Ben Roback is a Senior Account Executive at Cicero Group and a member of the US Embassy’s Young Leader’s UK programme.
After a hectic first twelve days as president, Donald Trump has shocked Washington into action at a frightening pace. He has used the presidential pen to sign a raft of Executive Orders – seven – and Presidential Memoranda – eleven – to deliver on a series of instant campaign pledges spanning immigration, abortion, business deregulation, national security and energy independence.
Those hoping President Trump would be different to candidate Trump have been disappointed, but should not be surprised – there is no hard and fast rule that taking residence in the White House transforms an anti-establishment candidate into an establishment president. In bringing his own unique brand to the White House, Donald Trump and his cloistered inner circle of Steve Bannon (Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor), Reince Priebus (Chief of Staff) and Jared Kushner (Senior Adviser) are helping to carve out a frenetic first 100 days of President Trump.
The executive order barring people from seven majority-Muslim countries — Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — from entering the US prompted international protests and outcry from the business community. Entirely undeterred by statements from CEOs of global corporations from the tech, finance and entertainment sectors at the height of the outrage, Trump took to Twitter to announce an executive order on ‘Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs’ surrounded by business leaders.
While America is a nation deeply divided, it remains united in a desire for Washington to be better. Polling by Lord Ashcroft recently revealed a surprising level of convergence between Trump and Clinton voters on their political priorities for the country – economy and jobs, national security and healthcare. Something of a surprise after an election fought on building bridges versus building walls; pro-life versus pro-choice; and embracing versus replacing Obamacare.
The deadlock in Washington is ripe for unpicking and in his inaugural address President Trump pledged: “The time for empty talk is over, now arrives the hour of action”. Despite his campaign tactics and tone, many House and Senate Democrats will have been willing to work with President Trump where they see alignment with their own ideals and that of their voters, alignment that was proven in Lord Ashcroft’s polling.
But the Trump style of government threatens to derail his ability to bring about the “hour of action” he vowed. The message delivery is contrary to that of a ‘typical’ White House or political press office, with an unprecedented reliance on late night and early morning tweets, constantly catching the press off-guard. The element of surprise can work if it outfoxes the opposition, but not if shocks your own side. This week alone, US embassies around the world appeared unsure of what the executive order on immigration imposed on them. Speaker Paul Ryan, with whom the President will have to work closely to navigate his agenda through Congress, described the rollout of the immigration ban as having “regrettable” hiccups and being “confusing”.
Donald Trump is quickly finding that being the President is not like being a CEO. Used to hiring and firing at will, the President now finds himself at the very epicentre of the Washington machine he is so desperate to dismantle. The system of checks and balances on which the foundation of American democracy is built means that he will need to work with the Democratic opposition, or face his agenda being slowed down in the reality of Washington politics.
And that is where the divisive nature of Trump’s first days in office and the chaotic style of policy delivery is already beginning to trip up the White House. The President has rallied an otherwise dejected opposition that was feeling bruised after electoral embarrassment. Executive orders on the Mexico City policy covering abortion advocacy abroad, reviving the Keystone XL pipeline and immigration restrictions have enraged the American political left and centre ground into action, proven by the millions of dollars in donations pouring into the coffers of abortion rights and advocacy groups.
Where the grassroots go, the politicians follow. Reflecting their own personal opposition and the outrage of their constituents, House and Senate Democrats have begun to channel their anger into political action. The President has already raged against Democrats slowing down the hearing and confirmation process to grant him the Cabinet he has sought to select. It is possible that Democrats in the Senate will use a talking filibuster to oppose one or more of Trump’s Cabinet picks, once the majority moves to consider a nomination and objections can be raised.
Ones to watch:
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised to vote against a selection of the Trump’s Cabinet nominee, pledging to send a message of defiance to the new administration. Schumer, aiming to take Democratic colleagues with him, will vote against nominees to the State, Education, Justice, Treasury, Health & Human Services and Labor departments. Using the temporary travel ban as a prompt, Schumer has promised further delays until nominees clarify their stance.
The CEO approach to the presidency is under self-enforced threat. Part of Trump’s appeal was the promise of a new approach – to drain the swamp – and to make Washington cheaper, faster, better, stronger. A frantic start to the presidency and a reinvigorated opposition means Trump is making political problems for himself. The next fight will almost certainly be over his nominee to the Supreme Court.