On New Year’s Eve 2016, Donald Trump spent the evening at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida where members were charged $525 to attend. Trump schmoozed, posed for photographs with celebrities and supporters, and spoke to a television anchor he would later claim – apparently falsely – was “bleeding badly” from a face-lift.
Amid the good times, he found the opportunity to post a tweet that was very much in the style we have come to recognise as his:
Three weeks later, the former host of The Apprentice, a man who had bragged about sexually assaulting women and avoided punishment, a man who railed against Muslims and Mexicans and promised to construct a wall on the southern US border, would take the oath of office and enter the White House. Some how, he had beaten Hillary Clinton, a deeply flawed candidate but somebody whom, to many, had appeared immeasurably much better qualified for the job.
Later, he would spin stories about the weather on Inauguration Day and send out his spokesman to lie blind about the size of the crowds. On 21 January, the day after, hundreds of thousands of women gathered in the centre of Washington, and in cities around the world, to protest against Trump’s ascension to the nation’s highest office, and what they believed lay in store.
From the start, Trump governed as he had campaigned – aggressively, spontaneously, and with a constant eye on a handful of cable television shows. He was petulant, ill-mannered and unable to admit to an error. He sought enemies, for example the among the nation’s intelligence agencies, where he should have looked for allies.
Some expressed surprise at his behaviour, having convinced themselves once he entered the Oval Office, the trappings and burden of the presidency would calm and moderate him. But that was their mistake; even when people belatedly took Trump’s campaign seriously, they failed to take him literally.
Within days, Trump was seeking to do what he had promised his supporters, in the form of a Muslim travel ban and a suspension of America’s refugee system. There was chaos and heartbreak at airports across the country and around the globe, but the President seemed to care little.
If Trump were a weather system, he would probably designated a whirlwind or tornado – lots of weaving on and off course, a shifting focus, and plenty of damage in his wake. He came to Washington thinking he could govern and he had campaigned, without the need for expert advice or the usual norms associated with seeking to be the president of an entire nation, rather than just those who voted for you.
Not surprisingly, he quickly broke plenty of crockery. His travel ban was stopped by the courts, and four day after he took office his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was lying to FBI agents about his contact with Russian officials during the transition. On 13 February, Flynn was forced to resign as his dishonesty became public.
In April, Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to the Supreme Court, something that will stand, along with the recent Republican tax bill, as Trump’s most significant achievements this year. At the same time, he continued to be angered by the ongoing FBI probe into Russia’s alleged meddling in the election – something he repeatedly denied.
At the beginning of May, a disgruntled Trump fired his FBI Director James Comey. His decision led to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who has since taken up the reins of the investigation and to date has indicted four members of Trump’s circle with various crimes.
Steve Bannon, the right-wing nationalist who helped Trump win the election and was himself later fired, would later describe Comey’s ousting as one of “the worst mistakes in modern political history”.
Donald Trump was not the only extreme weather system to hit the US. After the President, who denounced climate change as a hoax, rolled back climate regulations introduced by Barack Obama and withdrew America from the Paris Accord, the US was struck by a series of storms and hurricanes.
Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas in August, and Hurricane Irma, which struck Florida in September, cost millions of dollars. To date, large parts of Puerto Rico are still without power after Hurricane Maria destroyed much of the island’s power infrastructure the same month.
Meanwhile, wildfires in California destroyed more than 8,000 homes in its famed wine country and killed 42 people, the deadliest wildfires in the state’s history. A report in October by the United States Government Accountability Office suggested extreme weather had accounted for $350bn of damage.
Trump scored his administration “10 out of 10” for the way it handled the disasters, even though he was widely panned for the way he appeared to attach less importance to the plight of Puerto Ricans than those living on the US mainland, even though all three-and-a-half million islanders are US citizens. Critics pointed out that the man who condemned Obama on the few occasions he took to the links found time to play golf – invariably at one of his own courses – a minimum of 82 times.
Elsewhere, America was struck, repeatedly, by another problem that just seems to get worse – mass casualty shootings.
On 1 October, gunman Stephen Paddock achieved a new notoriety when he opened fired from a hotel room on the Las Vegas strip, killing 58 people and injuring more than 500 others who were attending a music festival.
It was the deadliest single-shooter mass killing in US history. In November, Devin Patrick Kelley, a former member of the US Air Force with a record of domestic violence, opened fired in a church in Sutherland, Texas, killing 26 people in what investigators said was a domestically-motivated event.
The country is no closer to further regulating access to firearms after these two events than it was after the killing of 26 children and staff at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in December 2012.
At the end of 2017, America feels more anxious, more worried. People of colour and Muslims, or people who may be assumed to be Muslims, talk of a spike in hate crimes and abuse. The President continues to rail against Muslims and immigrants as he always has, still seemingly blind to the fact that he leads a nation consisting almost entirely of immigrants.
He failed to denounce white supremacist and neo-Nazi-led violence that ended with the the death of a young woman in Charlottesville. Rather, bigots such as David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, cheer on his actions.
Many dream of Trump being impeached, but that may never happen. So far, he has avoided most of the fallout from the Russia probe. And while his approval rating is at an historic low for a president, his support among those who voted for him, and Republicans in general, remains very solid.
Alongside this, the economy is expanding, jobs are growing and the stock exchange is booming. The Democrats are hopeful of winning back the House and the Senate in the 2018 mid-term elections, but the party – still seeking leadership and direction, and, frankly, still recovering from Trump’s defeat of Clinton – may do neither. If they fail to win the House, impeachment remains all but an impossibility.
Some commentators claim Trump has broken all the norms of his office, and that may be true. His aggression, self-delusion, his constant early-morning ranting on social media, is not something we have seen from a US president.
But for all his noise and bluster, while Trump has the potential to do a lot of harm, so far his impact – partly as a result of the shambolic nature of the West Wing and the Republican leadership – has been modest.
When compared to what the previous Republican incumbent, George W Bush, did in his first year – refusing to back the Kyoto Treaty, supporting faith-based education, invading Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and preparing to take out Saddam Hussein – Trump’s actions so far remain limited.
There are real challenges ahead. The President’s bigotry and misogyny, his denouncing of the media as purveyors of “fake news” and the promises he made to millions of Americans that he surely cannot keep, tear at the nation’s fabric in a way that is deeply unsettling. Be warned: 2018 is going to be anything but quiet.
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