World braces: what is the Trump hand?

When Donald Trump has taken the oath of office to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ he will initiate what his team calls the First Day Project.
President-elect Donald Trump pumps his fist during an election night rally. Photo / AP
President-elect Donald Trump pumps his fist during an election night rally. Photo / AP

On the morning of January 21, after a long night of celebrations to mark his swearing-in as president, Donald Trump will take his seat at the Resolute Desk inside the Oval Office, pick up his pen, and launch into day one of his administration.

Predicting how he will act that first day is fraught with risk, given the mass of colourful and often vague promises the President-elect has made over the past 18 months on the campaign trail. Many of his most audacious pledges, including his much-vaunted plan to build a wall along the Mexican border and to scrap Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, would require the involvement of Congress and, as such, are likely to be slower burns.

But given the unorthodox nature of Trump's insurgent assault on the White House, and his vow that he will bring change to Washington, he will want to provide a spectacular show of strength for the American people right from the start. To underline the point, his transition team has been preparing what it calls the First Day Project.

It would be in keeping with the tone of Trump's campaign were he to focus the First Day Project on terrorising some of the most vulnerable and powerless people in America: the undocumented immigrants. He has said that "on day one" - in his first hour, in fact - he would begin to expel "criminal illegal immigrants".

The plans Trump outlined in a policy speech in September would target at least 5 million and perhaps as many as 6.5m people for immediate deportation. To achieve this, Trump has said that he would triple the size of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and set up a deportation taskforce, which a Washington Post analysis said would cost between $US51.2 billion ($NZ80b) and $US 66.9b over five years.

Although it would take time to carry out Trump's full threat of deporting all 11m undocumented immigrants, if it were ever doable, he could instantly wield his power by slashing two of Obama's signature executive orders.

The so-called DACA provision, which gave legal status and work permission to millions of young undocumented "Dreamers", and DAPA, which, before it was blocked in the courts, promised to extend those rights to their parents.

Trump may also instruct immigration officials on day one to step up scrutiny at the ports over new arrivals from certain countries such as Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia - a ruse to bypass any constitutional legal challenges to his contentious promise to ban all Muslims from entering the country.

Another eye-catching gambit would be to cancel the program to resettle in the US refugees from the Syrian war, which would be a thinly veiled stab at his rival Hillary Clinton, who had promised to expand the scheme.

Donald Trump gives his acceptance speech as he is surrounded by his family during his election night rally. Photo / AP
Donald Trump gives his acceptance speech as he is surrounded by his family during his election night rally. Photo / AP

An added benefit of many of these first-day actions, from Trump's perspective, is that they would not only show that he means business, they would also strike at the heart of the Obama legacy. Expect to see several other key Obama initiatives bite the dust on January 21 as Trump has said that "on my first day, we're going to immediately terminate every single unconstitutional executive order signed by President Obama".

One possible target of such slash-and-burn tactics will be Obama's efforts to combat climate change. The most incendiary move would be for Trump to tear up on day one the Paris climate deal that was signed and ratified by Obama without the approval of the US Senate, rendering it vulnerable to the newcomer's axe.

The President-elect has similarly threatened to act swiftly to unpick the Clean Power Plan that promotes sustainable energy sources and restricts the development of carbon-based energy. He may also revive the idea of the Keystone XL pipeline between Canada and the US as a way of poking environmentalists in the eye.

As a further dig at his predecessor, Trump may be tempted to announce on day one the expansion of Guantanamo Bay, the US military base on Cuba that Obama unsuccessfully struggled to close. The optics of such a move would be pleasing to the new occupant of the White House, as Obama spent his first day there in 2009 signing an order to shut the extrajudicial detention centre.

It is likely to take the President-elect more than his first day to initiate his threat to "bomb the hell out of Isis". But Trump will want to stand tough on the world stage, and to do so he could issue an order to military generals to prepare their own detailed plans on how to crush Islamic state through armed intervention.

