(Guest post by Matt Metcalf)
Donald Trump threw out the challenge flag in the opening play his Presidency, fuming at the media ruling over the size of his inauguration crowd. This brazen mood, akin to challenging the spot of the ball on the opening kickoff, would have made Rex Ryan blush. And yet this open challenge to the media does lay bare a strategy of red meat messaging to his base, rather than broadening his narrow coalition or making friends across the aisle.
What was Donald Trump supposed to gain from his argument over the inauguration crowd? Did he convince himself that he had some irrefutable proof that was going to embarrass and further discredit the mainstream media that he so despises? The people who would believe him over the press are already skeptical of anything the New York Times or CNN prints or airs. The President himself certainly does not need to create stories muddying the waters over crowd sizes; he has an army of websites, radio hosts and cable news pundits that will do that for him. In the eyes of anyone who is not already bought into him, he has just cemented himself further as an egotistical buffoon.
The only credible reason for this was to throw the weight of the Presidency and the Executive Branch behind his grievances in an attempt to signal to the press that when they are off message, he will be using his powers to bring them back into line. Steve Bannon has already stated as much on Wednesday, when he called the media the “opposition party” and advised them to “keep its mouth shut.” This, combined with the announcement of felony rioting charges for six journalists arrested at the inauguration protests adds grim weight to the fears that Trump is putting journalistic independence and integrity at risk.
But what can Trump do in concrete terms to actually harm the press? Will he do to them what the Metropolitan Police Department did to those six journalists at inauguration? The moment the White House press pool pans a Trump proposal, will they be whisked away into police vans and sent for booking? I doubt it.
Even Trump’s one actual policy proposal regarding the internet, his plans to “open up” libel laws would face immediate judicial scrutiny should he actually follow through with his plan and convince a majority of Congress to indulge him, and if precedent is any indication, then the Supreme Court is not likely to rule on his side. However, Trump could use the open seat on the Court to install someone who will take up his cause. Perhaps it’s time for one of the lesser Trump children to step up and assume the power of the Court? Eric Trump? Tiffany?
However, while Trump wages his battle against the media, there have been attempts to turn pieces of Trump’s platform into law, Republican consternation about ACA repeal aside. Trump unilaterally acted to revive the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines on Tuesday. He also enacted a broad ban on all refugees from predominantly Muslim countries for 120 days, as well as a permanent ban on Syrian refugees. Citizens from seven countries would be barred for 90 days.
These are significant acts to be sure, but both are fraught with peril for Trump. Trump’s energy policies so far have been of little surprise. We shouldn’t expect the Trump administration to stand in the way of any natural gas or oil project that energy company CEOs can dream. Trump even wants to revive coal production, which has overall been trending downward throughout the 2000s. However, Trump’s policies on coal and other fossil fuels, which are popular with his white working-class base, are contradictory. How can Trump bring back coal, and even more fancifully, coal jobs, while making its direct competitors cheaper? Trump’s energy policies are more likely to hasten the death of coal mining than it is to bring those jobs back, and his energy moves this week didn’t help.
His Muslim-aimed refugee ban is even more damaging than his moves on DAPL and Keystone XL. There are already stories of green card holders away on travel unable to return home and refugees being turned away from safety. This is made all the more tragic because of the senselessness of the policy. Will any Trump supporter actually benefit from this? It’s much easier to see this as another piece of red meat for the white supremacists in his base who seek not to better themselves but to harm others.
What did this week in the Trump presidency really mean? What did we learn? Ultimately, Trump’s actions were either ineffectual, counterproductive or else just spiteful. Perhaps when Trump campaigns for his reelection in 2020, his slogan will not be “Make America Great Again”, but rather “We Didn’t Make America Better For You, But We Sure Did Make It Worse For Those People You Hate.”
For some Trump supporters, perhaps that’s all they want, but some people are already regretting their vote.