Trump: The First Ten Days

Eliot Weinberger

The despair in the weeks following the election has now turned into constructive rage. Opposition – more precisely, oppositions – are forming, not only in the general population, but inside the government itself, as is evident from the cascade of leaks and rogue tweets. One can only speculate what is happening in the intelligence agencies and the Pentagon, but the reaction to Trump’s characterization of the CIA as 'Nazis' and his appalling speech about the size of his inauguration crowd in front of their memorial to fallen agents was plain. Moreover, in a move at first barely noticed in the general chaos, Trump removed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of National Intelligence from the Principals Circle of the National Security Council and replaced them with Steve Bannon, the white nationalist who has become Trump’s Cheney, co-wrote the 'America First' inauguration speech, and was the architect of the current Muslim ban. There is a probable impending major crisis with North Korea – probably graver than anything in the Middle East – and Trump’s fascination with nuclear weapons is well known. A military coup is no longer unimaginable in the USA: Trump calling for a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Pyongyang and the spooks and brass rising against him.

Less dramatically, it remains to be seen what the hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats in the government agencies will do. They are presumably dedicated to the fields in which they work: public education, environmental protection, labour laws, civil rights, public health, urban development and so on. The Trump cabinet appointees have, of course, declared war on all of these. Will there be mass resignations – playing into the hands of the new bosses who want to eliminate the work of these agencies – or attempts at subversion within? One of Trump’s first acts was to fire nearly the entire upper management of the State Department – dozens of people. These are the career officers who keep the machine running regardless of who is in the White House – they served under Obama and they served under Bush. Trump and Bannon have lobbed a grenade into the works, for as yet unknown reasons, further destabilising a professional diplomatic corps that is facing having to defend the indefensible abroad.

In the country at large, Trump is massively unpopular and, in his first days, has dizzyingly created even more reasons to be unpopular. Millions have attended demonstrations in merely the first week of the administration, thanks to social media’s extraordinary ability to gather bodies in a single day. Moreover, it is just the beginning of the bad news. Possible things to come include the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare); the selection of a Supreme Court justice who will overturn Roe v. Wade and various civil and voting rights; Trump’s threat to send the National Guard to Chicago; further expansion of the Muslim ban; elimination of environmental, financial and labour regulations; suppression of scientific research concerning climate change; the Mexican wall; drastic cuts in social welfare; trade wars; the deportation of the undocumented – the list is endless.

In previous eras of protest – civil rights, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War – the injustice was continuing but static. There was, in a sense, no news, only more of the same. What is new in the Trump era is his uncanny knack for provoking new outrages – so far, multiple ones on a daily basis – which open new fronts for protest and galvanise more groups. The major media – in both a response to the open hostility of the Trumpistas towards them as well as the commercial calculation that anything Trump makes good television – and social media will keep fervour alive.

This matters. Republicans are undoubtedly terrified of the 2018 elections. They have let loose Godzilla on the land and they own the rubble. More important, the passivity and complacency of the Democratic politicians and their voters have met their consequences and cannot go on. We thought we were living in a country enlightened enough to elect someone like Obama as president; that, despite Republican obstructions, things were generally improving and demographics ensured a progressive future. Trump has pitched us into icy water and, as Jesse Jackson said the other day, you have to keep kicking to stay afloat.


  • 30 January 2017 at 8:04pm
    chris832 says:
    "This matters. Republicans are undoubtedly terrified of the 2018 elections." Some wishful thinking there... how many times did we read that the republican's are going to dump Trump during the campaign?

    There's a poll out showing that 50 something percent support the immigration ban. Trump is unusual in that so far he will not cave into/placate the mainstream media. Trump is actually doing what the left-wing Mouffe influenced parties talk about doing: a populist, people vs the elite strategy. Why would he care about students protesting in the urban centres?

