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  Opinion   Columnists  26 Jan 2017  Donald Trump’s first 100 hours as US President

Donald Trump’s first 100 hours as US President

Published : Jan 26, 2017, 6:02 am IST
Updated : Jan 26, 2017, 7:36 am IST

Trump’s very election as President fell into the stranger-than-fiction category.

US President Donald Trump (Photo: AP)
 US President Donald Trump (Photo: AP)

The first 100 days of any administration tend to be viewed with considerable interest, not least in the US, for an indication of its inclinations. In the case of Donald Trump, the first 100 hours have been fascinating enough.

Trump’s very election as President fell into the stranger-than-fiction category. But Sinclair Lewis’ dystopian fantasy about a presidential candidate with a proto-fascist agenda, It Can’t Happen Here, was published way back in 1935.

Back then, there was a far-right tendency in American politics that hero-worshipped Adolf Hitler and adopted the slogan “America First” — effectively a translation of “Deutschland uber alles” — which was subsequently appropriated by white supremacist organisations such as the Ku Klux Klan.

It would be safe to presume that many Trump supporters are ignorant of the historical resonance. It’s unlikely, though, that the new President or his speechwriters could have been unaware of its origins before they injected it into his inaugural address.

It hardly needs saying, though, that America has always put itself first. This is neither unnatural nor surprising. Every nation puts itself first, unless coercively obliged to do otherwise (as Germany was in the aftermath of the First World War). Trump is under the impression, however, that “for many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry” and “the wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and redistributed across the world”.

“Carnage” may be too strong a word — specially in view of what has been wrought in recent decades, with direct or indirect US involvement, in territories such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen — to characterise economic suffering across America, but the devastation is real, and undoubtedly fed into the enthusiasm engendered by the Trump campaign, particularly once it became clear that the only alternative was a committed adherent of the neoliberal status quo in the shape of Hillary Clinton.

But Trump’s diagnosis of the malaise dangerously falters when he seeks to blame American woes on faceless foreigners, be they Chinese industries or Mexican migrant workers. The actual culprit is unrestrained capitalism, which began sharpening the tools of its trade in the 1980s. It inevitably went too far, crashed spectacularly in 2007-08, yet it was the chief culprit rather than the victims who were rewarded in the aftermath.

Trump epitomises, more flamboyantly than most, the worst excesses of capitalism, not least in terms of a reluctance to pay taxes, which is almost universally a part of the profiteering mechanism. No one would expect him to even mention the recently highlighted fact that the world’s eight richest people control as much wealth as 3.6 billion global citizens, roughly half the world’s population.

Trump’s refusal, unprecedented for a President, to release his tax returns may well be intended to cover up the possibility that he is officially neither as rich nor as successful a celebrity-tycoon as he likes to pretend.

It is his spat with the media, though, over the size of the crowd at his inauguration that has grabbed the most attention recently, not least because of the gobsmacking audacity of the verifiably false claims coming out of the White House. His counsellor, Kellyanne Conway, defending his press spokesman’s absurd insistence that no previous inauguration had attracted more people, added the phrase “alternative facts” to the political lexicon.

A fresh euphemism for blatant lies may not augur well for a presidency that begins its journey with a lower popularity rating than any other incoming administration. And the larger-than-expected protest marches across the US signify the fear that many of the battles for basic rights, fought and in many cases largely won over the decades, may have to be waged again.

Trump’s initial acts as President have been predictable reprehensible, with moves against the Affordable Care Act without a replacement in place, talks on moving the US embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and cutting off funding for international agencies that facilitate women’s health if that includes abortion. He also signed an executive order dissociating his nation from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal.

For far too many decades, “free markets” have been closely associated with “democracy” in the American imperialist lexicon, and many of those who are otherwise keen on Trump’s far-right tendencies recoil from the term “protectionism”. The consequences of this particular dissonance will be very interesting to follow. Overall, though, Trump’s vow that his rule “will determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come” comes across as a dire threat, calling for sustained resistance within and outside the US.

By arrangement with Dawn

Tags: donald trump, world war i, hillary clinton