Donald Trump’s relentless promise to Make America Great Again carried him through the Republican primaries with surprising efficiency. He beat Marco Rubio in the Midwest, easily carried Florida and the West, and fought off a late entry by Michael Bloomberg. The Republican convention became a pep rally for the dissatisfied, and his surprise choice for his vice presidential running mate was the final blow to any mainstream Republican hopes.
In a caustic and bombastic general election, Trump’s strength multiplied while Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton fought a tight but eventually losing battle. Undeterred by the almost comic Republican convention floor fight over his vice presidential nominee, and his statement that he “didn’t really give a damn who was vice president,” Trump stepped up rhetoric, and the electorate followed. It wasn’t pretty, but it was democracy in action, and Donald Trump was bulletproof.
Operating from his transition office in Trump Tower in New York City (“I’m a New Yorker. I’ll go to Washington when I have to.”), the Trump team quickly began putting together an administration. While some appointments to lower level White House offices were veterans, Trump clearly put his stamp on major offices. His biggest surprise – besides appointing Newt Gingrich Secretary of State – was that no opponent from the Republican bloodbath ended up in the Trump administration.
Almost immediately the President-elect announced he would serve as his own liaison with Congress.
What was not known was that Trump, rather than through Congress, planned to govern by executive fiat. “Look, 58% of the American people think I’m a great guy. Who needs Congress?” The day after his election Trump began preparing a series of Executive Orders that he would issue after he was sworn into office. Apparently Trump kept the Orders secret from all but a few of his closest advisors, and no one knew except the President-elect that he would issue them the day he was elected.
And it is those Executive Orders that would clearly set the tone of President Trump’s First Hundred Days, and probably be remembered as one of the most turbulent times in the history of the presidency.
When Donald Trump took his oath, he inherited a Congress and Supreme Court that were feeling their way. Voters may have picked Trump, but, as expected, in the election a large number of black and other minority voters turned on mainstream Republican senators for not moving to confirm then President Obama’s nomination of Loretta Lynch to the Supreme Court. Feeling betrayed, these voters sent three Senators home, giving the Senate Republicans a thin one-vote margin. The Supreme Court, still without the ninth justice, was deadlocked on most major policy issues.
But the tremors in the Congress and the Courts were a backstage annoyance compared to the full-blown firefight that erupted on the first day Donald J. Trump took over the Oval Office.
Trump had promised action, and he wasn’t about to disappoint.
Executive Order Number One was issued while Trump was watching the Inaugural Parade. When members of the Texas National Guard were passing in review, in a dramatic gesture fit for a third world country Trump stopped the parade. He announced to the shocked troops that he has just nationalized the Texas, Arizona and New Mexico Army and Air National Guards and was deploying them to the Mexican border. “We’re stopping illegal Mexican immigration starting now. These troops are under my command, and they will patrol the border until I say otherwise.” He then ordered the Texas guard members to fall out to waiting busses to be deployed to the border.
According to National Guard commanders in the three states, over 34,000 troops were affected.
Trump wasn’t through. He also ordered that the Mexico-US border be temporarily closed to all except those with proof of US citizenship. “I keep my promises. I told you I would close those borders.”
The Fairfax County High School Marching Panthers were passing the reviewing stand when he dropped his next bombshell. Foreign visitors seeking to enter the US through any entry point were to be detailed, searched and questioned. The President said he would move select armed forces units into place to facilitate the process.
Trump also announced he was appointing Texas Governor Rick Perry to head the Office of National Mobilization. “I like Rick,” the President said. “He can handle this.” Perry told the Associated Press the appointment came as a complete shock, and that he wasn’t sure he would take it.
Rumblings from Congress and statehouses began immediately. Governors in affected states complained about no National Guard units being available for natural disasters. Trump is reported to have said “They’ll figure it out. These are smart people.”
Over the next week, troops moved into place along the southern border with Mexico, travel became a nightmare, the UN suspended meetings because of lack of attendance, international airports set up huge temporary passenger processing facilities, and over 50,000 armed forces personnel were deployed in addition to the National Guard.
His first full day in office is when he dropped his next bombshell. As expected, the nomination of Loretta Lynch to the Supreme Court by President Obama, had materially changed Senate elections in three states and in a number of house races. The Senate had failed to act on Ms. Lynch’s nomination, waiting for the seating of the new Congress.
In an unexpected twist, President Trump withdrew Lynch’s nomination and, in her place, nominated Court of Appeals judge Maryann Trump Barry to the High Court. Judge Barry, as we all now know, is Mr. Trump’s older sister. “I trust her. She’s smart, like me.” Republicans, at first, were outraged. Judge Barry tends to take more liberal positions than her brother. The President assured supporters that the Judge was the right choice, and that the Senate would come around. “They always do. They just need the right incentive.”
