21 Jan 2021

A timeline of Donald Trump's US presidency

8:46 am on 21 January 2021

Donald Trump's time in the White House is officially over. What initially seemed like a publicity stunt, the New York businessman and reality star threw out the Washington rulebook from the moment he walked into the Oval Office.

Since descending from the golden escalator in the Trump Tower in 2015, it's been a wild ride and like him or loathe him, his presidency will be one for the history books.

Trump's four years as president have been filled with controversy, contention and more recently chaos, but it all started at his inauguration, when he told the crowd: "From this day forward, a new vision will govern... it's going to be only America first, America first".

His inauguration itself caused conflict due to his claims over the number of people who attended. Photos appeared to show far fewer people at his event than at his predecessor, Barack Obama's inauguration.

Trump had the first of his daily presidential briefings in early November 2016.

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Early in 2017, he made some of his first moves - his Republican-controlled senate made moves against Obamacare and he signed an executive order for his campaign-pledge wall along the Mexican border.

It made for a busy first full week in office.

But by the end of his first 100 days he was already failing to keep his promises.

For the Trump administration, putting "America First" meant rejecting globalism. In his first year as president, America pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal - a 12-nation free trade pact - and the Paris Climate Accord.

He signed a controversial travel ban placing restrictions on seven Muslim-majority nations.

In May, he sent his now-infamous late-night tweet - "Despite the constant negative press covfefe".

Not long into his presidency, Trump fired acting attorney general Sally Yates, national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI chief James Comey - the first of what would be many high-profile firings. Later in 2017 he sacked chief strategist Steve Bannon, health secretary Tom Price, communications director Anthony Scaramucci and chief of staff Reince Priebus.

Mid year, he began to travel the world and meet other leaders including Japan's Shinzo Abe and Russia's Vladimir Putin. Among his foreign policy moves were rolling back ties with Cuba that had been established by Barack Obama.

He began a war of words with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un - although later met with Kim, making him the first US leader to meet a leader of North Korea.

In August 2017 came the Charlottesville rallies - the first large-scale events of race-based tension during Trump's time in office.

White nationalists had lit torches and marched through the University of Virginia campus with some chanting Nazi-associated phrases. One deliberately drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, injuring 19 and killing one woman.

Trump faced criticism from Republicans as well as Democrats for his response to the event - namely, his refusal to condemn white supremacists, saying there were "very fine people on both sides".

Hurricane Maria struck in September, wreaking havoc on Puerto Rico. Trump's administration faced criticism for a slow response.

A deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas resulted in widespread calls for gun control, and Trump later moved to ban bump stocks - an accessory that enabled rifles to turn into automatic weapons.

In December, Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital, prompting clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.


Trump's labelling of several countries as "s***hole nations" saw him facing criticism in January.

Early in the year, he started a trade war with China - in fact, he said "trade wars are good".

This trade war began with the introduction of tariffs on Chinese-made steel and aluminium. China retaliated as the year progressed, the start of escalating tariffs by each nation.

In May, Trump pulled the US out of a nuclear deal with Iran and decided to reimpose sanctions on the country - moves he was highly criticised for. Trump said the deal was one-sided and "didn't bring calm. It didn't bring peace. And it never will".

The same month, Trump's administration moved the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

June saw the earlier mentioned meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Despite the meeting, North Korea continued its missile tests. Later that month, the US withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council.

In November, Trump fired attorney general Jeff Sessions.

The same month, the Democratic Party regained the majority in the House of Representatives for the first time in eight years, a blow to the Republican Party.

In December, Trump announced the US would withdraw many troops from Syria and Afghanistan but did not specify when.

Also in 2018, a zero-tolerance policy at the border with Mexico was enforced leading to thousands of children being separated from their parents who illegally crossed the border.

Images surfaced of children being held in detention centres and cages with large sheets of foil serving as blankets. That was despite no law being passed by Congress that mandates that migrant families be separated.


January saw the first major showdown of the year. Trump wanted almost $US6 billion for his Mexican border wall, but the ensuing scrap in congress resulted in a 35-day shutdown of the federal government.

In April, the Mueller Report was released to the Justice department. This was an investigation into the ties between Trump's election campaign and Russia. Its conclusion did not find Trump committed a crime, but did not exonerate him, either.

June saw Iran shoot down a US drone. Trump responded by ordering attacks on Iranian targets - but he eventually called them off at the last moment. Closing out the month, he met North Korea's leader again, this time within North Korea, becoming the first sitting US president to visit the country.

Among staff fired by Trump in 2019 were interior secretary Ryan Zinke and chief of staff John Kelly.

In October, Trump announced US forces had killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a "daring and dangerous" early morning raid. Al-Baghdadi "died like a dog", Trump said.

December saw Trump being impeached for the first time, over a phone conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump appeared to ask for an investigation into his political rival's son in exchange for a continuation of aid funds.


This year was the most chaotic of Trump's term. The year kicked off with tension between the US and Iran, after US forces killed the country's top general, Qassem Soleimani.

He also announced a new Middle East peace plan, although analysts said it favoured Israel over Palestine.

In February, the Senate voted to acquit him of impeachment charges. In addition, the US signed an agreement with the Taliban to reduce hostilities.

Covid-19 dominated 2020. In March, Trump announced a national emergency in response.

In May, Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the states and the around the world calling for an end to police violence and systemic racial discrimination.

Amid violent clashes over the death of George Floyd, President Trump said he was taking action to stop the rioting and looting.

Federal law enforcement quashed a peaceful protest near the White House - firing tear gas and rubber bullets to clear a church yard before Trump arrived to hold a bible up in the air in a photo opportunity.

July saw the US notify the World Health Organisation it would cut ties, with Trump having accused it of misleading the world over the threat of Covid-19.

In September, Supreme Court associate justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. Trump moved quickly to make sure Amy Coney Barrett replaced Ginsberg right before the 2020 election.

It was part of an effort during his term to stack the Supreme Court with his nominees, tipping the court further right.

The same month, the US death toll due to Covid-19 passed 200,000. Soon after, Trump himself tested positive for the the novel coronavirus, and recovered.

Late in 2020 came one of Trump's last major firings - US attorney general William Barr.

Trump and supporters turned on Barr because he did not support the president's election lawsuits.

Shortly before, Trump had fired defence secretary Mark Esper and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency director Chris Krebs, some of the many firings, hirings and resignations he announced on Twitter.

Among other people Trump fired in 2020 were acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland.

Throughout Trump's tenure, the White House has been a revolving door of high-ranking officials. At least 68 notable staff have either been hired and fired, resigned or the reasons have been unknown.

The second half of 2020 was a tale of two major issues - the continuing Covid-19 tragedy in the US, and the presidential election.

America is known to have low levels of political participation compared to other democracies around the world but the recent election had the highest proportion of adults participating in an election in US history.

Trump said he would never concede, continuing to claim the election was stolen and fraudulent, while providing no evidence.

He lost to Democrat Joe Biden.


Trump's consistent peddling of the baseless claims and encouraging his supporters to fight against the election result culminated in a deadly attack on the Capitol as lawmakers were working to confirm Biden's victory. Five people, including a police officer, were killed.

The siege led to a historical first with the president being impeached for the second time. He was also banned from a multitude of social media platforms, including Twitter, which he had used for years to threaten, intimidate and abuse others.

And in almost his final act as president, Trump dished out dozens of pardons to people like his former strategist Steve Bannon.

Trump's style has always been persona over policy and like him or not - his presidency will be remembered and studied for years to come.

- This is not a complete timeline of Trump's presidency. You can find much more of RNZ's coverage of the past four years on our website.

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