The first year of Donald Trump’s presidency was widely described as unorthodox and tumultuous, inundated by a series of controversies and scandals that ended up dividing not only the political scene but also the world at large. Although he is a successful businessman and TV personality, Donald Trump’s lack of political and administrative experience made his transition to the White House more difficult than usual.
Being the winner of the 2016 presidential race, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States on January 20, 2017. His inauguration speech dwelled on the need for a radical change in U.S. policy, which could make “America First” again. The crowd present at the event was smaller than expected, but Trump’s staff insisted that the number circulating in the press was wrong, and that the crowd had been the largest ever. This marked the beginning of a conflicting relationship between the administration and the press, which continued in the same terms throughout the year.
By the end of his first week in office, Donald Trump had already signed six executive orders of major impact. His first order initiated anticipatory procedures for the repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). He reinstated the Mexico City Policy, withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnerships, and reopened Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline construction projects. Following his campaign agenda, Trump also issued an executive order for the planning and construction of a new border wall between Mexico and the United States.
From its early days in office, the Trump administration became a recurrent topic of dissection in the media, not just for its policy, but also for the unprecedented internal conflicts between the President and his staff, or between the President and the other political and administrative entities. Soon after he reached the White House, Trump appointed RNC chairman Reince Priebus as White House Chief of Staff and his campaign CEO Steve Bannon as White House Chief Strategist. Priebus was replaced by retired Marine General John F. Kelly in July 2017, and Bannon resigned a month later and was not yet replaced. Moreover, as Trump enforced his unconventional policies, hundreds of officials from the executive branch agencies have left leading government positions from the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, and others.
1. Domestic Policy
During his early days in the office, Trump adopted a series of policies in support of deregulation and smaller federal government. On January 23, 2017, he ordered a temporary government-wide hiring freeze with the intention of reducing administrative costs. He also abolished ninety federal regulations. The efficiency of his measures is still debated by analysts.
In 2012, Donald Trump publicly talked about his opinions on global warming, which he described as a hoax invented by the Chinese. He later said he was joking, but as soon as he reached the White House, it became obvious that he was dismissive of environmental protection policies.
This approach caused a lot of friction in the American society and met serious disapproval from world leaders. Trump’s refusal to accept the scientific consensus on climate change caused international outrage, especially among environmental scientists and activists. Not only that he called the Environmental Protection Agency a disgrace, but also threatened to cut its budget. On June 1, 2017, Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, which calls 170 countries to implement policies that reduce carbon emissions. Moreover, climate change is no longer on the list of threats in the national security report released by the administration.
As a result of his disbelief in climate change, Donald Trump directed his energy policies to advocate domestic industrial support for fossil and renewable energy sources. The reason behind his policies was to limit the dependence on Middle-Eastern oil. Although energy independence is an important goal, the fact that neither Trump nor his advisers believe in the threat of climate change led to a non-regulated market with no sign of immediate action in sight.
Long before his presidency, Donald Trump talked about the need for universal healthcare. In his book from 2000, The America We Deserve, he brought numerous arguments in favor of a single-payer healthcare system and expressed admiration for the Scottish National Health Service. During the presidential campaign, he spoke about his goal of replacing Obamacare. As soon as he took office, Trump urged Congress to launch the process of repeal and replacement.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted the repeal of ACA in May 2017. However, despite several months of effort, the Senate did not manage to pass a repeal bill. Frustration arose between Trump and Congress, leading to a shaky relationship. The Trump administration sabotaged the program by cutting the ACA enrollment period in half and significantly reducing funding for advertising that encouraged enrollment. In December 2017, as Trump signed the tax reform into law, the individual health insurance mandate was removed as a result. Without the individual mandate that was a key provision of the Obamacare, the number of people with coverage will decrease significantly. The repeal will be implemented in 2019.
The major piece of legislation that affected the United States during Trump’s first year in the office is the tax bill introduced in December 2017. Although the impact of the bill on the lives of Americans has yet to unravel, financial specialists concluded that highest earners are expected to benefit most from it. The law permanently cuts corporate tax rate to 21% while individual tax rates are cut temporarily. The bill also increases child tax credit and doubles the estate tax threshold to $11.2 million.
Although he considers himself a free trader, Trump’s policies are regarded as rather protectionist, mostly because of his criticism of NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He also proposed a significant rise of tariffs on Chinese and Mexican exports to the U.S. Moreover, Trump threatened to leave the World Trade Organization to ensure that his tariffs were accepted. Donald Trump is also a supporter of Brexit and wants to negotiate a fair post-Brexit trade deal with the United Kingdom that could benefit both countries.
Besides the political and social issues that marked Trump’s first year in the office, the natural disasters that affected many American communities in 2017 were a great challenge for the President. Severe floods and massive fires put Trump in the position of having to offer support and comfort to millions of people. According to the press, he struggled to find a proper, considerate approach when visiting ravaged zones where people were fighting for survival.
Trump lost a significant part of his supporters when seventeen women who have worked with him or met him in certain circumstances accused him of harassment and assault. Not only that he did not deny the accusations, but he himself bragged about assaulting them, downplaying the gravity of the assaults.
