Column - Donald Trump’s ‘My Way’

THREE events last week showcased the likely tone and direction of Donald Trump's administration. Given the 45th US president's proclivity for combat on all issues, regardless of their importance, and for "alternative facts", the possibility that last week's theatrics could continue for four years is disquieting.

Congressional hearings of cabinet nominees, a strident America First inaugural speech and a disagreeable disagreement about the number who witnessed Trump's swearing-in highlighted the 45th president's feather-light concern about potential conflicts of interests, his singular view of the US and his single-minded obsession about media coverage.

Mostly ultra-rich, overwhelming male and singularly lacking in diversity, Trump's cabinet nominees include three billionaires, two women (one of whom is a billionaire), one black, one Asian American and no Latinos – the first time this has happened since the Reagan presidency.

Totalling 55 million, Latinos are the biggest minority, comprising about 17% of the US population.

Labelled the "Goldman Sachs and generals" cabinet due to these two group's over-representation, Trump's executive arm enjoys an estimated combined net worth ranging from US$6 billion to US$14 billion – a sum exceeding the GDP of the world's 39 poorest countries, Niamh McIntyre of The Independent newspaper notes.

Some cabinet picks appear to have been poorly selected and vetted. If confirmed, the privately-educated billionaire and presumptive education secretary Betsy DeVos will oversee nearly 100,000 public schools that provide education for 90% of American students.

During the Congressional hearing, DeVos didn't understand the difference between proficiency and growth. Unaware the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was a federal law, she suggested compliance is best left to states.

Asked for her views on guns in schools, she said there were probably guns in schools in Wyoming to protect from grizzlies – an answer that triggered an avalanche of jokes in social media.

Equally contentious was Trump's pick for health and human services secretary, Tom Price. Last March, Price bought shares in Zimmer Biomet, days before he introduced legislation that would have directly benefited the world's leading manufacturer of knee and hip implants, an article by CNN says.

Unlike his predecessors who were award-winning scientists, Trump nominee Rick Perry is notable for proposing during the Republican primary debate in 2011 that the Energy Department be eliminated – the very same unit he has been selected to head.

Trump's inaugural speech was equally noteworthy.

"For many decades, we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidised the armies of other countries, while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military," Trump said.

Washington Post's fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee noted the US doles out about US$6 billion a year in foreign military financing, with the bulk going to two countries – Israel and Egypt. However, this aid must be spent on US hardware.

Challenging the notion of a depleted military, Globalfirepower.com wrote at end-2016, the US possessed 19 aircraft carriers while no other country had more than four.

"(We've) spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We've made other countries rich, while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon."

Fact Checker notes foreign aid is less than 1% of the US budget. Only by including the cost of wars – for example the US$1.7 trillion Iraq war – will the figure hit a trillion dollars, it adds. With a GDP of US$18 trillion, the US economy is one-third larger than China, IMF data shows.

"We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs," Trump thundered.

Fact Checker pointed out Trump products are manufactured in 12 countries overseas.

"We will get our people off of welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labour," Trump asserted.

Fact Checker cited one statistic showing the number of welfare recipients has declined. In October 2016, the number receiving food stamps totalled 43.2 million, far less than the 47 million in October 2013.

Last weekend's contretemps over whether Trump's inaugural audience was larger than that for Obama was astonishing.

In his first press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer read a statement asserting last Friday's crowd was "the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe." Offering no supportive evidence and refusing to take any questions, Spicer's statement was at variance with ridership data, independent crowd counts and Nielsen television ratings.

Other Trump aides defended Spicer on the basis of "alternative facts".

Possibly reflecting the 45th president's personal preference, Frank Sinatra's iconic song, My Way was chosen as the music for the first couple's inaugural dance.

While the overall theme mirrors Trump's penchant for doing things his way, the song's first line is ominous:

"And now, the end is near."

Opinions expressed in this article are the personal views of the writer and should not be attributed to any organisation she is connected with. She can be contacted at siokchoo@thesundaily.com