As he progressed from punchline to primary contender, from frontrunner to nominee, and then from seemingly doomed general election candidate to president-elect, Donald Trump has, for all his idiosyncrasies, offered a remarkably consistent package of promises.
Now, less than a week into his presidency, he is beginning to carry them out.
The grinding machinery of federal government has not checked his most extreme ambitions, as so many savvy observers predicted, and the weight of the office has not humbled or aroused in him some reservoir of internal reflection. Instead, much as we saw during the primary – as defeated Republicans fell in line behind Trump only to be mocked or ignored – power only emboldens him.
On Friday, he signed an executive order directing federal agencies to undermine Obamacare. After a weekend spent attacking the media – and enlisting his new press secretary to follow suit – for accurately reporting on his inaugural crowd size, Trump kicked off Monday by reinstating a federal ban on foreign aid to organizations that include abortion or family planning in their mission statements. TPP is dead. NAFTA is on the ropes. There has been a crackdown on government social media accounts that discuss or allude to basic environmental science. Trump on Tuesday revived the Keystone XL pipeline project and ordered a review of the Dakota Access project be expedited and approved.
The wall is next. Wednesday comes with a request for federal funds to build it, though no word on how he’ll compel Mexico to pick up the tab. He told ABC News on Wednesday he hopes to start construction on the wall very quickly, although getting Mexico to pay for it could get “complicated.”
Concurrent actions will seek to increase deportations and squeeze sanctuary cities by choking off grants of federal money. In his remarks at the Department of Homeland Security, Trump undermined any notion his administration lacks the cunning to effectively implement its agenda – with or without the acquiescence of this Congress.
“People are surprised to hear that we do not need new laws,” he said. “We will work within the existing system and framework.”
The push is slated to continue throughout the week. Though it will not be formally titled a “Muslim Ban,” the coming push to delay or block entry into the United States from Muslim-majority countries – “terror-prone” nations in the new vernacular – is the logical conclusion of a policy Trump introduced in December 2015, before the first primary vote was cast. And Trump this week is expected to order a halt to the US refugee program, at least temporarily closing the door on Syrians fleeing civil war and humanitarian catastrophe.
He is also focusing on what he has taken to calling “carnage” here at home. The alarmist language is familiar from the campaign, when he regularly painted American cities as blood-soaked war zones. By late Tuesday, Trump had threatened intervention in Chicago, tweeting that he would “send in the feds” absent an immediate decline in gun violence.
Hours later, a little after 7 a.m. Wednesday morning, he vowed to pursue a “major investigation” into the massive voter fraud conspiracy he’s peddled as a means of explaining away his loss in the presidential popular vote – even though there is, again, no evidence anything of the sort occurred.
And if that sounds outlandish, or like something that will never actually happen – it shouldn’t. Not anymore. Trump promised to smash the Washington power structure and showed he would defy all norms, social and political. His first actions have Republicans opposing the trade bills they once championed and Democrats floundering for a message.
It should be noted here that Trump is new in town and his party controls Capitol Hill. What he’s doing this week requires a pen and not much more. It is not clear how effective he will be when he needs 60 Senate votes to pass a spending bill. Congress and the courts will both have their say on how to pay for these things. Less than a week into the Trump era, he has not yet been required to stare down a tectonic government bureaucracy that slows all proposals.
Remember: One of the first executive actions signed by former President Barack Obama during his administration was aimed at closing the prison base at Guantanamo Bay and shuttering secret detention facilities.
An unfriendly Congress kept Guantanamo alive even as Obama shrunk its population. Trump is poised to build it up again and, according to reports in The New York Times and Washington Post, the Trump team is now drawing up plans to potentially revive the “black sites.”
CNN has not confirmed those reports and White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the plans had not come from the White House. But they would fall in line with another promise Trump made repeatedly on the campaign trail – to bring back torture techniques like waterboarding and “much worse.”
And why would you doubt him?