The first push back, predictably, came from the mainstream Republicans. Said one member of the Senate Judiciary Committee – who had not supported Trump for the nomination – “If Mr. Trump plans to govern by bullying, then this will be a damn short honeymoon.” Said the President; “I went on a honeymoon with my wife. I don’t go on honeymoons with people who don’t want to make America great again.”
Another controversial appointment that is still pending is Trump’s move to make daughter Ivanka Secretary of the Treasury. “She’s really smart.”
And so it began.
Judge Barry’s nomination remains stalled in the Senate, in spite of polls showing overwhelming support for the nomination among Trump’s base. Several insiders said that “it was just a matter of time” before Trump’s sister would be confirmed. “The President has a way of getting what he wants,” the Senator said.
On the third Monday of his presidency, Donald Trump made a formal demand of the Mexican government to pay the United States $31.2 billion to build a wall along the Mexican border with the US. The money was to be placed in a trust account controlled by the President, and the wall was to be designed and built by a consortium of US construction companies. Trump said he knew the “right people” to get the job done.
The Mexican government, when it received the demand, denied the request and said something in Spanish about Trump that politely translates as “crazy as a rabid dog.” The President was not amused and immediately ordered the complete closing of the border.
The new US Trade Representative, Carl Icahn, was dispatched to Mexico City, but the Mexican authorities would not allow him into the country. Ninety days later, trade with Mexico has been suspended, the borders are closed, and a humanitarian and economic crisis is in full bloom south of the Border. The round up and deportation of non-documented aliens continues, and the price of lettuce is in excess of $13 a head, when it is available.
Pressure on Congress for action was especially intense from agricultural states and from major corporations with significant investments in Mexico. In a rare show of bipartisan cooperation, both houses of Congress passed resolutions denouncing the closing of the border. “Congress clearly doesn’t want to make America great again,” was President Trump’s only comment on the resolution.
Trump’s number of Executive Orders in his first 100 days has far exceeded any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. A major push to abolish the Department of Education and the Department of Commerce by Trump was quickly squashed because both departments were created by Acts of Congress. Abolishing the IRS and repealing Obamacare both require Congressional action, and the unrest on Capitol Hill after Trump’s demand the government buy his airplane for Air Force One left a bad taste in a lot of mouths.
Trump’s honeymoon with Republicans was quickly coming to an end, and it was his radical economic revitalization proposal that ripped the blanket of goodwill even more.
On March 16th President Trump floated his controversial plan to boost the economy through job creation, a proposal that had familiar overtones of FDR’s first 100 days. The President’s proposal was for hundreds of billions of dollars in federally funded infrastructure initiatives that, according to Trump, will create four to five million high-paying jobs. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) endorsed the program immediately. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed to block the “government giveaway” and expressed extreme disappointment. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said it was unlikely such a proposal would make it out of committee.
Trump said in one of his daily news conferences how he had learned how world leaders used construction to stimulate a national economy; he had reached out to Vladimir Putin of Russia. “I like him. He knows how to get things done and win elections.”
The Republicans in the House and Senate, while fully aware of Trump’s unpredictability and naïve view of the way the Washington political world worked, weren’t ready for the jobs proposal. It was wildly popular with the electorate, and House and Senate members were under intense pressure to vote for it. As one member of the Freedom Caucus said: “I can vote for it and keep my job. I can vote against it and go home in two years. It’s either politics or principles.”
All of this was happening while Trump was ordering troop strength doubled along the border between North and South Korea. Bombing runs were tripled in Syria and Iraq, and ground troops were being mobilized for redeployment to the Middle East. Critics said it was the prelude to World War III, and Trump replied, “If they mess with us, it is.”
As the first 100 days came to an end, Trump was learning both the extent of his power and of its limitations. The use of Executive Orders was at an all-time high, covering everything from environmental protection orders (“a waste of money”) to education reforms (‘ we need to return corporal punishment to the classroom.”)
At the same time, many Trump proposals required Congressional approval, and that was creating a deadlock with the legislative branch of the government. Trump also learned that the U.S. military might well refuse to follow some of his more controversial orders. Killing family members of terrorists is, many experts say, a violation of the Geneva Convention, and the military could likely refuse that order. The same would be for torture described by Trump as “a hell of a lot worse” than waterboarding.
Just yesterday the White House announced the President was checking into Walter Reed Hospital for a “routine” examination. The President, in his usual unfiltered candor, said as he entered the hospital, “two of my lymph nodes are swollen. No big deal. I’m healthy as a horse.”
The Vice President of the United States, Sarah Palin, wished him a speedy recovery.
© 2016 by Mark E. Johnson, Jr.demo