HARRISBURG, PA: Donald Trump hailed a “very productive” first 100 days as America’s president on Saturday, telling a roaring crowd of supporters other “great battles” ahead would be won.
In an hour-long speech attacking the media and predecessor Barack Obama, boasting about his support for US industry and the military, vaunting his foreign policy positions including on confronting North Korea, reading a poem, and repeating his signature “Make America Great Again” motto, Trump earned cheer after cheer from the crowd in Pennsylvania.
The choice and setting of the rally – in a state that enthusiastically embraced his election – was a deliberate snub to a traditional White House correspondents’ dinner taking place on late Saturday, where he had risked being roasted by comedians.
Declaring himself ‘thrilled’ to be far from “the Washington swamp” and the “very boring” dinner, the president sneered at “fake news” CNN and the ‘failing’ New York Times. “They are a disgrace,” he said.
Some of the animosity stemmed from US media evaluating Trump’s 100-day record as meager and mixed. They have noted embarrassing setbacks for Trump on health care and a travel ban, and reversals on China and NATO, while also recognising campaign pledges he has met, such as appointing a conservative Supreme Court judge and pulling the country out of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
Trump, in his speech, presented his record so far – including the signing of many executive orders – as “very exciting and very productive,” despite what he described as the ‘mess’ left by Obama’s administration. “We are keeping one promise after another,” he asserted, adding that he preparing for “the great, great battles to come and that we will win in every case.”
Trump highlighted his tough approach to immigration. Stepped-up law enforcement was removing “drug dealers, gang members and killers” from the country, he said, while reinforced vetting was keeping America “safe from terrorism.” “We are going to keep… terrorists the hell out of our country,” he said to applause and cheers of “USA! USA!”
He did not acknowledge the difficulty he has had in finding the money to start work on the wall he vowed would be built on the Mexican border. Instead he insisted that “we need the wall to stop the drugs and the human trafficking” and “we’ll have the wall – don’t worry about it.”
On foreign policy, he admitted he had backed down on a vow to label China a currency manipulator, but said ‘flexibility’ was needed because Chinese President Xi Jinping was a “good man” who was trying to help Trump rein in North Korea.
The US economy had surged since he took office, he said, reinvigorating America’s construction, manufacturing and energy sectors, as well as its declining coal and steel industries – a key message for the crowd in Pennsylvania, a rust-belt state. While he was about to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, “if we can’t make a fair deal for our companies and our workers we will terminate NAFTA,” he said.
Other trade deals allowing nations such as China, Russia and India to contribute to “the theft and plunder of American wealth” were being torn up, Trump said. He said he would be making a decision on the “one-sided Paris climate accord” in the next two weeks. He described the pact, meant to curb global warming, as an impediment to US economic growth.
“My administration has been delivering every single day for the great citizens of our country,” he said, claiming his “America First” policy had already increased employment. “We’ve created 99,000 new construction jobs, 49,000 new manufacturing jobs, and 27,000 new mining jobs.”
He spoke of his plans to reform US taxes. And swore that health care legislation brought in by Obama that gives greater medical access to Americans was “dying” and would be repealed – despite a signal failure by Republicans in Congress to do so in March. Trump also read a poem called “The Snake,” from the lyrics of a 1968 song by American soul singer Al Wilson reworking a fairytale about a maiden who saves a half-frozen serpent but who is then killed by its bite, as it stays true to its nature.
“You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in!” Trump intoned, dedicating the reading to the border patrol service for “keeping America safe.”