With the ascension of Donald Trump, a new era has dawned for the institution of the American presidency. Long before his inauguration this week as this country’s 45th president, Donald Trump assumed power and began to govern in a way that no previous American president ever has. Just as he threw away the political rulebook for running for president and invented an entirely new campaign style designed to match his unique talents, Trump immediately seized the initiative after his upset victory in November and has dominated the headlines, day after day, ever since.
Using the techniques that he developed during the presidential campaign, Trump has continued to confound the political experts, confuse his opponents and manipulate the mainstream media he despises while demonstrating to his loyal supporters that, unlike his predecessors in the White House, he fully intends to keep his campaign promises. While orchestrating a highly successful transition process, Trump substituted action for political doubletalk and steamrolled anyone who dared to try to stand in his way, even the outgoing president himself.
In a practical sense, one could say that Trump’s presidency actually began on December 5th instead of January 20th, when he announced, with his typical flair, the deal he forced on United Technologies to cancel its decision to close its Carrier air conditioner factory in Indiana and move its production to a new plant it had started building in Mexico. By doing so, Trump saved almost 1,000 high paying American manufacturing jobs.
The Carrier deal was, in effect, a down payment on one of his key campaign promises. His pledge to “Make America Great Again” was not just a catchy campaign slogan. It was a personal commitment to his voters who could not afford to wait until Trump formally took office on Inauguration Day for him to make good on it.
EARLY SIGNS OF GOOD FAITH
It was an unmistakable sign of good faith that struck home with the tens of thousands of blue collar Reagan Democrats of the Midwest who provided Trump with his margin of victory in the Electoral College.
It also struck fear into the hearts of the Democrats, still reeling from their unexpected defeat, by signaling that Trump’s success in capturing the allegiance of working-class Reagan Democrats was not a one-off event. By intervening personally on their behalf with the heads of one of America’s largest corporations, Trump was breaking the normal rules of the transition period to prove to these voters that their faith in his promise to secure their jobs was justified.
Over the next few weeks, Trump repeated that success with the leaders of other major American corporations, including Ford and Fiat-Chrysler. He twisted their arms with public threats to impose a stiff tariff on goods they had hoped to make with lower cost labor in Mexico, and thereby saved the threatened jobs of thousands of American auto workers.
It was a virtuoso demonstration of how Trump intends to use his ability as a deal maker to fight for the interests of American workers as president. Over a period of a month, before he had actually taken office, Trump saved more American manufacturing jobs than Barack Obama had over the previous 8 years.
This was not the normally calm transition period between Election Day and Inauguration Day that we have come to expect from previous presidential transfers of power.
TRUMP STANDS UP FOR ISRAEL
Trump felt obligated to stand up for Israel to counter a mean-spirited parting shot by President Obama to undermine Israel’s diplomatic legitimacy. Breaking with precedent, Trump publicly objected to U.S. connivance in the passage of an anti-Israel resolution in the U.N. Security Council and promised that U.S. relations with Israel will improve under his presidency.
Trump has signaled that unlike his predecessors, he intends to carry out his campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim. Trump has also stood firmly behind his choice of a staunch advocate of the settlements for U.S. ambassador to Israel, despite cries of protest from J Street and other groups Jewish in name only which prefer Palestinian interests to Israel’s.
Trump’s clear public signals that he intends to stand firmly behind the positions of Israel influenced the French-sponsored peace conference in Paris, which was convened Sunday without Israel’s participation and over its strong objections. The Palestinians had hoped that it would result in another strong condemnation of Israel and its settlement policy, and an endorsement of Palestinian statehood without first requiring a negotiated peace agreement with Israel. But the knowledge that Trump would not let the U.S. support such a position resulted in the anti-Israel provisions of the meeting’s final declaration being significantly weakened.
There was also a report in the Guardian newspaper that the British government sent a low level delegation to the Paris meeting to signal that it does not support French moves to impose a two-state solution on Israel.
