White House website reboot isn't a conspiracy, but it's still a disaster

Trump's first day: What's on the agenda?
Trump's first day: What's on the agenda?

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Trump's first day: What's on the agenda? 02:47

Story highlights

  • Errol Louis: Vanished material from new White House website should come as no surprise
  • But the site's glitchy and muddled rollout should worry the Trump team, he writes

Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)A clumsy effort to replace the Obama administration's policies, promises and philosophy on Day One shows that Team Trump's direction remains, in many cases, a work in progress.

And nowhere was the rushed, not-quite-ready-to-go feel of the new Trump administration more obvious than on the official White House website. As soon as Donald Trump took the oath of office, the pronouncements and preferences of the departing Obama administration were replaced by Trump materials on WhiteHouse.gov.
Errol Louis
This vanishing prompted a silly mini-freakout among some Obama fans, who immediately read deep, dire meaning into a transfer of digital control everybody should have known was coming.
"The original White House page dedicated to the problem of climate change and former President Barack Obama's policies to address it is now a broken link," fretted the website of left-leaning Mother Jones magazine. "Instead, the White House website features Trump's energy talking points from the campaign."
A similar disappearing act applied to the sections on civil rights, health care, LGBT rights and other topics. And the Spanish-language section of the site appeared to have evaporated.
Actor George Takei responded with a tweet: "The White House removed its climate change web page. And the healthcare, civil rights and LGBT sections. Just thought you should know."
A lot of this worry and outrage is much ado about nothing. Nobody should have expected the new administration to keep old material on the official White House website, particularly in cases where Trump explicitly promised to undo Obama's policies on everything from health care to climate change.
As the conservative Hot Air website put it: "If you're sitting at home and finding yourself shocked by this then you either weren't paying attention during the campaign or you really believed that Trump was just another politician who would forget everything he said on the campaign trail and settle in for business as usual after being sworn in."
Exactly right.
But that doesn't excuse glitches in the rollout. On the rebooted site, many important Trump policies are presented in a confusing jumble that raises more questions than it answers -- precisely the opposite of what a government website is supposed to accomplish.
In "Standing Up for Our Law Enforcement," for instance, the new administration -- in keeping with Trump's tough talk on the campaign trail -- signals a clear break with the Obama administration's scrutiny of local police departments accused of brutality or racial discrimination.
"The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong. The Trump Administration will end it," the White House site now says.
So far, so good. But the same section lumps in several other big Trump initiatives on the Second Amendment and immigration: "Supporting law enforcement means supporting our citizens' ability to protect themselves. We will uphold Americans' Second Amendment rights at every level of our judicial system," reads the site.
It then continues: "President Trump is committed to building a border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities. He is dedicated to enforcing our border laws, ending sanctuary cities, and stemming the tide of lawlessness associated with illegal immigration."
That's a big basket of policies that implicate at least half a dozen federal agencies, along with Congress, state and local governments and federal courts, in ways that are sure to be contested.
There are 18,000 police departments in America, and many of them are likely to have different interpretations -- in keeping with the nation's patchwork quilt of gun regulations -- when it come to "supporting our citizens' ability to protect themselves" as a local law enforcement strategy.
Building a wall and re-setting immigration policy are big federal fights that will require involvement by the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Justice and Treasury. And "ending sanctuary cities" is a political war in the making, pitting the White House against cities with local laws and policies that explicitly limit cooperating with federal authorities searching for undocumented immigrants.
At a minimum, it's confusing to put all these different policies in the same section of the website. That should change as Congress approves cabinet secretaries who can refine Trump's promises and add goals, timetables and strategies to make clear what will and won't happen.
And Americans bothered by the sudden disappearance of Obama policies have at least one consolation prize: WhiteHouse.gov has retained its petition page, on which users can sign onto specific requests to the president.
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Within two days of the inauguration, more than 227,000 signatures were attached to a demand that the President release his tax returns, along with all information needed to verify that he hasn't violated the US Constitution by taking money from foreign governments.
All of which underscores the fact that if the Trump team doesn't quickly turn the website into a tool to advance its goals, it could end up being a rallying point for the administration's opponents.