    So far Trump has banned people from 7 countries visiting the US. Not exactly up there with the wars of aggression/crimes against humanity that have characterized the 'American century'. Yet according to contemporary social mores, its worse to ban someone from Disenyland than an illegal war of aggression or drone strikes, as per the previous presidents, against their country...

    • 30 January 2017 at 9:08pm
      Timothy Rogers says: @ chris832
      I don't know if the current crop of Republicans holding national office in D.C. are "terrified", but they are nervous about Trump and probably about 2018.The Tea Party precedent indicates just why they are nervous. Extreme right candidates from out of nowhere (i.e., no previous political jobs or experience) appeal to that group of people who can dominate a local primary election, and it's quite possible that 2017-18's "Trumpistas" can knock off established politicians (no matter how good their "conservative credentials") in primaries, but may go on to getting thrashed in the general elections by Democrats.

    • 31 January 2017 at 12:47pm
      manchegauche says: @ chris832
      I'm gettin tired of hearing the lazy defence of Trump's actions (and people partaking in it are essentially Trump apologists) when commentators say en gros,, 'Yes well Obama bombed all these countries er, so there'.

      We do not need the obvious to be strewn before or to step back in admiration and be silenced by this fraudulent move. Because, of course we know all about Obama's failures - our memories are sufficiently functional to remember the last eight years thanks. And I doubt very much whether these apologists were ever really concerned about US actions in the ME.

      All this whataboutism is merely a cover; another 'Get used to it.' tactic. The people I have encountered who use this move fail to raise the deeper issue that, yes, Obama was part of the problem - but that Trump, being a culmination of recent devlopments in US politics and from what we have seen so far, is going to outdo his predecessor and is extremely dangerous. The ban is 'Not exactly up there with wars of aggression' - that wasn't it's aim. But it is more than an indication of what is to come.

      And people did protest

    • 31 January 2017 at 3:15pm
      Charbb says: @ chris832
      I see that the apologists for Trumpian racism and thuggery are trying out deflection tricks only too familiar from European history. It's not as bad as you say, old boy. What is the segregation of a small community like the Jews compared to the immense slaughter of the World War ! Blhacks have it worse in America, etc. it's an old and insincere trick, and it won't work. The people who are targeted by Trump were not from Disneyland. They are people who had valid visas to the US, in many cases were even permanent residents of it. To suddenly have the right of entry to be arbitrarily taken away because they come from a certain country or have dual nationality ia an act of wanton cruelty which ruins many lives.

      Your argument reminds me of Enoch Powell's line that racial l discrimination is not particularly evil; after all there is murder !

      The standards and values that enabled life since 1945 to be a bit more civilised than before are under drastic assault and all you do is suggest that nothing is happening.

    • 31 January 2017 at 3:16pm
      Graucho says: @ Timothy Rogers
      There you go. All the anti-Trumpers register as Republicans and get a radical Islamic fundamentalist to secure the GOP nomination in any vulnerable Republican seat.

    • 31 January 2017 at 3:16pm
      Charbb says: @ chris832
      There is such a thing as human decency, and you and your like will not get rid of it by such cheap and shabby methods.

      When governments act with wickedness and calculated cruelty, it is time to shout. Keeping quiet will only encourage the criminal.

      And believe me, sir, shouting against evil works. Lyndon Johnson and Nixon thought metropolitan anger over their crimes in Vietnam did not matter. They gloated about the majority on their side. They lived to learn different. So will Trump.

      First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.

    • 31 January 2017 at 3:24pm
      Charbb says: @ chris832
      " Why would he care about students protesting in the urban centres?"

      True. Lyndon Johnson and Nixon did not care, back in the Vietnam War days.

    • 31 January 2017 at 3:37pm
      Charbb says: @ chris832
      Two wrongs do not make a right.

      Legitimising discrimination on grounds of race or religion in a liberal country is indeed a grave regression in human decency. The Trump action destroys many lives by barring from the US people who had every valid reason to enter it and many of whom made their lives there.

