Donald J. Trump is the first president in American history never to have served in government or the military. Beginning with George Washington– through Barack Obama — each man had been elected to office before or had served his country with distinction as a military officer. Trump, in contrast, was catapulted into the most powerful position in the world with neither preparation nor understanding of the complexity of the job. His knowledge of the United States Constitution and the three branches of the federal government was minimal. At 70 years, he was a successful real estate business man and TV celebrity. He brought with him, as all his predecessors had over the years, fixed ideas, habits and ways of dealing with the expectations of the American people.
The challenges have been increasing as Trump maneuvered through each day. He used Twitter to communicate, sending out vivid tweets early each day. As reporters followed him, he continued to call The Press “the opposition” or “the enemy” as he had during the campaign. Trump experienced major defeats when the first and second Muslim Travel bans were stalled by federal judges. Then, the central promise of his campaign to Repeal and Replace ObamaCare failed in a dramatic flame out, pulled before a vote was taken to avoid a sure defeat in the House of Representatives. Trump was quoted as saying in surprise, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated!” He was learning about the other two branches of the federal government, The Judiciary and The Congress. Now, in the first weeks of April, events that had been building across the globe exploded. Here are the highlights of what happened, and how Trump responded with reversals of previous policies and statements.
Syria. ..China…Russia…NATO. In 2013 during the civil war in Syria, Donald Trump urged Barack Obama repeatedly on Twitter: “Do NOT attack Syria…” after Bashar al Assad dropped sarin gas on men, women and children near Damascus. Hundreds of Syrians died. Obama then worked with Russia to compel Assad to ship all chemical gases to Russia for disposal. In the first week of April, 2017, Assad sent planes once more to gas and kill Syrian people. Trump spoke in the Rose Garden of watching children choke and die. Then, he directed the Pentagon to bomb an airport in Syria in a “proportional” strike. Some praised him for “acting presidential” with his rapid response. Others questioned his bypassing Congress for necessary authorization.
During the same weekend the strike occurred, President Xi of China was making his first visit to the United States. Trump was hosting him and his wife at Mar-a-Lago , his Florida White House. During the campaign, Trump had described China relentlessly as the “currency manipulator”, accusing them of unfair trade deals. He said he would bring it up at the meeting. He also said he believed China could pressure North Korea to stop their nuclear build up. During an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump said Xi reviewed the history of China and North Korea for him. Then, he added, “After listening for ten minutes, I realized that it’s not so easy. You know. I thought they had a tremendous power over North Korea. But it’s not what you would think.” Trump described the visit as one of “good bonding.” He did not bring up currency manipulation, and Xi did not comment on the strike in Syria until he was on the plane returning to China.
Russia. Throughout his campaign, Trump praised President Vladimir Putin. He called him “a stronger leader than Barack Obama” and said he was “doing a great job.” He had not criticized Russia’s annexing Crimea and moving into Eastern Ukraine. Evidence that Russia interfered with the presidential election was not a subject he was interested in. Trump spoke of a possible reset toward a better relationship with Russia when he became president. He was flattered that Putin had called him “brilliant”, unaware that the word in Russian meant “flashy” and “showy”.
Relations between the United States and Russia shifted markedly after Assad gassed his people in Syria. In an interview on April 12, Trump declared that Putin was partly to blame for backing Assad. Later at the White House, he said that Russia had probably known in advance that Assad was going to use nerve gas against his own people. He added that relations between the U.S. and Russia were at an “all-time low.” Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Moscow for his first meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. After their two hour meeting, it was clear that agreement had not been reached on facts related to the chemical gas attack in Syria, and Russian interference in the American election. Tillerson also was granted a two hour meeting with President Putin. The finale to his visit was a joint news conference with Lavrov where they answered questions from reporters. Tillerson sent a sober message when he said, “There is a low level of trust between our countries. The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this relationship.”
At the United Nations on April 12, Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning the chemical weapons attack by Assad. Trump’s reaction in D.C. on Fox News was very sharp. “Putin is backing a person, that’s truly an evil person and I think it’s very bad for Russia. It’s very bad for mankind. It’s very bad for this world.”
NATO. Trump had been very critical of NATO throughout his campaign. He declared the organization of 28 European countries “obsolete”, harping on the fact that many countries did not “pay their fair share” of money from their defense budgets to NATO. He ignored the fact that after 9/11, NATO countries sent troops to fight beside United States troops in the Afghanistan War. Trump also criticized NATO for not focusing on terrorism. On April 12, another important event occurred. Jens Stoltenberg, the distinguished NATO secretary general met with the president at the White House. At their press conference, it became very clear that Trump had completely reversed his former opinions and positions on NATO. Standing next to Stoltenberg, he declared, “I said it was obsolete; it’s no longer obsolete.” Senator Ben Sasse , Republican of Nebraska, praised Trump for his reversal on NATO. He said, “Without NATO, the Soviet Union would be quarterbacking half of Europe today and Putin knows it. NATO is the most successful military alliance in human history. This was the right decision.”
Economic Policy Reversals. Throughout his campaign, Trump denounced the Export-Import Bank a tax payer funded agency that gives loans to American exporters. In August, 2015, he said, “ I don’t like it. I think it’s a lot of excess baggage. I think it’s unnecessary.” He was siding with conservatives who didn’t want the government to finance large corporations. By April, 2017, Trump had completely reversed his thinking. Perhaps it was from being in contact with the members of his Cabinet from Wall Street who had explained the economy in a new light. He told The Wall Street Journal, “ I was very much opposed to the Ex-Im Bank because I said what do we need that for IBM and General Electric. It turns out that, first of all, lots of small companies will really be helped, the vendor companies. But also, maybe more importantly, other countries give” such aid , and so “we lose a tremendous amount of business.”
Another reversal has occurred regarding Janet Yellin, the head of The Federal Reserve Bank. During his campaign, Trump ridiculed her at his rallies and criticized her decisions “manipulating interest rates”. He would declare, “Shame on her!” and promise to end her tenure once he became president. Now, he says he is considering reappointing her to another term as head of the Federal Reserve Bank. Since the stock market has reached stratospheric heights, and his own assets have soared, Trump must have realized her leadership and decisions are very wise.
NAFTA. Trump railed against the trade pact throughout his campaign. In Michigan, he declared, “ On day one, a Trump administration will renegotiate Nafta, and if we don’t get the deal we want, , we will terminate Nafta and get a much better deal for our workers and our companies. One hundred percent. “ This action never happened.
Epilogue: Today is April 15. Thousands of Americans are marching on the official day associated with paying ones’ taxes to urge President Donald J. Trump to release his tax returns. Ten thousand or more people are expected in the streets outside the White House. It is long past time for him to “do the right thing” as all other presidents have done when they ran for office. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Joyce S. Anderson