Donald Trump upends White House in first chaotic year

The year since Donald Trump’s election has revealed a president thirsty for acclaim, consumed by grievance and —for better or worse —realising his promise to shatter the norms of office.

Former first lady Michelle Obama likely got it right: “The presidency doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.”

Under the ferocious spotlight of the world’s highest elected office, with its relentless scrutiny and complex challenges, Trump has revealed much about himself and appeared to change not one jot in the 12 months since November 8, 2016.

The man who claimed he “can be more presidential” than all of his predecessors (except Abraham Lincoln), has not embarked on a much-promised “pivot” or holstered his Twitter account.

Each morning, his cabinet ministers scramble to respond to the latest 140 character missive. Foreign allies and adversaries have looked on wondering whether to take him seriously, literally, both or neither.    

The man himself has rarely looked at ease with his new station, which he admits he thought “would be easier.” 

For supporters, the 71-year-old businessman is making good on his promise to take a sledgehammer to politics-as-usual and put “America first.” 

He’s tackling “overreaching media, overreaching unelected bureaucrats,” said Eric Beach, a Republican political strategist who champions Trump.

“The truth is he was a better prognosticator than everybody else on understanding what Americans feel and how they feel.”

But among the electorate as a whole his approval rating, at 33 percent according to the latest Gallup survey, is lower than any other modern president.

All about that base

While Trump can boast of presiding over a robust economy, the past year has been short on legislative victories — be it on health care or immigration — and long on scandals that would rack almost any other administration.

His campaign is under federal investigation for collusion with Russia, a probe that has chewed away at the heart of his administration.

So many staff have left, that around the West Wing, the last day of the working week became known as “firing Friday.”

“Big announcements” are frequently promised in “weeks,” but seldom come.

Trump made a pregnant military widow cry during a condolence call and has flirted with the racist far right in a way that had been taboo in American politics. 

In consistently bashing the media or attacking veteran Republicans, the president has burnished his outsider credentials and has masked some of the chaos and inertia inside the White House.

Some 80% of Republicans believe he is doing a good job.

Beyond the base, though, opposition is so intense that his travel has largely been restricted to deeply Republican states, military bases or his own golf courses.

A trip to the United Kingdom has been put on ice indefinitely, while other allies — worried Trump may rock the boat — rule out visits as “too dangerous.”

Perhaps no president has been more restricted since Lyndon Johnson weathered Vietnam protests from inside the finest public housing in America. 

Inside the White House residence, Trump has seethed, his rage fueled by binge watching right wing channel Fox News and anger-reading critical media coverage. 

He exudes a near-Shakespearean craving for adulation, apparently not slaked by winning the votes of 63 million people.

His inauguration, the White House insisted against all evidence, was the most watched of all time. At the first cabinet meeting, ministers took it in turns to praise Trump.

“I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student. I did very well. I’m a very intelligent person,” the president recently remarked, noting he has “one of the great memories of all time.”

What we stand for

Around the White House there is little outward sign of the monumental changes that have taken place within the walls in the last year.

Two three-foot-tall gold eagles now stand in the Roosevelt Room. A painting of controversial president Andrew Jackson hangs in the Oval Office. Flats and pastels are out and stilettos and power ties are in.

But the tone has been set from the top, by a president constantly on the offensive against an ever-changing gallery of opponents, from Republican leaders to federal judges, intelligence agencies, a Puerto Rican mayor, the “fake news” media, NFL players protesting racial discrimination, and the comedy show “Saturday Night Live.”

The year-long frenzy of braggadocio, hyperbole and demands for recognition has fueled questions about Trump’s fitness for office.

And critics worry that institutions are being eroded, thinning the norms that glue America together.

Former Republican president George W. Bush took the radical step of criticising a Trump-era politics that seemed “vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication” and a political “discourse degraded by casual cruelty.”

Prominent Republican Senators have denounced Trump’s “flagrant disregard” for truth and decency and accused him of “debasing” the nation.

In the words of Republican Senator Marco Rubio, Trump has pushed almost every institution in American life — the media, Democrats, Republicans, Congress, the military, academia, even the NFL — into an internal debate about what they stand for.

For that alone Trump may be one of the most consequential presidents in modern times.

© Agence France-Presse

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Andrew Beatty
Andrew Beatty
European. Ulsterman. @AFP News Editor for Australasia. Recovering White House correspondent. Ex Southern Africa/Libya/Fed/LatAm/EU

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