      You would hate it if it happened to you.

    • 31 January 2017 at 5:00pm
      cwritesstuff says: @ chris832
      What a curious post.

      1. Trump won on very fine margins - around 70K people in three states, in a world when Bernie Bros stayed at home, some PoC stayed at home and HRC was (unfairly) a pretty hated candidate. It's unclear to me how things could get worse for the Dems, but I can see how they can get worse for Trump. He was at a high point with the Republican vote + some white working class folk + some alt-right racist folk.

      2. He is a populist, but claiming that his policies are "people vs the elite" are a nonsense - please explain what he's done or said he will do to achieve that. America First and cutting up trade deals is hardly a guarantee of working class success.

      3. So far Trump has banned people from seven countries (including visa holders and PLR) in an uncontrolled and incompetent way. A comparison of this vs Iraq is a nonsense; obviously in isolation, the latter is worse. The problem is, this is one of many things Trump says and does. He's talked about bringing back torture, stealing oil and has asked why we don't nuke anyone. Does that make you think the next four years won't involve something worse than your description of Obama and Bush's presidencies?

    • 31 January 2017 at 8:12pm
      haroldsdodge says: @ chris832
      Um ... you do realise that Trump has already carried out drone strikes? And that he's already killed numerous people, including an eight-year-old girl? And that he did this within 48 hours of taking office?

      Just checking. In case you decided to re-think your post in light of the fact that its conclusion is, y'know, completely wrong.

    • 31 January 2017 at 9:14pm
      Charbb says: @ chris832
      "So far Trump has banned people from 7 countries visiting the US. Not exactly up there with the wars of aggression/crimes against humanity that have characterized the ‘American century’"

      What an utterly dishonest argument. Because someone did something wrong in the past does mean it is OK for innocent persons today to be hit. You would hate it if someone assaulted YOU and then airily said, "Well, Disneyland chap, it was far worse with Johnson in Vietnam !"

      And you can't be bothered even to get the most basic facts right. This is not just about visiting the US. This an immigration ban on people with permanent residency rights; on people with visas slapped on their passports by US consulates; on people in some cases who had served the US abroad and had been advised by the US to move to America to save their lives from Islamist terrorists.

      You might not care. But luckily for us, millions of Americans do and they are making an all mighty noise about it and have already forced the thugs in power to retreat.

    • 4 February 2017 at 1:19am
      FoolCount says: @ manchegauche
      Well, whether Trump is "going to outdo his predecessor" remains to be seen. That is not obvious to me after just 10 days that he is. When he does then all that preventive outrage may turn out to be justified. Until then all that dark fantasizing about future Trumpian disasters, like nuking North Korea etc, is just silly.

    • 4 February 2017 at 11:48am
      manchegauche says: @ FoolCount
      Trump has done much in the first ten days to undermine your 'remains to be seen' mealy-mouthes apologia.

  • 31 January 2017 at 6:27pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    Trump is the problem and was far more of a pending problem than Hillary was during the election. More precisely, Trump plus the hard core of his supporters are the problem.

    Trump got 46% of a 55% voter turn-out, so he can be said to “represent” 25% of eligible American voters (nobody really knows how the 45% who didn’t turn out feel about things in general or Trump/Hillary in particular – though I suspect many of them thought “a pox on both your houses,” but this is just a guess). How many of the Trump voters believe in the man as a sort of messianic figure who will “clean house” (as opposed to those motivated by agreement with him on one or two things that are extremely important to them) is unknown. Despite their protestations to the contrary many of his supporters are rather simple-minded, old-fashioned racists and/or misogynists. These attitudes too are part of American populism.

    There’s no serious point in refighting the Democratic campaign (Bernie vs Hillary, insiders vs. general voters, etc.). Everybody has to deal with Trump on the basis of the present and what’s likely to happen in the immediate future.