Eight years ago, unprecedented throngs of Americans rushed into the streets in the middle of the night. People cried, hugged strangers, kissed cops, shared champagne. The country had just elected its first black president, and it felt as if liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats were on the same team, if only for a rousing moment, and that team had just won the World Series.

Trump's victory on Wednesday seemed unlikely to provoke any such unifying surge of goodwill and pride.

President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands during an election night rally. Photo / AP
President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands during an election night rally. Photo / AP

Americans on election night of 2016 had the blues - anxious about the future, miffed about the lousy choices they faced, insecure about the nation's place in the world, bothered by each other.

A presidential election is a reflection of the national culture and mood, and if the Obama election was a statement of optimism about the radical demographic, technological and social changes of recent decades, then what did Americans' choice of Trump really mean?

It is, some voters said, an admission of exhaustion, a collective settling for the lesser of two evils in a country where people increasingly choose not to live near, associate with or listen to those who hold opposing political views.

Not quite, other voters said.

With or without Trump's extraordinary appeal, Americans were determined this year to send the politicians a message about the pain caused by a decades-long collapse of certainties about what America looks like, what constitutes a family and how we earn a living.

The collapse of those certainties is a theme spreading across the West.

Trump's victory was greeted with glee and jubilation by populist politicians across Europe, who hailed his ascent to the White House as further proof of their belief that the old political order is now crumbling.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's National Front (FN), who polls indicate will be a leading contender in her country's presidential election next year, congratulated the former reality TV host and billionaire property developer for setting Americans "free".

"Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built," added Florian Philippot, an FN vice-president.

Supporters of President-elect Donald Trump cheer during as they watch election returns during an election night rally. Photo / AP
Supporters of President-elect Donald Trump cheer during as they watch election returns during an election night rally. Photo / AP

Geert Wilders, the anti-Islam Eurosceptic riding high in polls for next year's parliamentary elections in the Netherlands, called it "a historic victory, a revolution" and promised: "We, too, will give our country back to the Dutch!"

The United Kingdom Independence Party 's caretaker leader Nigel Farage spoke ecstatically of a "sea-change" to come.

"It's good news for all of us in the Western world who believe in nation-state democracy," he told The Daily Telegraph.

On Europe's eastern flank Viktor Orban, Hungary's hardline prime minister who warned about "backsliding" on democracy in 2012 by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, congratulated Trump on Facebook.

"What great news. Democracy is still alive," wrote Orban, who in July called Trump's policies on immigration and foreign affairs "good for Europe and vital for Hungary".

What seems certain is that European leaders - and others around the world - will take notice of Trump's success at no-shame rhetoric.

"The broken taboos, the extent of political conflict, the aggression that we've seen from Trump, this can widen the scope of what becomes thinkable in our own political culture," says Daniela Schwarzer, director of research at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

Trump is "like that doctor with the horrible bedside manner," said Chris Love, 50, a Trump supporter and firearms academy owner from Florida.

"He tells you that 90 per cent of your arteries are clogged. By being blunt, he's saving your life."

Across the ideological divide, some see this year's surly, sour campaign as a reflection of sentiments that have long been plainly visible on the internet but that just this year exploded into open expression.

President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump shake hands following their meeting in the Oval Office. Photo / AP
President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump shake hands following their meeting in the Oval Office. Photo / AP

"Fear and anger and misogyny and xenophobia don't change - they were always out there, but now those people can find each other so much more easily," says Chip Franklin, a radio talk show host in San Francisco who built his career as a conservative, then shifted his politics to the left.

"This year's anger is the same as any year's anger, but what's different now is that there are 30 different ways to express that anger and share it with people who would never have seen it before. Then along came Donald Trump, willing to say whatever people wanted him to say."

Even if he had lost, this would have been the year of Trump, a wholesale rejection of politics as usual. The thin enthusiasm for Clinton, the revival of the 1990s narrative painting her as dishonest and arrogant, and the dramatically rougher language deployed against her combined with Trump's ability to give voice to the nation's id.

