WIONWashington, DC, United StatesFeb 09, 2017, 06.09 PM
“The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”
This is the neatly balanced phrase (which first appeared in an article in The Atlantic by writer Salena Zito) that became the world’s favourite explanation for “the Trump phenomenon.”
It was trotted out again and again by television pundits and columnists in the weeks of soul-searching after the election that turned a phenomenon into a President-elect.
For Donald Trump’s opponents, it became a mantra of hope as they tried to process the aftermath of his victory.
The new president would beef up existing infrastructure on the Mexican border, not build an actual wall made of bricks and mortar. He would tighten up US immigration policy, not actually ban all Muslims.
But after the first three weeks of the Trump administration, many are asking if they should have taken him literally after all.
Just two weeks before polling day last year, Trump gave a speech outlining his “contract for the American voter” in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln stood in the same spot to deliver his now immortal Gettysburg Address.
In the speech, Trump made a series of specific promises about what he would do on his first day in office. He may have been exaggerating the exact timeline, but he has stuck very close to that script over his first three weeks in office.
In Gettysburg, he pledged to put in place funding for the Mexico border wall in his first 100 days in office.
On trade, he said he would renegotiate the NAFTA deal and pull the US out of the TPP.
He also promised to clear roadblocks to energy infrastructure projects like the Keystone Pipeline.
And most controversially of all, he promised to “suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur.”
That commitment became reality when Trump signed an executive order banning entry into the US by citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries including Iraq and Iran.
The other pledges have either been delivered, with the US officially pulling out of the TPP, or are in the works, as with the order for immediate construction of the Mexico border wall.
The courts will decide if the highly contentious travel ban is upheld in the medium term, but Trump’s record in terms of delivering on campaign promises is so far very strong indeed.
This record is simultaneously validating the votes of his supporters and putting fear into the hearts of his opponents.
Meanwhile the situation leaves the US media and political analysts in completely uncharted waters. On an almost daily basis, the White House are caught playing fast and loose with the facts.
Just this week, the president’s counsellor, Kellyanne Conway invoked several terror attacks including the “Bowling Green massacre” to defend the controversial travel ban. But fact-checkers quickly confirmed that the so-called massacre at Bowling Green never took place.
So even though nobody can accuse Trump of not doing almost exactly what he said he would do, “alternative facts” are replacing the truth as justification for those very policies.
As the new administration approaches the end of its first month in charge, Trump’s supporters are applauding a president who they say is delivering what he promised.
His opponents, meanwhile, are learning fast that they must take the words of their new president both seriously and literally.