While the U.S. government participated in the Paris conference, members of the Trump transition team reportedly told French diplomats that the president-elect disapproved of the conference because it put unfair pressure on Israel and unjustly rewarded the Palestinians.
Obama made several other moves in the final weeks of his presidency intended to interfere with Trump’s ability to set his own federal environmental, energy and immigration policies. Obama also pleaded with congressional Democrats to protect Obamacare and refuse to participate in Trump’s efforts to replace it.
DEMOCRATS STILL IN DENIAL
From the moment Trump was declared the victor late on Election Night, the transition was filled with controversy and wild accusations from stunned Democrats who had been supremely confident that Mrs. Clinton would win. The outcome was inconceivable to them. Clinton’s victory seemed inevitable.
She had all the advantages. Her experienced campaign team had unlimited financing; control over the mainstream media, which was openly working on her behalf; and a nationwide network of loyal political operatives that the Clintons had been building for 25 years. Democrats simply could not accept that Clinton had been outmaneuvered and beaten, fair and square, by Trump, the brash political outsider who had never before run for elected office and whom they despised.
The mindset that Trump must have cheated to defeat Clinton drove the subsequent attempts by Democrats to challenge the reality of Trump’s victory, and to uncover how he had rigged the system to win the White House.
Democrats backed allegations by Jill Stein of the Green Party of possible voter fraud and demands of recounts in the crucial Rust Belt states that Trump had narrowly won. But the recounts showed that there was no fraud.
Those who rejected the results of the outcome of the election used social and media pressure and in some cases threats of violence, to try to intimidate the delegates to the Electoral College pledged to Trump into changing their votes. It didn’t work.
Many Democrats blame Mrs. Clinton’s loss on FBI director James Comey. He harshly criticized her for the presence of classified material in emails on her private server, even though he recommended against prosecuting her. The Clinton campaign was infuriated by Comey’s letter to leaders of Congress, sent 11 days before the election, which announced that the email investigation had been reopened because of the possible discovery of more evidence.
Finally, they accused Trump of being in cahoots with Russian hackers who had penetrated the poorly secured computers of the DNC and the Clinton campaign. The hacked emails uncovered a real conspiracy by high party officials to fix the outcome of their primaries and exposed the lies that Clinton and her operatives were trying to hide from the American people.
The system was rigged. But the hacked emails revealed that the culprits were the Democrats and the only real victim of fraud and unfair tactics in this election cycle was Bernie Sanders. Today’s outraged cries against Russian interference by those who rigged the system on Mrs. Clinton’s behalf are unconvincing.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
What happens next? How will Donald Trump govern as president? The honest answer is that nobody outside of Trump’s inner circle really knows. For all of his media exposure, President Trump keeps his own counsel, and lets the public and the media know only what he wants them to know about his plans and goals.
Trump’s campaign and subsequent statements have given us a rough idea of his intentions, but the nitty gritty details of policy and governing are still very much a work in progress.
Trump has assembled an impressive cabinet team, often reaching outside the political world to tap outstanding leaders from the business community. Their personal skills and experience are generally well matched to the goals Trump has set out for them.
As Trump promised the voters, he has recruited the best and brightest America has to offer for his cabine, giving his opponents very little to criticize as they go through the Senate confirmation process.
His national security team, to be led by his universally respected Defense Secretary General James Mattis, includes some of the best minds in the American military.
His pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was the highly successful chief executive of ExxonMobil, the mammoth American company with successful oil operations all over the world. But questions were raised in his confirmation hearings about Tillerson’s extensive dealings on behalf of ExxonMobil in Russia, and the nature of his relationship with Vladimir Putin.
The people Trump picked to fulfill his promises to repeal and replace Obamacare, roll back global warming-inspired environmental regulations that are crippling American industry and restore excellence and parent choice to American schools through tuition vouchers, are recognized experts in those specific fields.
Trump’s tax, trade and economic policies intended to reinvigorate growth and investment will be guided by some of America’s most successful financiers, investors and businessmen.
