When the first 100 days of an incoming US president come to completion, it is normally the hour of political scientists or economists, not of ethicists.
But Donald Trump’s is no normal presidency, and its implications are not merely political or economic, but fundamentally moral. His first 100 days in office have been a time of destruction (as well as distraction), intolerance and bad governance.
But they have also been a time of inspiration, protest and resistance. And it is in the latter that lies the hope and the potential of Trump’s time in office.
100 days of destruction…
It seems ironic for a man who has called himself a builder throughout much of his professional life, that his presidential agenda has been one of destruction. His policy follows a logic of escalation, it is impulsive and defies evidence and facts, and it is ignorant of the lasting damage it may cause.
During his first 100 days in office, Trump launched an unsuccessful attack on health care; he started to dismantle key financial regulation, designed to combat financial crises as experienced at a global scale in the most recent past; he is in the process of eliminating transparency, anti-corruption and anti–bribery provisions; and he has pursued an erratic, confrontational, and dangerous style of foreign policy.
However, perhaps most momentous is Trump’s scaling back of climate change protection policies and his revival of the coal industry. It is a setback that comes at the worst possible time, in which swift action is imperative for the survival of the planet and when finally some fragile momentum for such action has taken hold around the world.
Trump’s obstructive climate change politics not only undermine this momentum, but set a dangerous precedent for other key nations around the world to follow suit.
100 days of intolerance…
There was faint hope that after a divisive campaign, Trump, once in office, would hit a more conciliatory note. But that hope was quickly obliterated. Bigotry and divisiveness have been terrifying hallmarks of his first 100 days in office.
They are reflected in his appointments (read: Steve Bannon or Jeff Sessions). They are reflected also in his communications; that is, in what he says (or tweets) or omits to say. They are reflected in his silence, and in his failure to rebuke the surge of racially motivated verbal and physical violence across the United States.
They are reflected in his policies, such as the infamous yet unsuccessful travel bans or the as-yet unbuilt wall along the border to Mexico.
None of those measures are effective means to regulate immigration or to keep the country safe and secure. They were never meant to be. They are not designed to protect the country from the outside, but to reinforce stereotypes, stir divisions, and create exclusion on the inside.
However, policy may not be the main problem. Trump’s own bigotry, his mocking of the disabled, his misogyny, and his open racism emboldens those susceptible to such views to practice discrimination, exclusion, and hatred openly and shamelessly.
Signs of such a process are emerging, and they put a chilling strain on the foundations and the social fabric on which American society was built.
100 days of bad governance…
Trump’s presidency will be a major test for the resilience of institutional checks and balances in the United States and, as of yet, we cannot be sure that they will pass. To be sure, those institutions have been tested before, but Trump’s open confrontation is of a novel quality.
He has called into question the separation of power and the independence of the judiciary, attacked and de-legitimised the free press, defied democratic rule and hailed a new kind of authoritarianism.
Trump’s presidency is a project not of a blurring, but of an erosion of the boundaries between business and government, personified, e.g., in Rex Tillerson and Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and exemplified in his own countless conflicts of interest and the numerous lawsuits he is faced with on all fronts.
And then, of course, there is the elephant in the room: the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Bad governance, disorganisation, and leaks in his own administration are the true Achilles’ heel of Trump’s presidency.
The truth about Trump’s ties to Russia and his countless, sometimes blatant conflicts of interest, is unraveling only slowly, but it is unraveling. Ironically, this may well pose the biggest danger to a presidency, which has perceived itself as post-truth.
Make America great again: 1360 more days of resistance…
If there is anything truly good coming of all of this, it may be a renewed awareness of the inherent fragility of our basic civil and human rights and the institutions that protect them; a renewed sense for the danger of apathy and taken-for-grantedness that has taken hold amongst the more privileged among us; and a sense for the need of active involvement of everyone in the project of upholding and strengthening such rights and institutions.
But there is also the danger of normalisation and this is perhaps the biggest danger of all. Over time, we may see decreasing outrage and growing acquiescence to his divisive politics – it may turn into the new normal that shapes perceptions and expectations of what is acceptable.
This is why resistance movements will play a critical role during Trump’s tenure. And here is where there is hope: these movements have been forceful so far. Women’s marches and, most recently, marches for science have brought millions to the streets across the globe.
Similarly, dozens of the largest and most prominent companies – Google, Microsoft, and Apple, to name but a few – have taken a decisive stand against Trump’s travel ban, his climate policies and the repeal of anti-corruption legislation.
We are now 100 days into Trump’s presidency. 1360 more days of resistance remain – and, if it is successful, perhaps the resistance needs not be that long after all.
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