    In terms of how the phrase has been used in American political life in the past Trump has no clear mandate. He does have an agenda that overlaps with that of some of his voters (some his voters were just an inchoate anti-Hillary cohort). If even half of these people get seriously involved in keeping up the pressure for their agenda by participating and voting in primary election campaigns, they can drive their “movement” toward electoral success and possibly legislative success.

    He is a strange populist on several grounds: (1) billionaire status (2) no record of any public activity during a 50-year business career that can be remotely characterized as populist or supportive of working-class people, white or black (3) selection of billionaires and multi-millionaires for the most important cabinet position (on the spurious basis that they “know how to get a good deal for you”, though none of them has ever done that before). However, he is a star of popular entertainment in one of the phoniest genres out there that a vast number of Americans like ("reality TV"), and this seems to be his most authentic populist credential, though it's not one that has any specific political implications.

    Parallel to his very late-blooming credentials as a populist are his moves to please the “Christian right”. It’s obvious from his whole life that he probably has no religious beliefs/convictions, but that he glimpses another source of support from this group, many of whose enemies are his enemies (e.g., multiculturalists, people who scoff at the idea that “creation science” should be taught in schools under the rubric of biology or earth history, people who believe that something can and should be done to slow down then stabilize the rate of global climate change, anybody involved in “identity politics” of groups that violate old norms regarding sexuality, etc.).

    “Character and temperament” issues have become overwhelmingly important in his case. The combination of the following elements cannot bode well for anyone: narcissism; self-glorification; “I’m like really smart” (a sort of self-inspirational mantra); vast ignorance of the world beyond real-estate investment and management (and his record on the latter is abysmal – six verifiable bankruptcies, innumerable lawsuits, one poorly run business – Trump Airlines – that had to be dumped at bargain prices, and one thoroughly fraudulent enterprise, Trump "University”); a hatred of anyone who challenges his version of reality, implying a serious disregard for truth/facts as they are commonly understood; vindictiveness; an inability to transcend his obsession with “popular ratings”; and the list goes on, all of this leading to a thoroughly low grade on character and temperament. Since many of these characteristics are the very ones that appeal to some of his supporters, we arrive at the dispiriting conclusion that we have tens of millions of citizens who are almost as ethically and intellectually degraded as their icon.

    Opposition to Trump’s policy proposals should take the character and aims of his hard-core supporters into account and should be “no holds barred” opposition (i.e., constant pressure, especially constant media focus on his lies and his unwillingness to reveal his tax returns and the extent and nature of his family’s business connections – if Trump wishes us to believe that he has truly separated himself from his businesses, then the pressure has to be applied to its custodians).

    • 1 February 2017 at 3:14pm
      avogadro2 says: @ Timothy Rogers
      Trump got 45% of a 55% voter turnout, and you say he only "represents" therefore about 25% of the eligible voters. Why the quote marks? On the same count, Obama only "represented" about 28% (2012) and 30% (2008) of the eligible voters, and most US presidents seem to be fighting it out down at this end of the scale for what I guess you mean is 'legitimacy'. What's your point?
      The rest of your second paragraph seems to be a list of things you would like to believe, but go on to stress that you can't prove, so why not just resubmit this comment without the paragraph, and sound a deal more sensible?

    • 1 February 2017 at 9:08pm
      Timothy Rogers says: @ avogadro2
      For a person with your pseudonym you seem confused about the simple numbers I used. "Represent" is in quotes because no one knows what the big missing vote of 45% of the electorate means in terms of their opinions or preferences -- i.e., nobody knows who represents them (therefore it's fair to use the same quotes when discussing Obama's or Clinton's percentages if the same qualification is kept in mind).

