Donald Trump’s first two weeks have been a frenetic sprint that has unsettled Washington and left a rattled world wondering what’s next.
Trump’s White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is the provocateur who has engineered the historically disruptive opening gambit of executive orders, diplomatic upheaval, Twitter attacks and continuing attacks on the media.
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The strategy? To send one deafening message that rings louder than all the seeming commotion: Trump is bringing a sledgehammer to the status quo.
“People want change,” as White House spokesman Sean Spicer said this week. “President Trump is delivering that change.”
The president has crowded his first 14 days with activity. He’s ordered a ban on refugees, halted immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries and fired the acting attorney general, a holdover from the Obama administration, when she refused to defend the order. He approved a counterterrorism raid in Yemen that saw one Navy SEAL killed. He’s floated an evidence-free conspiracy theory that millions of people voted illegally — only against him. He has obsessed about the size of his inauguration audience to staff, on Twitter and to world leaders. He signed a federal hiring freeze, demanded two regulations be undone for every new one issued and withdrew from a multilateral Asian trade deal other allies have agreed to. And he engineered a prime-time television event to roll out his nominee for the Supreme Court.
“Remember when Trump and Clinton talked about stamina during the debate? Turns out it was a question for the rest of us,” said Ann Marie Lipinski, curator at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. “You can’t walk away from your phone without fear of missing something significant that’s just transpired. None of it feels like normal figuring out. It all feels like a traumatic condition.”
The furious pace echoes the rhythm of Trump’s campaign. But it’s also left Democrats disoriented and worried that successive controversies are mixing into a blender of voter frustration and confusion. “We’re in a position now where one crazy thing is replaced by another crazy thing,” said Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California.
Trump’s freewheeling style and tendency to provoke and entertain, which paid dividends for him as a candidate, now have consequences. Trump has unsettled long-stable foreign affairs, including the relationship with Australia (in a heated call with the prime minister), close neighbors (complaining to the Mexican president about “bad hombres” in his country), and longtime adversaries (“We are officially putting Iran on notice,” National Security Adviser Michael Flynn said after a recent missile test). On Friday, Trump imposed sanctions on people and companies in Iran.
European Union leaders went so far as to describe the United States now as a “threat.” European Council President Donald Tusk wrote in a blunt open letter that Trump was “seeming to put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy.”
Trump’s burst of executive orders served a purpose, affirming that the president’s varied campaign promises were meant to be taken literally.
“It’s seen by some of the elite media that this is intense and provocative,” said one source close to the Trump administration. “But this is what he ran on.”
But the strategy hit its limit in last weekend’s order shutting the nation’s doors to immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, which met immediate popular resistance last weekend, as protesters gathered outside the nation’s busiest airports shortly after the the detainment of dozens of Arab nationals.
That prompted a lawsuit from the ACLU and a stay ordered by a federal New York judge, a setback Trump’s inner circle had not prepared for. As the controversy drove several days of news coverage, Republican lawmakers groused publicly about the botched roll-out and lambasted the White House for not coordinating with GOP allies in Congress. A federal judge in Washington state issued a temporary restraining order halting implementation of the order nationwide late Friday.
“It’s quite clear that a pack of monkeys would have done a better job in this order’s preparation,” said Steve Schmidt, a GOP strategist and veteran of the George W. Bush White House. “And it speaks volumes of how the West Wing functions. This is bush league amateurism, and the result is handing an enormous propaganda victory to ISIS, destabilizing America’s key relationships with key NATO allies, and ceding of a key American moral authority on these issues.”
Trump responded by firing the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, after she instructed government lawyers not to defend the order, which she concluded to be unconstitutional. In a statement more typical of a campaign than a White House, Trump blasted Yates’ “betrayal” of her duty and called her “weak on immigration.”
One consistent in the chaotic two weeks has been Trump’s fight with the media, which Bannon and then Trump himself declared the “opposition party.”
Trump called the press “the most dishonest human beings on Earth” during a visit to the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency, accusing reporters of manufacturing a feud between him and the intelligence services. Trump himself had compared the “intelligence” community — using scare quotes — to “Nazi Germany.”
At his first White House summit with congressional leaders, Trump claimed without evidence that millions of people had voted illegally for Hillary Clinton, delivering her the popular vote.
Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway memorably branded the administration’s embrace of contrary-to-evidence positions as “alternative facts.” One day the White House would declare its vetting immigration plan “extreme,” and the next it was “not extreme.” Trump called it a “ban,” then Spicer said it wasn’t one.
Lieu, the Democratic congressman, said “the most troubling aspect in these last two weeks is his un-connectedness from the truth,” warning that “layering on his lies, his assaults on a free press and the stifling of dissent, then you’re marching down the road to authoritarianism”
Trump’s team has sought to use such Democratic rhetoric against their opponents. “You can’t even — there is no gradation of hysteria,” Conway said on Fox on Thursday. “It’s everything makes them cry and scream.”
At the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, the president positioned himself once again as the healer of what he described in his inaugural address as a state of “American carnage.”
“The world is in trouble, but we’re going to straighten it out, okay? That’s what I do. I fix things. We’re going to straighten it out,” he said, with full 206 weeks remaining in his first term. “Believe me.”
The method to President Trump’s madness – Politico