He has also encouraged his cabinet members to voice their own opinions in their confirmation hearings, even when they know that Trump disagrees with them, another key indicator of Trump’s leadership qualities.
Since the election, Trump has renewed his promise to build a wall along the Mexican border. He has announced that he intends to begin building it immediately, and negotiate the deal for Mexico to pay for it later.
Similarly, despite widespread skepticism expressed by Democrats, Trump promised over the weekend to release the details of his plan to repeal and replace Obamacare almost immediately after Dr. Tom Price, his nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, is confirmed by the Senate. Trump’s team has promised that those Americans now benefitting from Obamacare will not lose their health coverage. Trump’s market-based replacement plan will retain Obamacare’s most popular features, guaranteed coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and coverage until the age of 26 for the adult children of policyholders. Trump also promised that his new plan will make some form of affordable health coverage available to all Americans.
VOTERS’ TRUST BETRAYED
Obama’s presidency, which many Americans had hoped would fulfill his 2008 promises to re-unite a nation that was tired of bitter partisanship, did just the opposite. Obama’s soaring rhetoric, lauding American values and its democratic heritage, was not matched by the way he governed. Instead of using his voter mandate to heal the nation’s wounds by reaching out to create a broad consensus, Obama used it to impose his extreme liberal policy agenda on a largely unwilling nation.
Too few Americans benefitted from Obama’s 2009 stimulus package. He did little or nothing to help the nine million Americans who lost their homes due to foreclosure after losing their jobs through no fault of their own, while protecting banks from those losses and bank executives from criminal charges.
Business growth was crippled by new taxes and useless regulations.
The big winner from Obama’s policies was the government bureaucracy.
Voters who had trusted Obama were doubly hurt when they realized that he had lied to them about Obamacare.
A newly elected Obama promised voters who were tired of war to bring American troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Eight years later, as he leaves office, Obama is sending U.S. troops back to those countries due to the failures of his policies. Other countries no longer view America as a reliable ally. Obama squandered the loyalty of America’s friends, such as Israel and Egypt, and the respect of its foes, such as Iran and Russia.
The result was widespread voter disgust with the dysfunctional government in Washington, which was beholden to the liberal special interests and unaccountable to the people.
THE INTERNAL REPUBLICAN REVOLT
Voters initially reacted by giving the Republicans majority control of the House and Senate. When they failed to block Obama’s policies, voters took a leap of faith by selecting outsider Trump, on the strength of his promises to disrupt business-as-usual for the Washington political establishment, “drain the swamp,” and “make America great again.”
Trump won the GOP nomination because grass roots Republicans felt betrayed by the leadership of their own party. It refused to use its control of Congress to effectively fight Obama’s liberal policies.
Many GOP party leaders at first resisted the voters’ choice of Trump as their nominee, and refused to go along with his policy agenda because some of its populist elements seemed incompatible with conservative principles. Others were repulsed by Trump’s unconventional but highly effective campaign tactics and provocative personal style.
But party leaders, including former RNC chairman Reince Priebus and House Speaker Paul Ryan, finally came around. They realized that they can find enough common ground with their president to achieve most of the conservative goals which have eluded the party since the Reagan era. Trump and Republican leaders have finally seized the initiative from Obama.
Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have developed a comprehensive package of legislation which they are ready to submit to Congress almost immediately.
Priebus, as Trump’s White House chief of staff, is ideally suited to coordinate the efforts and positions of the party leadership and the Trump White House. One of the first goals will be to pass an ambitious and long overdue infrastructure program which many Democrats are eager to support. There is also a growing consensus that the long-neglected U.S. military urgently needs a major investment to replace its aging weaponry and increase its size and readiness to meet the many global security challenges the U.S. faces today.
Ryan has also said he hopes to pass Trump’s proposed tax cuts for business and consumers, intended to stimulate investment, boost economic growth and job creation and simplify the tax code, before the end of this year.