      As to the rest of the second paragraph it's not "what I would like to believe", it's what I do believe, based on what I saw/heard during the campaign and transition period. Those of his hard-core supporters who showed up at the rallies often displayed racist and misogynistic behavior, and whenever Trump dog-whistled the crowds on these very points they burst into furious applause and hoots. As to how many of Trump's voters share the attitudes of his hard-core supporters, it's hard to know - some voters may weaken in their support depending on what he actually does as time goes on. Sensible enough for you?

  • 31 January 2017 at 6:30pm
    twlldynpobsais says:
    "In the country at large, Trump is massively unpopular"

    If 60 million votes signifies unpopularity, how many would he have to gain to be "popular"?

    • 1 February 2017 at 9:21pm
      Timothy Rogers says: @ twlldynpobsais
      Trump got 46% of the cast vote, therefore 54% of voters voted against him. Well, one might say, the Green and Libertarian votes were obviously more "for" their marginal candidates then against Trump; maybe, maybe not. But a good deal of the Clinton vote was an "anybody but Trump" choice. Just as some of the Trump vote was "anybody but Clinton", therefore a lukewarm endorsement of the man himself. I don't know if this makes him massively unpopular, but he's certainly very unpopular with a large segment of that part of the electorate that is concerned enough to actually go the the polls. And he's certainly unpopular with the majority of those who voted - we haven't heard any segment of the Clinton supporters (or Sanders supporters), Green Party voters, or libertarian movement come out with even "let's give him a chance."

  • 31 January 2017 at 8:34pm
    Doetze says:
    Isn't Trump and his group in contempt of Court on the matter of their illegal banning entry to people from selected countries & faiths plus defying court orders on the matter - and as such eligible for arrest and jailing? No need for a military coup. Just have a judge send the sheriff.

    The intelligence community probably has enough ammunition already, or in a month, to declare the recent election void and have a retry. Austria could do it, why not America?

  • 31 January 2017 at 10:19pm
    brons says:
    Dear Weinberger,

    please don't say "white nationalist". They're racists.

  • 31 January 2017 at 10:22pm
    Anaximander says:
    So far Trump has been able to say he’s delivered on his promises to his voter base.
    One thing — high on those voters’ priorities — is job creation through infrastructure projects.
    Left to himself, I expect he’d love to do that too. But he hasn’t mentioned it.
    Maybe because any sane civil engineer would tell him it would deliver few jobs to his voters. They are Rust Belt semi-skilled — no, not dirt poor: their average pay was c $55k — but a new road needs skilled planners and engineers. The hardcore stuff would normally be done by Mexicans or African Americans paid far less than Trumpsters want.

    There’s another, more sinister reason why it doesn’t look like happening.
    Trump is the narcissistic town crier, with no ideology, for a truly conspiring ideologist, Steve Bannon. This man’s mission is to destroy all previous ways of doing politics, first by smashing the entire "political elite”, then ushering in a “people’s revolution” unmodified by the checks and balances the US constitution has spent centuries refining.

    Recognising that no racism is necessary for his aim, he now says he’s merely an “economic nationalist”. That means he wants to sweep away all the administration of any government, as if Ayn Rand had suddenly popped out of the cupboard.

    • 1 February 2017 at 7:00pm
      Timothy Rogers says: @ Anaximander
      Just a note on the proposed "trillion dollar" infrastructure program. Roads, bridges and tunnels do require planners and engineers, but the skilled construction workforce would be very large if many dispersed projects are undertaken at the same time. The "hardcore stuff" requires iron-workers, steel-workers, heavy equipment operators, concrete workers, masons, and general laborers (who do the daily set-up, removals, clean-ups and the equivalent of hod-carrying). If the projects required contractors to either hire union members from each of these trades or to pay "prevailing union wages" (which vary by location throughout the country) people in these trades would make a good living during the lifetime of the jobs. Unions might enjoy a temporary rebound, being forced to expand their enrollments/training in order to service the infrastructure and simultaneously supply workers to ongoing large-scale construction projects such as now exist in Manhattan and certain other cities. But that expansion would be a work-force bubble that collapses when the big infrastructure program is completed -- a routine maintenance workforce to keep this infrastructure in good condition would be much smaller than that needed to put it in place.

