Tornado Trump Strikes America
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