OBAMA’S DISASTROUS LEGACY FOR DEMOCRATS
Clinton’s main hope for victory was to run on the promise of providing a virtual “third term” for Obama’s policies. It is ironic that since the election, Obama has been unwilling to accept the fact that Clinton’s defeat was also a rejection by the voters of his policies as president.
In his farewell interviews over the past few weeks, Obama has expressed no regrets about his policies, which the American people have repeatedly rejected. Instead, he blames the disastrous string of recent Democrat electoral defeats on a “messaging” problem, meaning his inability to show American voters the truth as he sees it, that his policies have been right all along.
Over a thousand of Obama’s fellow Democrats who supported his agenda have been defeated in the last three elections on the national and state levels. The ranks of up and coming Democrat elected officials are so depleted that future viability of the party as a national political force has been called into question.
With their abandonment of the interests of working class voters in the industrial Midwest, who were once the core of the Democrat voter base, the party’s remaining strength is almost entirely concentrated in the urban centers on both coasts. This puts them at a major disadvantage in seeking to regain control of the House and Senate. Republican control of the redistricting process in most states will make it even more difficult for Democrats to recover.
The outcries of the political establishment and the mainstream media against Trump’s Tweets, which helped him win the presidency, are just another sign of their inability to recognize the new political reality Trump has created. They are perplexed by Trump’s terse messaging style because they still don’t understand its intent and meaning. They are also furious because it enables Trump to bypass them and deliver his message directly to the American people.
Trump is an expert deal maker. That makes it more difficult to distinguish between what Trump is saying just for effect, as an opening position in a negotiation, or as a final policy.
The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and other news outlets also pretend to be shocked when Trump holds them accountable for deliberately disseminating fake news designed to damage his credibility and the legitimacy of his presidency.
Trump insists upon responding to every vicious public attack on his character by liberal sacred cows such as Congressman John Lewis and members of the Hollywood cultural elite. Critics who say that as president-elect, Trump should have “risen above” the need to respond ignore the fact that no other modern president has ever been treated with such public disrespect.
Trump knows that he is his own most effective public advocate for his policies and defender of his character. The attacks upon him have only increased in intensity with his political success. Unlike other Republican leaders who kowtowed when attacked, Trump responds instantly and effectively to prevent his presidency from being buried in the avalanche of unfair criticism.
TRUMP LEARNED FROM ROMNEY’S MISTAKES
Based upon his poor first term performance, many Republicans believe that Obama should have been defeated in his 2012 bid for re-election. Obama won only because the Republicans fielded Mitt Romney, a weak and vulnerable opponent who allowed himself to be trashed by the media and ran an incompetent campaign.
Trump’s far more aggressive style, refusing to allow himself to be demonized by the media or back down in the face of criticism, is due in part to the lessons he learned from Romney’s mistakes.
Trump’s policies have evolved since he first announced his candidacy 18 months ago as the realities have become apparent to him. He still promises to build a wall along the Mexican border and get Mexico to pay for it, but not immediately. He will still repeal and replace Obamacare, but in a way that does not disrupt the health care that its participants are now receiving. He will still prevent potential terrorists from entering this country, but not based upon a religious litmus test.
Most recently, Trump has accepted the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia was responsible for hacking the Democrats during the presidential campaign, but vigorously denies that it had a decisive influence on the outcome of the election or the legitimacy of his victory.
TRUMP VOLUNTARILY TURNS OVER HIS BUSINESS EMPIRE
Characteristically, Trump and his legal team forged their own approach for dealing with apparent conflicts of interests which may arise between his duties as president and his huge financial holdings. As president, Trump is exempt from the federal conflict of interest regulations. In a strictly voluntary move, Trump has turned over his business to his two sons and isolated himself from its day-to-day operations. He has also canceled any new business deals with foreign entities.
As his chief lawyer explained at Trump’s news conference last week, divestiture of his vast financial interests is not legally feasible because of the unique nature of his business empire. Putting it in a trust run by his sons while he is president is the only practical way Trump can deal with the appearance problem.