  • 1 February 2017 at 5:47am
    Tuckerucci says:
    It's time to dust off or purchase a new copy of The Plot against America, by Philip Roth.
    It's not drawing a long bow to note that Hitler was legitimately elected to office.
    If you think there is a frightening similarity between what happened in Germany in the 1930s and what is beginning to happen in the USA today and you are too afraid to imagine what might unfold, read this book. It's been imagined for you.
    Roosevelt looses his second run for election to Charles Lindbergh, an infamous Nazi sympathiser. The trajectory of American history is drastically different from the one we know.

  • 1 February 2017 at 7:50am
    dtranchini says:
    We read about protest movements against trump decisions. Plenty of these on the coasts, in New York and Washington, and San Francisco and Chicago.
    But have there been any protests in the heart of America? In that part of "red" republican America that ultimately put him in the White House and that appears to be silent these days?
    It would be interesting to understand how this America is reacting.
    Trump is bad news for the world, but mostly for his fellows Americans. If push comes to shove, the rest of the world will learn to manage without the US. But America runs the risk of becoming a deeply divided country. Will it be 1861 redux?

  • 1 February 2017 at 12:51pm
    Graucho says:
    The American right is simultaneously pro-life and pro-gun. Given the 30,000+ Americans killed by guns annually it is clear that these guys have brains wired in such a way that normal logic cannot reach them.

    • 1 February 2017 at 1:28pm
      mototom says: @ Graucho
      Some time ago Terry Eagleton made the point that for the American right, human rights end at the moment of birth.

  • 1 February 2017 at 3:11pm
    manchegauche says:
    It is revealing that Chris832 has not returned to defend his comment.

    Either he's read the counter-points and folded or he scribbled up his lazy comment just as many Trump voters voted for Trump - just doing something embarassing and that needs to be forgotten about as soon as possible.

    • 1 February 2017 at 6:16pm
      Stu Bry says: @ manchegauche
      I think his comment is spot on.

      Trump is clearly trying to increase polarization and there is no doubt there is a large constituency for his racist policies. Trump the billionaire can't lead a populist revolt against elites economically, even a fake one, but he can create divisions on conflicts on issues around race and nationalism.

      As for the hypocrisy of those protesting the travel ban who were happy to ignore Obama's drone program and other violent actions against Muslim countries it is clear as day.

  • 1 February 2017 at 3:31pm
    joepraxis says:
    Surely this is not a ban on muslims but rather a ban on countries that the US likes to bomb, with the somewhat dubious exception of Iran, where the CIA merely enjoys the occasional coup. Maybe the plan is to keep all the Syrians, Iraqis etc at home so they're easier to bomb, all being in the one place. Or maybe Trump is planning to bomb them all together with a special all-American freedom bomb of the hydrogen megaton variety. I hope the wind's not blowing towards Paddyland when it goes off.

    But seriously peeps. Would it be so bad if the orangutang banned everybody in exchange for not killing them.

  • 1 February 2017 at 3:36pm
    joepraxis says:
    I wonder. Is US nuclear policy to be defined by the same people who run the NRA? In which case we can all look forward to a policy of; "it's not nuclear weapons that kill people, it's people who kill people."

    Jesus wept, this parallel universe has my poor head in a spin

  • 1 February 2017 at 4:34pm
    stettiner says:
    "... asJesse Jackson said the other day..."

    The same JJ who's known for "non-insulting, colloquial language"?

  • 5 February 2017 at 10:01am
    snowleopard says:
    I've just been on holiday in the Caribbean where in the hotel I met a lovely, highly intelligent couple who live in the USA but ethnically are Asian. I just hope they are American citizens and that they got home OK. I wonder how many of Trump's appointees have actually traveled abroad as ordinary tourists?

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