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Twelve days that shook America

Seismic shifts mark a hectic opening to the Trump era

Twelve days that shook America

Demonstrators watch from an overpass as a counter-protester holds a sign outside Los Angeles International Airport during a protest against Trump’s executive order blocking visitors from seven predominantly Muslim nations. (Dania Maxwell/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration hundreds of thousands of demonstrators descended on Washington, D.C., to advocate for almost every progressive cause: environmentalism, increased minimum wage, LGBT issues, abolishing the death penalty, and ending mass incarceration. The “Women’s March” seemed to unite most on two issues: Protesters liked abortion and hated the new administration.

“I didn’t come from your rib—you came from my vagina,” read one of many vulgar signs. “Abort Mike Pence,” said another.

The mass protests—which tallied more than 3 million U.S. participants across hundreds of cities—proved a harbinger of things to come. As Trump took decisive action to follow through on all his core campaign promises, liberal activists intensified calls for permanent resistance, the mainstream media devolved into hysteria, and some Democrats broke down—literally.

“This executive order was mean-spirited and un-American,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., fighting back tears after Trump ordered a 120-day suspension of the U.S. refugee program and all immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries with reputations as terrorist havens.

“I’m gonna ask [Schumer] who is his acting coach,” Trump said the following day. “There’s about a 5 percent chance that it was real.”

The immigration restrictions set off a wave of protests outside the White House and at airports around the country, where authorities had detained immigrants as they landed. Several judges blocked parts of the order, and acting Attorney General Sally Yates—an Obama administration holdover—instructed Department of Justice attorneys not to enforce it. Trump immediately fired her.

As in his campaign, Trump showed himself to be a news machine as president, dashing liberal hopes that he would be nothing more than an incompetent salesman. Although some Trump moves will have limited impact, they showed big changes are on the way, including seismic shifts in both domestic and foreign policy.

Trump started on the domestic front. He signed a Day One executive order permitting all federal agencies to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay” aspects of the Affordable Care Act that impose a “fiscal burden on any state.” Healthcare experts pegged the move as mostly symbolic, but Politico called it a “sweeping order that could gut Obamacare.”

Two days later, Trump announced he would withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a controversial trade deal still awaiting congressional approval—issued a freeze on nonmilitary federal hiring, and reinstated the Mexico City policy, a Reagan-era prohibition on taxpayer funding for international groups that promote or perform abortions. The latter order extended the policy across all global health assistance, effectively defunding the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the UN Population Fund—which has a history of participating in China’s forced abortions and received more than $300 million under Obama.

It wasn’t the only win for pro-lifers: After Trump chided the media for usually ignoring the annual March for Life, all the mainstream outlets devoted significant coverage to it—including 37 times more coverage from the major television networks, according to one estimate.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Pence speaks at the March for Life. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

“Life is winning again in America,” said Vice President Mike Pence, who became the first sitting vice president to attend the March for Life in its 44-year history.

Trump went on to greenlight the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, enraging environmentalists who fought to stop the projects under Obama. “We’re not going away; welcome to your fourth day!” protesters chanted outside the White House. The next day seven Greenpeace activists climbed a 270-foot crane to unfurl a massive “RESIST” sign in the shadow of the White House. (Police arrested them.)

Andrew Harnik/AP

Greenpeace protesters unfurl a banner that reads “RESIST” near the White House. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Meanwhile, Trump turned to immigration: He ordered completion of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, defunded sanctuary cities, and authorized a combined 15,000 new Border Patrol agents and immigration officers.

Trump’s inaction also made news on at least one front: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that canceling Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is not an immediate priority. Polling shows more than 80 percent of Americans don’t want to deport persons brought into the country illegally as minors, but groups favoring tighter immigration restrictions attacked Trump for crossing a “red line” only days into his administration.

Mexico saw things differently. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto canceled a scheduled meeting with Trump in Washington after the two traded barbs on Twitter over which country would pay for the border wall. Spicer floated the idea of a 20 percent tax on all U.S. imports from Mexico, sparking concern of a looming trade war: “Simply put, any policy proposal which drives up costs of Corona, tequila, or margaritas is a big-time bad idea. Mucho Sad,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Following 24 hours of deafening silence, Graham and a trickle of Republicans began criticizing the substance, appearance, and poor implementation of Trump’s order suspending the refugee program. Trump fired back on Twitter, accusing Graham and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., of “always looking to start World War III.”

Less than two hours after Trump’s tweet, news broke of the first known U.S. military death under Trump, part of an attack on al-Qaeda militants in Yemen.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Press Secretary Spicer takes questions during the daily press briefing. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The same weekend, Trump signed a memo giving a 30-day deadline for the Pentagon to produce a plan to defeat ISIS. He also made chief strategist Steve Bannon a regular member of the National Security Council (NSC), while directing the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and incoming director of national intelligence to attend NSC meetings by invitation only. Spicer said the move would “streamline” decisions—the precise concern of critics who cited the confusing rollout of Trump’s refugee order.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the shuffle a “big mistake,” but media personalities took it further: Foreign Policy magazine editor David Rothkopf said it was “lunacy,” and The Atlantic’s James Fallows wrote, “Nothing like this has happened before. Ever.”

“In China, a key to Communist Party rule is the installation of party officials and political commissars at every level,” tweeted Edward Wong, Beijing bureau chief for The New York Times.

Trump acknowledged his open war with the media during Jan. 21 remarks at the Central Intelligence Agency, amid what he said were reporters’ intentional attempts to underestimate his inauguration crowd size. Spicer illustrated the new state of play when he called on the New York Post for the opening question at the first White House press briefing—breaking long-standing tradition.

Two days later, Bannon, former chairman of the far right website Breitbart News, told The New York Times the administration would continue its antagonistic relationship with the press: “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while. … The media here is the opposition party.”

J.C. Derrick

J.C. Derrick

J.C. is a former reporter and editor for WORLD.

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  • Steve SoCal
    Posted: Thu, 02/02/2017 11:24 am

    What a ride!