The mainstream media played up criticism of the arrangements by government ethics “experts.” Trump’s financial situation is clearly unique when compared to other former presidents. Most legal experts believe that the arrangements he has made to separate his personal financial interests from his duties as president and to reduce possible foreign financial entanglements will stand up to any legal challenge.
CONFIRMATION HEARING HIGHLIGHTS
While Democrats tried using the confirmation hearings to attack Trump’s policies, it appears that most, if not all of his appointees will be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate in party line votes.
The exception is Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, whose approval by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee could be blocked by objections voiced by Florida Senator Marco Rubio last week. He seemed intent on pressuring Tillerson to publicly brand Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal for the bombing of civilians in Aleppo, Syria. That would have been highly inappropriate for any unconfirmed cabinet member to do on his own, and Tillerson prudently dodged giving Rubio a direct answer. Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham had said they were uncomfortable with Tillerson’s cordial ties with Putin while he was the ExxonMobil CEO, but after private conversations with Tillerson, McCain said he is leaning towards supporting his nomination.
Congressman John Lewis, a leader of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, cast doubt on the commitment to civil rights of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s choice for attorney general, despite Sessions’ record of prosecuting members of the Ku Klux Klan and other racists before being elected to the Senate. New Jersey Senator Corey Booker raised similar objections to Sessions, breaking the Senate rule of refraining from direct criticism of another member of the senatorial “club.” Booker was trying to impress Democrat liberals and lay the foundation for his possible bid for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination.
OBAMA’S FAREWELL TOUR
President Obama celebrated the last days of his presidency by conducting his own “farewell tour.” It consisted of meetings with Democrats on Capitol Hill, interviews with friendly media outlets and a public speech at Grant Park in his hometown of Chicago, 2,899 days after he delivered his 2008 election victory there.
Observers were struck by the similarity in the theme and content of the two speeches, delivered 8 years apart, including Obama’s signature campaign tag line, “Yes, we can.”
It was a bittersweet reminder that Obama was always much better at campaigning than he was at governing.
Obama claimed to have fundamentally transformed the country as president. He ticked off a familiar list of major accomplishments he has claimed, including recovery from the financial crisis, launching Obamacare, bringing home U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and killing Osama bin Laden.
OBAMA’S LESS NOTABLE ACCOMPLISHMENTS
But voters are likely to be more interested in the embarrassing items omitted from Obama’s list of accomplishments.
When Obama took office, the national debt was $10.6 trillion. Today it’s $19.5 trillion and counting.
Since Obama took office in 2009, more than 200 new major federal regulations have increased the burden on American businesses by $108 billion annually.
According to Heritage Foundation economists, Obama’s regulations to fight climate change will cost the economy hundreds of thousands of jobs and increase the cost of electricity to American households by 13 to 20 percent over the next 20 years.
Trump said in his press conference last week that Obama’s signature policy achievement, Obamacare, is “imploding as we sit.”
Trump noted that this year some states, like Arizona, are experiencing premium increases in excess of one hundred percent. He said that “from a political standpoint,” it would be beneficial for him to “sit back” and allow it to fail.
“Obamacare is the Democrats’ problem. We are gonna take the problem off the shelves for them. We’re doing them a tremendous service by doing it,” Trump said, because letting the plan fail on its own “wouldn’t be fair to the people.”
OBAMA’S IMPERIAL PRESIDENCY
Obama has acted like an imperial president. During the first two years of his presidency, when the House and Senate were under Democrat control, Obama passed highly partisan legislation, such as the bill authorizing Obamacare, with little or no Republican input or support. When Republicans gained control of the House after the 2010 midterm election, Obama began instituting policy changes he could not get through Congress by issuing executive orders. Conservatives deeply resented Obama’s disregard for Congress authority and his use of executive orders to get his way. During the campaign, Trump frequently promised to cancel, during his first day in office, many of Obama’s policy changes, using the same executive authority.
