Blog | Jan. 18, 2019

Braving the storm? Trump’s presidency in a nutshell

Earlier this week, Americans woke up to a shuttered Washington, D.C. A snowstorm had hit the region, effectively closing the government. But that paled in comparison to the fact that key executive agencies in the US have been closed for nearly a month due to lapse in funding.

With the daily scandals, resignations, and ongoing investigation into whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians in the 2016 election, the daily news updates almost sound like they’ve come from a far-fetched Netflix show. But they haven’t – this is reality in Trump’s America.   

Two years into his presidency, the US finds itself at a standstill. Looking back, there has been more regression than progress. The current partial government shutdown is the longest in history, hundreds of thousands of Americans are missing paychecks, and there is no end in sight.

But is this part of a wider pattern? We certainly think so. 

Under the Trump administration, we have seen immense deterioration and vast rollbacks on key issues that hurt Americans, our democracy, and the environment – the issues Global Witness focuses its global campaigns on. Here’s a look back at the presidency so far:


A protest at the White House calling for an end to the current government shutdown. Photo: AFGE

Attacks on climate & the environment:

Since taking office, the Trump administration has eliminated or is working to eliminate 78 environmental regulations. The largest number of rollbacks have been in the areas of air pollution, emissions, drilling, and extraction. 

Trump himself dismissed a groundbreaking report on the intensifying effects of global warming written by his own administration, turned a blind eye toward pollution, and continues to deny the existence of anthropogenic climate change. Just recently, Trump attributed devastating wildfires on the West Coast to poor forest management rather than to climate change, and signed an executive order to cut down more trees as a preventative step. 

Backtracking on transparency in the oil & gas sector:

Only weeks after Trump’s inauguration, the Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress moved to overturn a transparency law intended to stop US oil and gas companies from signing corrupt oil deals with foreign governments. 

This came as no surprise to many, as Trump had appointed former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to be his Secretary of State, the US’ top foreign diplomat. While at Exxon, Tillerson had previously lobbied against this same transparency law. Last year, Global Witness exposed how in 2013 Exxon pursued a corruption-tainted oil deal in Liberia that it suspected could violate US anti-corruption laws. They went ahead with the deal anyway. This is why we urgently need transparency around oil and gas deals.

Corruption & conflicts of interest risks:

Despite promising to pursue no new business deals while in office, Global Witness’ recent investigation uncovers what appears to be a new Trump deal in the Dominican Republic. This apparently new deal may also violate the U.S. Constitution. Trump has not fully divested from his company, the Trump Organization, and is the ultimate beneficiary of any deals the company pursues. He is profiting off his presidency unlike any other president before him.

Additionally, industry groups and foreign governments have spent massive amounts of money at Trump properties since he was elected President. This presents huge corruption and conflicts of interest risks – as some may be staying at Trump properties in order to curry favor with the President. 

And not to be forgotten, the extraordinary number of Trump’s family members, cabinet appointees, associates, and advisers who have been embroiled in conflict of interest scandals of their own.

Little regard for human rights:

Trump and his administration have shown little regard for human rights, both domestic and abroad. The Trump administration has separated children from their families at the US-Mexico border, attempted to silence the press, and questioned the involvement of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jamal Khashoggi's assassination despite substantial evidence, including from his own intelligence agencies. 

Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from the Human Rights Council and continues to severely damage the country’s human rights record. Rather than condemning autocratic leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, and the Philippine’s Rodrigo Duterte for human rights violations, Trump has instead praised the strength of these leaders.

What's next?

On January 29th, Trump is expected to deliver the State of the Union address – something each US president has done since George Washington in 1790. However, with the state of the country mired in chaos and despair, it’s looking more and more likely that the address will be postponed.

While a symbolic piece of American history and tradition, set-piece speeches can be put on hold. But our freedoms, democracy, clean air and safety should not be. 

We call on the new Congress to keep the president in check and protect the interests of American citizens.  


  • Delpha Carpenter

    US communications intern
  • Julie Anne Miranda-Brobeck

    Head of US Communications and Global Partnerships

You might also like