News analysis

Trump's first week marked by action and friction

Some of the executive orders may get mired in legal challenges and take years to implement

President Donald Trump's first week in office has set the tone for his presidency, analysts say - and it points to a rocky road.

The President spent the week in a flurry of activity, signing a slew of executive orders, essentially acting on his populist campaign pledges.

But he ended it in a spat with Mexico and a war with the media.

The orders included walking out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, green-lighting two controversial oil pipelines opposed by local communities and environmental organisations, and banning federal funding of non-governmental organisations that promote abortion abroad.

He gagged the Environmental Protection Agency, ordering a freeze on new regulations; ordered a wall on the Mexico border, with a beefing up of border security and a crackdown on illegal immigration; and started the process of repealing Obamacare.

That he issued so many executive orders was not unusual; it is common for incoming presidents to do so especially if they are from a different party than their predecessor. Mr Trump's spate of orders played to the gallery of his supporters, but there was also an element of symbolism to several of them.

Mr Trump on board Air Force One with chief of staff Reince Priebus during a trip to Philadelphia on Sunday. The many executive orders he has issued in his first week as President include pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, and gr
Mr Trump on board Air Force One with chief of staff Reince Priebus during a trip to Philadelphia on Sunday. The many executive orders he has issued in his first week as President include pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, and green-lighting two controversial oil pipelines opposed by local communities and environmental organisations. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Some require funding and bureaucratic cooperation, and will take months or years to implement.

Congress, even though controlled by the Republicans, may put up obstacles, and the orders may get mired in legal challenges from civil society groups.

The week was coloured, though, by President Trump's repeated insistence to the media that the crowds at his inauguration were the biggest ever, and that he would have won the popular vote - which he lost to rival Hillary Clinton by well over two million - had there not been widespread voter fraud, an allegation which appears to have no basis.

The order on the wall is vaguely worded. It is also clear that American taxpayers will, initially at least, foot the bill for the wall, which could cost in the region of US$15 billion (S$21.4 billion).

The President's power, in reality, is limited. When Mr Barack Obama came to power in 2009 following a landslide victory, one of his first orders required the closing down of the notorious prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Eight years later, it is still functioning.

Mr Obama faced opposition from Congress and internal bureaucratic squabbles with the military and Pentagon.

It took more than six years to build about 1,100km of the current fence on the United States-Mexico border. That covers about a third of the total length of the border, which could indicate how much time it would take to finish a wall.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Republican administration would repeal and replace some components of the Obamacare scheme by spring, and address another priority - tax reform - before August.

Said Professor Glenn Altschuler of Cornell University in a phone interview: "There are no real surprises. This is the pursuit of essentially a Republican agenda, a pro-big business rolling back of environmental regulations, and the tough talk on border security and Obamacare."

 

The week was coloured, though, by President Trump's repeated insistence to the media that the crowds at his inauguration were the biggest ever, and that he would have won the popular vote - which he lost to rival Hillary Clinton by well over two million - had there not been widespread voter fraud, an allegation which appears to have no basis.

Prof Altschuler added: "The President… cannot restrain himself from settling scores, justifying losing the popular vote, and taking it out on media critics.

"This hypersensitivity will make for a volatile and combative administration."

In an e-mail, Professor H. W. Brands, from the Department of History at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote that Mr Trump "continues to focus on matters more appropriate to a campaign - crowd size, for example - than to a presidency".

"And he continues to cast dark aspersions on American democracy - his allegations of massive voter fraud. Nothing much really new. And that is discouraging," said Prof Brands.

Professor Inderjeet Parmar of the Department of International Politics at City, University of London, said that in many respects, these issues were distractions triggered by the President himself.

In a phone interview, the professor said: "Trump is going to stay on the attack, behave as if he is besieged, like a surrogate for an American people under siege.

"It is a populist game which keeps the media in a fury while the rest of the pro-corporate agenda is pushed through."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2017, with the headline 'Trump's first week marked by action and friction'. Print Edition | Subscribe