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Trump’s Executive Actions Bring Progressives Back to Earth

Trump’s presidency begins with an attack on government employment, abortion, and regulation

Dakota Access Pipeline protesters in August (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Dakota Access Pipeline protesters in August (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Donald Trump’s opponents spent inauguration weekend invigorated by their show of strength in Washington and around the country, but Trump brought them back down to earth Monday and Tuesday with a couple flicks of his pen on executive actions that struck against much of what they hold dear.

Trump signed executive actions Tuesday forcing the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines to go forward. Years of progressive organizing against Keystone on the grounds of environmental and climate concerns succeeded in getting former President Barack Obama to cancel it in 2015.

A ferocious direct action campaign by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe attempted to physically block the pipeline from being built on their land. In addition to concerns about the climate and the use of fossil fuels generally, activists aimed to prevent their water from being made unusable by oil spills. The Army Corps of Engineers refused permission to extend the pipeline in December, giving activists hope that the fight was won.

Now those victories appear to have been temporary.

Trump also signed orders Tuesday to let companies speed through environmental and regulatory review for infrastructure and manufacturing projects. The action follows the theory that regulations are killing jobs, though experts generally argue that isn’t the case, and that U.S. manufacturing jobs will not be coming back.

The pipeline and regulatory executive actions join those Trump signed Monday that freeze hiring in the federal government, withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, and restrict funding for organizations abroad that provide abortion-related counsel or services.

Though the Helms Amendment already prohibits U.S. tax dollars from funding abortions abroad, Trump reinstated the Mexico City policy. First implemented by Ronald Reagan in 1984, the policy stops an organization from receiving funding if it offers abortions or advises on abortion at all, even if U.S. money doesn’t directly pay for the abortions.

The Helms Amendment, which President Obama chose not to get rid of, already acts as a major impediment to poor women across the world getting reproductive care, and the return of the Mexico City policy is expected to amplify that effect.

Progressives also decried the federal hiring and pay freezes, saying it will hurt veterans and Americans with disabilities while accomplishing little.

Trump’s rejection of the TPP was the only silver lining for progressive activists, who have long opposed the trade deal, saying it would be harmful to workers and consumers while benefitting big business. Anti-globalization policy is the one area where they agree with Trump.

Many progressives were encouraged by Saturday’s massive Women’s March and the disruptive protests on Inauguration Day (though some expressed concern over the level of chaos), Trump’s apparently bruised ego over inauguration attendance, and the public punching of an alt-right leader in the streets of Washington, D.C.

Emboldened by the Women’s March, co-chairwoman Linda Sarsour vowed to keep resisting and promoted a “rapid response” protest against Trump’s pipeline orders.

Despite that, Trump’s executive orders make it clear that progressives could not be much further from accomplishing many of their goals. Unless activists are able to turn the mass Trump outrage into a coherent movement that applies pressure, they will likely be in for at least four long years.

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