The result was a cavalcade of insults, threats and unchecked assertions flying under the flag of antipolitical correctness.

As Jane Beard waited for her prescription at a pharmacy in Edgewater, Maryland, a baby in a stroller caught her eye. She played a quick bit of peekaboo, looked up and caught the boy's father's eye. He smiled and leaned in: "Listen, I want to ask you something. Are you a Hillary voter? You look like a Hillary voter."

For an instant, Beard - in yoga pants, a sweatshirt and little Ecco shoes - thought the man had sensed a kindred spirit.

"You bet I am," she replied.

Suddenly, the man unleashed a river of invective: "It's c***s like you who are helping that c*** win. She's a murderer." He went on, and it didn't get any nicer.

Rattled, Beard asked: "Why did you even come up to me? I never said a word to you. All I did was exist in the world in this store ... "

"You exist!" the man hissed. "Bitches like you exist and you're f***ing up the country - our country."

Beard quickly left the store, sat down in her car, caught her breath and posted about the incident on Facebook.

Post-election protests in San Diego. Photo / AP
Post-election protests in San Diego. Photo / AP

Within minutes, a virtual community embraced Beard, a former actress who coaches executives on public speaking. They bemoaned the loss of civility in so many places. They told stories of angry confrontations launched from both sides of the divide. They said they'd refrained from putting out yard signs this year because people have become so riled.

"Truly sadly, I feel just about the same way as this nut - albeit in reverse," one of Beard's friends wrote. "I hate that this election has brought out these feelings in me."

But one man assured Beard that "you met an outlier. The vast majority of people are good and kind".

Another urged her to "look at the support you have catalysed with this post. Look at the love that holds you and everyone woven into this tapestry. That is what is real."

Beard still struggled with the meaning of that moment in the pharmacy.

"That man is raising a kid who will hear that language and spout that language. Yet I was soothed by all the outpouring. What makes me sad is that we're devolving into tribes. I thought we were all the American tribe."

"More than anything else, Trump picked up on a growing sense that elections don't have much impact on the direction of the country, that power is increasingly distant from the people," Chris Buskirk, publisher of American Greatness, a proTrump blog says.

He will want to provide a spectacular show of strength for the American people right from the start.

That message - American jobs, America First, Fortress America - hit home with millions of people who have felt disconnected from, and disdained by, the elites for decades.

In 1996, James Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family, one of the country's largest and most influential evangelical Christian organisations, said: "People inside the Beltway are not aware of the multiple millions of Americans out there who believe things differently than is perceived in Washington.

"They're very concerned about ... a moral meltdown in this country. They're waiting for some political figure to articulate those views. And no one does."

Then came Trump. His unique blend of celebrity, ego and a mischievous delight in outraging the elites - as well as his confidence that he would be judged by the lax standards applied to Hollywood and sports figures rather than the unforgiving rules that govern politicians - enabled him to win over millions who heard in his message clear echoes of their late-night grumbles to friends on Facebook.

Trump's rhetoric and character liberated some Americans to open an ugly vein of animosity.

"This year has revealed our underbelly, and a lot of people don't like what we see," Jim Daly, Focus on the Family's current president says. America, Daly said, had morphed into "a post-Christian society," a "depraved culture", in which the more conservative party chose a nominee who boasted of his sexual assaults.

Was the Trump victory a statement condoning sexism, boorish behaviour and coarse aggression? Would President Obama still insist, as he did last summer, that "America is not as divided as some have suggested"?

In recent days, many Americans expressed a palpable desire to relieve the tension of division evident in the 56 per cent of Americans who, according to The Washington PostABC poll, were anxious about Clinton becoming president and the 61 per cent who felt that way about Trump winning.

On January 21, Trump will begin to quell or fuel those anxieties.

- Observer, Washington Post, Telegraph, agencies

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