I did not vote for Donald Trump, but I thought that as a matter of respect for the American system, people who opposed his candidacy should not be seeking to impeach him before he even took office or should be urging their fellow citizens not to listen to his inaugural address. Elected officials deserve a chance to show how they will govern.
I also, I have to admit, was not entirely down on his campaign. While he stoked nativist fears of Mexicans, Moslems and illegal immigrants, he also chided corporations for ditching American workers and moving their headquarters overseas to avoid taxes and promised to undo trade deals that had helped decimate American manufacturing. And Trump unlike his Republican challengers promised to protect the safety net against privatizers.
I still think Democrats need to heed Trump’s appeal on runaway shops and trade deficits, but from what I have seen so far of his presidency, Trump has followed the worst practices of his campaign. He has incited the dark passions of his followers, sharply dividing the country. He has shown sheer incompetence in running the White House. He is to be opposed, pure and simple, until he either significantly alters the thrust of his presidency or steps down.
One can list objectionable appointments that Trump has made, but another Republican might have also chosen a climate-denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency or a foe of universal health insurance to head Health and Human Services. What led me to take a wait and see attitude toward Trump was my feeling that, all things considered, he was probably preferable to Mike Pence or Ted Cruz who would have given the House Republicans free reign. But Trump did two nasty things his first week that neither Cruz nor Pence would have done.
The first is not earthshakingly important. It wasn’t a decision. But it set a tone and a political style for Trump’s administration. He had claimed on November 27 that the reason he had lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton was because of “millions of people who voted illegally.” In a conversation with Congressional leaders on January 23, three days after his inauguration, Trump repeated the charge, saying that between three and five million illegal immigrants had voted. There is no evidence to back up this charge — it merely echoed the ravings of a rightwing talk show host.
By making this utterly false charge, Trump stirred up public wrath against a defenseless people who have been lured to America by the promise of jobs and who have been willfully employed by businesses who want to save money by paying them less than they would pay native workers. By making this charge, Trump also lent support to Republican efforts to suppress minority voting by requiring potential voters to present elaborate forms of identification.
And just to be clear — I am not a proponent of open borders. I think the borders should be controlled. I also think that when the police discover that illegal immigrants have committed a crime, they should be deported. But as most politicians recognize, it’s not feasible or in many cases fair to deport the 12 million people already here. Americans have to find some way to integrate those who want to stay into the society. That’s not a reality Trump is willing to recognize. Instead, in order to deflect attention from his own political weakness, he has fueled nativist fears of illegal immigrants flocking to the polls.
Secondly, on Friday, Trump signed an order immediately banning travel to the United States from seven predominately Muslim countries for 90 days and barring any admission of refugees for 120 days. Green card holders from the seven countries who had ventured back home for vacation or business were included in the ban. In this case, sheer bigotry overshadowed whatever legitimate purpose the ban might have had.
Trump is certainly justified in attempting to protect from attacks by radical Islamists. HIs order was clearly intended to make Americans who fear another San Bernardino believe that he was doing something to prevent it, but there is little evidence that his order had anything substantive to do with that threat. To date, terrorist attacks of this kind have not come from the countries on Trump’s list, but from émigrés from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan and Afghanistan — countries not on Trump’s list. If the ban were really intended to weed out any possible terrorist from travelling to the United States, it would have highlighted these countries. Instead, Trump’s list amounted to an “axis of evil” similar to that which George W. Bush announced in 2002.
Politically, Trump’s list plays on hostility toward Moslems that some of Trump’s most ardent supporters feel. It encourages public paranoia about Islam. In foreign policy, it seems to reflect the crazed views of aide Stephen Bannon and National Security Advisor Matthew Flynn who foresee a kind of World War IV pitting the United States against Islam. But that’s yet to be seen. What is clear is that in drawing up the list, Trump resorted to a politics of bigotry. I don’t think any of the other presidential candidates would have done this.
During his first week, Trump has also shown marked incompetence in executing his policies. His rollout of his immigration ban from the seven Moslem countries was botched. After two days of protests, and a judicial “stay,” Trump had to withdraw his order to exclude green-card holders from the seven countries from returning to the United States. Trump has also botched his effort to “repeal and replace” Obama’s Affordable Care Act. And Trump’s stumbling here could prove disastrous to him politically. As the leaked audio tape from the Republican summit in Philadelphia showed, Trump does not have a plan to replace Obamacare. He is winging it.
Trump could right his ship. He could try to govern as the president of all the people and not merely of the most inflamed part of his own constituency. And he could learn on the job how to execute his own policies and orders, work with Congress on legislation, and protect America’s interests overseas against real rather than imagined enemies. But the evidence from Trump’s first week in office is utterly discouraging. He doesn’t appear up to the job — either morally or professionally.