll. Women worry about abor­tion rights slip­ping away with a vice-pres­i­dent ded­i­cated to snatch­ing them.

The fears are gen­uine and it would be a folly to dis­miss them only as some ‘left-lib’ over­re­ac­tion, just as it was stupidly ar­ro­gant to de­ride Trump sup­port­ers as a ‘bas­ket of de­plorables’. Snark­i­ness on both the Left and the Right can be tire­some.

Mean­while, the smell of protest is ev­ery­where. The United States of Amer­ica is dis­united, and the new pres­i­dent is not in­ter­ested in ap­peal­ing for unity. At least not for now.

It’s clear that Trump will gov­ern on his own terms. His base is ec­static be­cause they are get­ting what they voted for. The swift, hard de­liv­er­ies, in­clud­ing a full-blown war against the me­dia, are de­li­cious bites.

Ban­non’s tricks are work­ing so well that Trump el­e­vated the ide­o­logue-in-chief to the Prin­ci­pals’ Com­mit­tee, the top pol­icy-mak­ing body in the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil (NSC), while re­strict­ing chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence. They will at­tend some meet­ings, not all. Who needs pro­fes­sional coun­sel when you are light­ing fires?

An­other per­son kicked off the com­mit­tee is Nikki Haley, Trump’s UN am­bas­sador and the first In­di­anAmer­i­can cabi­net ap­pointee. Was it pun­ish­ment for her tepid en­dorse­ment of Trump?

Ban­non’s pro­mo­tion has Washington in a twist and the re­struc­tur­ing will cre­ate re­sent­ment among cabi­net mem­bers. But it’s good to re­mem­ber that Obama’s strate­gist David Ax­el­rod also at­tended some NSC meet­ings mainly to lis­ten in.

Po­lit­i­cal ad­vis­ers are gen­er­ally kept at a dis­tance to give the im­pres­sion that na­tional se­cu­rity de­ci­sions are un­tainted by po­lit­i­cal con­sid- er­a­tions. In re­al­ity, all de­ci­sions are po­lit­i­cal and Trump has done away with the pre­tence.

The rise and rise of Ban­non along with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kush­ner means the heads of key de­part­ments will con­stantly be fight­ing for Trump’s ear. Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Michael Flynn’s im­por­tance has al­ready less­ened — his per­son­al­ity and his son have be­come li­a­bil­i­ties.

As power consolidates in a small in­ner cir­cle around Trump, tra­di­tional bu­reau­cracy has lesser space to in­ter­vene. The roll-out of the ban came di­rectly from Ban­non and Stephen Miller, a young and am­bi­tious ad­viser to Trump, with­out con­sul­ta­tion with rel­e­vant de­part­ments.

Miller is an old anti-immigration hand from Capi­tol Hill — watch for his moves on H-1B visas with the help of his old boss, Jeff Ses­sions, the nom­i­nee for at­tor­ney gen­eral. Ses­sions as se­na­tor rou­tinely attacked the H-1B pro­gramme in chore­ographed Con­gres­sional hear­ings where crit­ics held sway.

What the Trump sol­diers ul­ti­mately do on for­eign pol­icy and with In­dia re­mains to be seen. Bre­it­bart News, Ban­non’s for­mer home, will be the can­non from which shots will be fired.

Con­duct of for­eign re­la­tions in the midst of do­mes­tic chaos can’t be smooth. If the US re­mains at war with it­self, it can hardly train its eyes on real en­e­mies in a con­sid­ered and con­sis­tent fashion. UNPRESIDENTED

High five!

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