- The Trump Presidency, Episode 1:Simulating Sovereignty
On January 15, 2017, the Scottish newspaper The Sunday Herald ran its regular column in the TV section, ‘Damien Love’s Weekly Highlights.’1 Among the must-see programs listed was ‘President Trump: The Inauguration’, which Love described like this:
After a long absence, The Twilight Zone returns with one of the most ambitious, expensive and controversial productions in broadcast history. Sci-fi writers have dabbled often with alternative history stories—among the most common is the “What If The Nazis Had Won The Second World War” setting—but this huge interactive virtual reality project, which will unfold on TV, in the press, and on Twitter over the next four years, sets out to build an ongoing alternative present. The story begins in a nightmarish version of 2017 in which huge sections of the US electorate have somehow been duped into voting to make Donald Trump president. It sounds far-fetched, and it is, but as it goes on it becomes more and more chillingly plausible. Today’s feature-length opener concentrates on the gaudy inauguration of President Trump, and the stirrings of protest and despair surrounding the ceremony, while pundits speculate gravely on what lies ahead. It’s a flawed piece, but a disturbing glimpse of the horrors we could stumble into, if we’re not careful.2
Even viewed through Love’s description of it as simulated if surreal reality, the inauguration made for cringe-worthy viewing. President Trump pledged to ‘Make America Great Again!’ by putting ‘America First’ on behalf of his ‘righteous people’ and ‘righteous public.’ The righteous, we knew from teasers during the campaign, were generally white, US-born, Anglo, Christian, heteronormative, cisnormative, able-bodied men and woman who had been groomed to respect striding masculine forms of white authoritarian leadership more than the ‘rigged’ democratic process.3 Trump’s speech treated them to a plethora of proto-Fascist proclamations. ‘We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.’ ‘At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America.’ ‘When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.’ ‘We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.’ Trump’s America First agenda promised ‘the righteous’ prosperity [End Page 132] and security, by ‘bringing back our borders’, ‘unit[ing] the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism’ and following two simple rules, ‘Buy American and hire American.’4
This pilot episode seamlessly segued into a regular series, The Trump Presidency. Viewers who wondered if the promised spectacle of horrors outlined in Trump’s campaign and fashioned into his America First inaugural address would materialize soon had their answer.
In President Trump’s first 100 minutes, he not only gave the most populist, nationalist, isolationist speech in US history. He signed off on the appointments of his yet-to-be-confirmed Cabinet members, who collectively embodied homo/trans*phobic, anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-environmental and pro-capitalist views and who were widely described as amongst the least expert, least experienced and most contentious appointments to any US Cabinet. At the same time, Trump’s whitehouse.gov website went live. It celebrated the victory of America’s self-proclaimed great leader of ‘the righteous’ Donald J. Trump and the business prowess of their new First Lady Melania Trump,5 while deleting those pages the Obama administration had devoted to ‘the unrighteous’ and their causes. The disabilities page was gone. The indigenous Americans page was gone. The civil rights page was gone. The LGBT page was gone. And the climate change page was gone, replaced with a promise to drill for oil on federal lands.6
In his first three weeks, President Trump began to implement his agenda through executive orders and presidential memoranda. These included his Muslim Ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority states entering the US7 and his reinstatement of the Global Gag Order which defunded any NGO that counseled women about abortions or performed abortions, while extending this order to include the work of any US department or agency performing these tasks.8