Eight years ago, the United States inaugurated its first African-American president: Barack H. Obama. A young rising star of the Democratic Party, Obama campaigned upon the hopes and dreams, anxieties and hesitations encapsulated in one word: change. Obama inherited the issues of the George W. Bush administration—among them the Wars on Terror and Drugs and the Great Recession—and placed the overlooked on his agenda, including the uninsured and the LGBTQ community. However, in his Farewell Address to the nation, Obama said, “I’m asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours.”
On Jan. 20, Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States while riding a wave of populism unforeseen since the days of William Jennings Bryan and Andrew Jackson of the 19th century. Trump is the second president of the new millennium to be elected into office without the backing of the popular vote. Sparse attendance at the Mall, isolated pockets of protest around Washington, D.C., and media coverage regarding potential lawsuits and Trump’s ties to Russia and its plutocrats are such inauspicious circumstances as no president, except Abraham Lincoln, has faced when entering into the office.
In President Trump’s inaugural address, several themes presented themselves. He claims to be “giving [power] back to you, the American People,” a common message for any president as Obama has shown, and draining the swamp of corruption in Washington. He spoke vaguely of retracting American obligations abroad diplomatically, militarily,and commercially while emphasizing the need to have “a total allegiance to the United States.” The words heard so often during the election, “Make America Great Again,” were further developed. Greatness, Trump explains, requires strength, wealth, national pride and security.
To execute his vision, Trump has called upon the services of several prominent private citizens. Should they all be approved by the Senate, wealthy former business executives will run the Departments of the Treasury, Commerce, Labor, and State. Notably, 13 of the 16 Cabinet positions will be occupied by white men. Both Obama and Bush II incorporated larger percentages of minorities into their political circles. When Abraham Lincoln assumed the office of president, several states had already declared secession. In a display of unity, Lincoln asked members from both parties and even his political rivals during the election to serve in his Cabinet. Such idealism hardly shows itself in Trump’s transition team.
A key political aim of the new Republican establishment is the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), written and passed into law under Obama. Many Republicans today, both of the brass and the individual members and voters, would see it as unthinkable that the ACA would not be replaced if repealed—universal healthcare, a dream of American liberals for decades, is likely to remain as a fundamental right of each American. The only question Republicans are wrestling with is a timetable regarding the passage of a replacement plan.
These, along with a battle regarding Trump’s constitutional eligibility to remain president considering his financial obligations, are likely to be the biggest topics for his first 100 days in office. Trump has already articulated his vision for America, but it is how he will work with Congress, and what recourse he might resort to should either branch be uncooperative, that will determine the course of American democracy for the next four years and beyond.