At 11.59 am Washington Time on January 20, visitors to whitehouse.gov could read a lengthy page about the threat of climate change and a lot of information about the steps the federal government has taken to fight it. Just seconds later, all this information disappeared into the cyberspace, and the related content could not be accessed anymore. Looking for it just generated the message: „the requested page could not be found.“
Instead a completely new website of the 45th president, Donald Trump, informed about „America’s First Energy Plan“, which is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan“. All related information about the government resources on climate change had also been deleted by noon on inauguration day.
Transfer of power to the “American People”
The radical online cut reflects the irreconciliable tone of president Trump in his inaugural address, which doomed the past and promised „now we are looking only to the future“. The new White House website reflects this to almost 100% – with one important exemption however: The „We the People“-section launched by Barack Obama on September 22, 2011 has remained on the page. It is an online-petitioning website, allowing interested and concerned citizens to gather support for policy proposals and demands. If more than 100’000 statements of support are gathered within 30 days, the administration must reply and explain if and how the government wants to act. To delete even this participatory tool would have directly contradicted the solemn announcement made by the new US head of state in his inaugural address: „..today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.“
“We want to see Trumps full tax returns”
Yet, it will be very interesting to see for how long time this promise will be followed by the new administration. it’s a constitutional right „to petition the Government“ (1st Amendment), online or offline. Within hours of the transition of power from the 44th to the 45th president, a petition was created to require the government to „immediately release Donald Trump’s full tax returns, with all information needed to verify emoluments clause compliance.“ A few hours later the threshold of at least 100’000 signatures was reached, making it the quickest and most successful petition in the five-year history of this participatory tool. (And by Monday morning, January 23 more than 250’000 signatures have been delivered) A second petition, which required Donal Trump to „Resign as President of the United States in Violation of the Emoluments Clause. Release Your Tax Returns“ was far less successful, with just a few hundreds signatures in the first hours (and less than 10 k by Jan 23). That lack of response offered an insight into the respect of most people for the election, the transition of power and the office.
By noon on January 22, 48 hours after taking office, eight new petitions were online, while all traces of former petitions to the Obama administration had been deleted. So, Mr President, let’s see how serious you are about embracing the reality of modern democracy in the hours, days, months and years to come – by, for example, not shutting down the „We The People“ tool in spite of all the petitions directed at you and your team.
By Bruno Kaufmann, editor-in-chief of people2power and board member of Democracy International. This piece was originally published there.