2. Immigration Policy
In parallel with the intense debate around Trump’s energy policies, his immigration agenda became another topic that caused division and outrage, and not just in the United States. During the campaign, he promised to stop illegal immigration from Mexico by building a higher wall on the Mexico-United States border, forcing Mexico to pay for it. He also vowed to massively deport illegal immigrants residing in the U.S. and repeatedly criticized birthright citizenship. When faced with disapproval, Trump assured his opponents that deportation would focus on criminals, security threats, and visa overstays.
On January 27, 2017, only a week after his inauguration, Donald Trump signed an executive order that forbade entry into the country for the next 90 days to citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. He also suspended admission of refuges for the next 120 days. The order was imposed without any prior warnings as Trump cited security reasons. As it took effect immediately, the consequence of it was waves of chaos, confusion, and protest at airports. Many travelers were detained on arrival or weren’t allowed to board planes heading to the country. Three days after the issue of the order, Sally Yates, the Attorney General, directed Justice Department lawyers to ignore it. She was promptly dismissed and replaced by Dana Boente, who agreed to enforce the order. However, several legal challenges were filed against it. On February 5, a federal judge in Seattle blocked its implementation.
On March 6, Trump issued a revised order which had specific exemptions for permanent residents and excluded Iraq. Once more, the implementation of the order was blocked by several federal judges. Two months later, the Supreme Court ruled that the ban could be enforced on visitors with no credible relationship with a person or entity in the United States. On September 24, 2017, the temporary order was replaced by Presidential Proclamation 9645, which permanently restricted travel from the originally targeted countries except for Iran and Sudan and banned travelers from North Korea, Chad, and Venezuela. After a series of other legal actions, the Supreme Court allowed the September version of the proclamation to go into full effect on December 4. However, legal challenges continue in lower courts.
3. Foreign Affairs
One of the main things that made Donald Trump stand apart in the run for the office was his nationalistic discourse. He repeatedly spoke about his desire to support an “America First” foreign policy. He proposed to increase U.S. military defense spending and also cut U.S. spending on NATO and in the Pacific region. He talked about redirecting the resources of the country toward domestic needs, claiming that assuming voluntary responsibilities on the international scene was detrimental to the development of the country. Although as a candidate he suggested to leave NATO, he changed his mind while at the White House, officially pledging commitment to NATO.
During his time in the office, Trump talked repeatedly about the need of establishing a good relationship with Russia. In May 2017, he visited Israel, Italy, the Vatican, and Belgium as part of an official trip. During the same international trip, the President and the First Lady visited the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Saudi Arabia. The trip was an unprecedented move for a U.S. President and determined a shift in Middle East politics, mostly because the implication of his support for the Saudis is that he agrees with their war in Yemen and the blockade on Qatar.
Donald Trump often declared himself a “big fan” of Israel and it came as no surprise when, on December 6, 2017, Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, after a promise made during the campaign. Despite numerous objections from Palestinian and world leaders, Trump added that he would initiate the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Trump’s decision to back up Israel caused waves of protests, especially across the Middle East. On December 21, an emergency meeting at the United Nations General Assembly condemned his actions. 128 members of the UN voted against the United States, which demonstrated to Trump’s critics that he has put the country on the path of isolation.
In summer 2017, Trump’s approach to foreign policy aggravated the relation with North Korea, becoming a major issue of concern. The tension increased significantly when, according to observers, North Korea tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles which have the capacity of reaching the western parts of the United States. Donald Trump saw this as a challenge at his address and promised to respond to further provocation with “fire and fury”. The dispute between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un continued with a series of threats from both sides. Trump’s combative approach has likely only worsened the conflict, as many suggest. In November 2017, Trump went on a trip to Asia, visiting Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines, and meeting many leaders in the region.
4. Opposition and Criticism
Many agree that one of the main characteristics of Trump’s presidency has been the proliferation of nationalist views, along with the attempts to pull back the United States from global agreements. An evident result is the rise of racial strife as the hostility of far-right extremists towards minorities became more prominent on the public scene. For example, on August 11, 2017, a white nationalist march was organized in Charlottesville, Virginia. Other critics consider that Trump’s combative and divisive approach to politics, especially the repeal of Obamacare and the “Muslim Ban”, led to unrest and mass protests that destabilized the country.
In November 2017, six Democratic representatives introduced five articles of impeachment against President Trump, citing several violations of the law. Trump was accused of undermining the freedom of the press and obstruction of justice, among others. Another article of impeachment had already being introduced in July by a Congressman. In December 2017, another Congressman introduced two articles of impeachment, accusing Trump of associating with neo-Nazism and white nationalism and inciting violent actions. The impeachment resolution was put to a vote and defeated by a large margin.
According to presidential approval ratings, Donald Trump is the least popular U.S. President in the history of modern opinion polls. The New York Times established that Donald Trump made a false statement or a misleading claim per day on 91 of his first 99 days in the office. Many fact-checking entities and the media agree that Trump made countless false statements in public speeches and interviews.