Tuesday, January 31, 2017

President Trump: The First 10 days.

A recurring question, during the elections, was whether Donald J Trump was competent to be the President and most argued that being a successful business, so they say, he certainly could do the job at the White House. In his first ten days in the Oval Office, President Trump and his cronies has not ceased to amaze one of their lack of expertise and their stubborn will to run the highest office in the US in a style that has even some Republicans wondering what the next three years and 355 days are expected to be like.  Clearly this will go down in history as 'The Twitter Presidency" given the propensity of Mr. Trump to use the social media as the means to announce policy, vent his anger and react to the criticisms.

If there were any hopes of a more mature and sober President to emerge from the skin of Donald J Trump these were quickly dashed when Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, appeared before the press and basically told them they were wrong in the way they reported the inauguration of the 45th President and then presented 'alternative facts' to support his, and his masters, view that the crowds were indeed the largest ever in history. About the same time President Trump was at the CIA headquarters informing his audience that the Media are horrible people and in effect he will be at war with them, presumably as he sees them as the 'enemy'.

President Trump also then signed an executive order withdrawing USA from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade bloc of the Pacific Rim countries including Canada. While the agreement would only take effect in Feb 2018, subject to 86% of the countries ratifying the agreement, Mr, Trump really killed the agreement before it even reached the stage of being blessed. While major modifications to the agreement were warranted scraping the agreement only plays into China's trading strategy given that the Chinese have, in the last 2 years, made commitments of investing $368 billion into the Latin American countries. While some may argue that bilateral agreements could recover the lost ground without giving the concessions that the TPP gave, the fact remains bilateral agreements will take years to put into place.

Next in line was approving the Keystone Xl pipeline which is to run 1900 KM from Alberta Canada southwards to connect to other pipelines to take Canadian oil to the Gulf Coast. Other than to upset the environmental lobby the pipelines will not necessarily benefit the US economy directly and explains why the Canadian Prime Minister was quick to welcome the decision. However the executive order by President Trump ignores the years of work done in various government agencies to ensure the pipeline does not damage a fragile ecosystem in the areas it is supposed to go through. It was interesting that about the time the order was being signed a 'gag order' was issued to the US EPA disallowing anyone from making any public statements or press releases.

The following day the big election promise of building the wall on the border with Mexico was turned into an executive order, with the small print that initially the US will pay for the wall and then later Mexico will reimburse the US. Mexico was quick to respond that there was no such agreement and the forthcoming visit of the Mexican President was cancelled by the Mexicans, (even though the Trump camp tried to make out the cancellation was a mutual decision). Clearly the backlash of American taxpayers having to pay for the wall was not going down too well with his supporters and before any noise could be heard the Sean Spicer suggested that the White House was considering a 20% tax of Mexican imports which would be more than enough to pay for the wall. Indeed, Mr Spicer clearly is not a student of economics because such a tax is always paid by the importer of record, which in this case is the US company importing the goods, so in the end the consumer would pay for the wall, not the Mexicans.

It would seem that things were getting a bit too stuck for the new team in the White House so the final coup de grace was then administered when President Trump signed the order banning people from seven countries (all Muslim) from entering the United States. While this was not 'a total and complete ban on all Muslims,' it certainly was the most ill conceived of his decisions. Yes the President has the right to make the borders secure, and yes he can pass such an order, provided it does not violate the constitution but here is the chilly aspect of it all; he never consulted the Justice Department, or the Homeland Security or the State Department on this order and certainly none of them were taken into confidence to be prepared for the effects of it.

Insofar as these are the decisions he made we must step back from them an look at some of the issues of style and substance in putting these executive orders out. Also by seeing what has happened since then we have to certainly wonder what lies ahead. When senior State Department officials, who are career diplomats, voiced their concern and dissent over the last order, through an age old tradition used by career diplomats, the quick response was to hint to these career technocrats that they are free to leave office. Unlike other government agencies generally the career diplomats in the State department are retained by every new president and only some ambassadorial positions are allocated to the incumbent President to allocate.

While the acting Attorney General may well have been in the right about questioning the legality of the immigration executive order, she may well have been wrong to question the policy, the whole affair was badly handled. Yes she should have sought to meet with the White House and express her reservations before going public, but irrespective it would seem that without a prior consultation on the new executive order the acting Attorney General may well have felt like someone being ordered to do whatever the White House wants.

The troubling aspect of this new President is that he has shown a clear inability to trust anyone and certainly not to lean on them for advice. Its almost an arrogant self belief in himself and while this may work within the executive branch of the government it is going to be a different matter when dealing with Congress in this style and manner. On a lighter note one can only be amazed at how President Trump can embellish facts to suit his own motives to the verge of lying. A case in point is when asked about the chaos his travel ban imposed he 'tweeted' that it was really the Delta airlines computer glitch that caused the chaos and his order was working 'very very nicely'. Well President Trump the Delta airlines computer glitch was 24 hours after your order went into effect.

The essential question we have to ask is whether this man is competent to understand that while he is the most powerful man on earth there are checks and balances to his power and these come from Media, the Judges and the Congress. Yes Judges can strike down his executive orders if they violate the existing laws, and yes the Media can question his decisions. This is something that we will need some getting used to.

For the record I did not support Hilary Clinton but rather felt Bernie Sanders would have been the best choice for the US. Alas we now have to stop following the media, even though I doubt he can muzzle it, and follow something called Twitter. Welcome to the Twitter Presidency.

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