Obama also imposed changes in public policy which violate the moral and religious beliefs of certain faith communities, and caused their members to feel that their right to practice their religious beliefs was under siege by the administration.
INFLAMING RACE RELATIONS
Polls show that the policies of America’s first black president have inflamed racial tensions to the highest point in 25 years. Obama’s Justice Department has filed lawsuits accusing dozens of local police departments across the country of systematic racism.
The condemnation of police for the justifiable use of violence against minority criminals has resulted in the so-called Ferguson effect, a spike in criminal violence in minority communities due to a reluctance by police officers to intervene. Ironically, the sharpest spike in minority shooting deaths has come in Obama’s home town of Chicago, while Obama’s former White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was mayor.
Tolerance for minority crime and contempt for police authority has been fostered by the Black Lives Matter movement, which was actively supported by black activists in the Obama White House such as Al Sharpton. The violence has progressed to the next stage. Police officers have been ambushed and murdered by black criminals in Brooklyn, New York, Dallas, Texas, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri and Mississippi.
Obama also failed to address one of the root causes of minority crime by doing nothing to improve economic conditions in urban communities with the highest rates of poverty and youth unemployment.
OBAMA’S FAILED FOREIGN POLICY
Obama has frequently boasted that Osama bin Laden was killed on his watch, and that the leadership of al Qaeda has been decimated by U.S. drone raids which he personally ordered. These claims must be viewed in the context of the simultaneous rise of ISIS and the proliferation of Islamic terrorism beyond the Middle East due to the catastrophic failure of Obama’s foreign policy failures.
Those failures created a critical vacuum of power in the region which allowed the civil war in Syria to spin out of control. That enabled the formation and growth of ISIS. The administration’s failure to follow up after it supported the overthrow of Moammar Ghadaffi led to the collapse of Libya as a viable state, creating a new breeding ground for international terrorism. The net result is that the trans-national terrorist threat is far greater today than when Obama took office in 2009.
Iran is already cheating on the nuclear deal it signed with the Obama administration 18 months ago. Obama’s allies then used the opposition to the deal by American supporters of Israel as an excuse to challenge their loyalty.
Using $150 billion in frozen assets which Iran has recovered, and the revenues from oil sales which are no longer under sanctions because of the deal, Iran has become more aggressive than ever. In violation of the nuclear deal, Iran has accelerated its ballistic missile development, and is busily preparing for the day when the deal’s restrictions on its nuclear program expire. Meanwhile, Iran has escalated its military intervention in Syria, in cooperation with Russia, and continues to stoke the sectarian divisions throughout the region.
OBAMA’S WEAKNESS EMBOLDENED PUTIN
President Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, started their tenure in office in 2009 by promising to reset relations with Russia. The effort went nowhere. Despite signing a new START arms control agreement with the U.S., Russia did everything it could to divide the U.S. from its NATO allies, and intimidate its Eastern Europe allies. After Obama’s ignominious failure to carry out his threat to punish Syrian President Assad’s regime for using chemical weapons against its own people, Putin was emboldened to annex Crimea, invade Ukraine and step up Russia’s intervention in Syria, without facing any serious consequences.
The Obama administration has catered to the demands of the sworn enemies of the U.S., such as the ayatollahs of Iran and the Castro regime in Cuba, and gotten little or nothing in return, while ignoring the critical concerns of its traditional allies, such as Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
This is the legacy Donald Trump has inherited from Barack Obama: slow domestic economic growth, increasing security challenges and declining influence abroad.
The testimony of Trump’s cabinet appointments, his press conference last week and several recent interviews have given us a clearer picture of Trump’s intentions, but it would be unfair to judge Trump and his administration before he has had a chance to settle into the White House.
Meanwhile, Trump’s supporters seem unfazed by the criticism from the mainstream media and Trump’s opponents in both parties. They remain confident that Trump will deliver on his promise to “make America great again,” in his own, unique style.