Trump: the USA's elected monarch
By Alex Davidson
Donald Trump as President is "more like a monarch. He likes the court. His court has all sorts of players and it even has courtiers", according to Chris Ruddy, the head of Newsmax Media and a friend of the President.
The White House is full of gossip about which players are in or out of favour and who currently has the ear of the President's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner. President Trump appointed his daughter as his official assistant and she is acting as the quasi-First Lady while Trump's wife remains in New York. Kushner has been appointed Senior Adviser to the President. Jared Kushner was the architect of Trump's digital, online and social media campaigns, enlisting talent from Silicon Valley to run a 100-person social media team dubbed "Project Alamo".
Trump works in the oval room with a huge entourage that includes Steve Bannon, the White House Chief Strategist, Wilbur Ross, the billionaire in charge of trade policy and Reince Priebus, Chief of Staff.
Trump's presidency began in chaos. And as the chaos unfolded so did the palace intrigue. Aides routinely leaked stories about their colleagues to the media and then complained about reports in the same media about infighting in the White House. Meanwhile Trump continues to go straight to the public via Twitter and condemns the fake news media.
Under the slogan "Make America Great Again" on the wall of Bannon's office there are four columns of tasks and policies. Some of these have been ticked off including freezing federal hiring and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade accord but other policies have proved more difficult to implement. At the second attempt, Trump managed get Congress to pass a bill to replace Obamacare.
Trump has struggled to get Congress to appropriate significant money to pay for the extension of the current wall on the US-Mexican border; and when he tried, by executive order, to ban citizens of several predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States his efforts were poorly implemented and ended up being blocked by the courts. Trump sacked acting Attorney General, Sally Q. Yates, for insubordination, after she took the decision that the Department of Justice would not defend Trump's executive order. Yates effectively over-ruled a finding by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which had already approved the executive order.
In the first 100 days of his presidency Trump nominated 58 people for senior government jobs that require Senate confirmation of which 25 have been approved. At that stage in their presidencies, Obama had nominated 190 and Clinton 176. Republican presidents have tended to be slower than Democrats but Trump still trails the two Bush's (85 and 95 nominations in their first 100 days). This is another reflection of Trump's inexperience, limited contacts in government and distrust of people.
FBI Director sacked
The dismissal of James Comey as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on 9 May 2017 ended the long deteriorating relationship of Trump and Comey, who regularly collided publicly and privately. Comey is only the second director to be fired in the FBI's history. President Clinton sacked William S. Sessions in 1993.
Following the leaking of Hillary Clinton's private emails and an investigation by the FBI, James Comey on 6 July 2016, used a lengthy press conference to clear Clinton of any criminal activity although he did characterise her use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State, as "extremely careless". This conclusion by Comey, not to recommend criminal action against Clinton, was met with scorn by Trump.
Senior Democrats like Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, criticised Comey for the way he handled the reporting of the FBI's investigation. On 28 October, 11 days before the presidential election, Comey sent a letter to Congress announcing that he was re-opening the investigation, saying FBI agents had discovered a new cache of Clinton emails. Democrats denounced Comey and said they had lost confidence in him. Trump referred to the FBI Director as "brave". Two days before the election the FBI announced that there was nothing new in the latest email batch.
There is a debate in the US about how much the leaking of Clinton's emails and the FBI investigation cost Clinton the election as, up until then, she was ahead in the polls. It is alleged that Russian hackers supplied Wikileaks with the Clinton emails stolen from her campaign team.
Russian connections investigated
Trump sacked his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, after the retired general did not disclose his conversations with Sergei Kislyad, Russian Ambassador to Washington. Flynn has been subpoenaed for his documents relating to his Russian connections after refusing to hand them over. The FBI is still investigating whether any of Trump's campaign aides had "inappropriate" contacts with Russian officials and possible ties to alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
It was amidst this FBI investigation that Trump sacked Comey as FBI Director. That investigation is continuing but no longer led by James Comey. The investigation involves National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency as well as the FBI.
Two days after Trump sacked Comey he had a meeting with Sergei Lavrov, Russia's Foreign Minister, in the White House. It has been reported that they only talked about international issues, including de-escalation zones in Syria.
Militarisation of Foreign Policy
While he has largely pursued the domestic policies he advocated in his campaign, Trump's foreign policy does not resemble the man who criticised Japan and China at every rally and warned Obama not to strike Syria.
James Mattis, Defense Secretary, on a visit to Tokyo, called the US-Japan alliance a "model" in stark contrast to Trump's campaign rhetoric. A few weeks later Trump dined and golfed with Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, during a three-day summit.
Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, helped persuade Trump to honour the "One China" policy under which the US views Beijing as the seat of government. This is after Trump had suggested in December that he might abandon the policy. Trump is attempting to use China to put pressure on North Korea although he has said that if China won't help then the US may go it alone.
However, one of the US's main concerns is the huge imbalance in trade with China amounting to some $350 billion. The US and China have just signed a new trade deal following Trump's meeting with President Xi Jingping. The deal according to the New York Times, covers US beef exports, fracked natural gas exports and US firms offering electronic payment services all in return for, among other things, Chinese exports of cooked poultry products.
In early April Trump stood beside Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary-general, and said of the transatlantic security alliance: "I said it was obsolete. It's no longer obsolete."
During the 2016 race for the presidential nomination Trump bristled when critics said that he lacked the temperament or experience to be Commander-in-Chief. The chaos of his early days in office resurrected those concerns in some quarters. Malcolm Rifkind, former British Foreign Minister, said, "Given his (Trump) volatility and inexperience that's what keeps me awake at night especially, as during his campaign, he asked what the point of nuclear weapons was if you could not use them." Trump's approach to the issue of North Korea, including the sending of US warships to the region does not bode well in this regard.
Denis Wilder, a former top CIA official, who served under Bush, says one trait of the Trump administration is "the militarisation of foreign policy" Trump has surrounded himself with generals, used the military to strike Syria based on unproven allegations, dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in the US arsenal in Afghanistan and despatched an aircraft carrier and warships to the Korean peninsula.
David Gergen, a former White House adviser to Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, says that the "deepest fear" for many is that Trump will "stumble into a conflict due to his impulsive nature".
Bob Corker, Republican head of the Senate foreign relations committee, stated that, "it seems like, on all fronts, that things have moved to a more traditional foreign policy. From the standpoint of our country's national interest, it just seems to me we are in a much better place."
Trump has put his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of brokering peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kushner is from an orthodox Jewish family and married Ivanka in a Jewish ceremony in 2009. Ivanka studied Judaism for one year before converting to the Jewish faith and marrying Jared.
President Trump has been a long-time supporter of Israel. In 1983, the Jewish National Fund bestowed upon Donald Trump the "Tree of Life" award, presented to individuals for their outstanding community involvement and their dedication to the cause of American-Israeli friendship. Trump served as Grand Marshall in the Salute to Israel Day Parade in New York in 2004. Trump's first overseas visit since becoming President was to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Vatican.