The First 100 Days

It’s not fair to judge presidents by what they do in their first 100 days, but it is true that it typically becomes harder for presidents to get things done the longer they are president. We are now 100 days into Trump’s presidency, and it is an appropriate time to take stock of Trump’s accomplishments. Here’s my non-exhaustive list of takeaways from the first period of Trump’s presidency.

1. The Trump presidency is as racist as we thought it would be. And he hasn’t even had a clash with the Black Lives Matter movement, yet.

The most consequential achievements of Trump’s first 100 days, aside from maybe the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, have been in the area of immigration. It is still early in his presidency, and we have yet to see how deep Trump’s commitment to nativism runs, but we have every indication that Trump was being serious when he talked about immigrants as a scourge that needed to be removed.

The last two years of Barack Obama’s presidency saw increased leniency on immigrants, as his administration focused more and more on undocumented migrants who had committed serious crimes. Trump has reversed that trend, and with calls for more ICE agents, and more immigration court judges, it seems that the increase in removals will continue.

Even as his executive orders banning refugees and halting immigration from a number of Muslim-majority countries have been held up in the courts, Trump has done much to make good on the promises he made in his campaign to remove as many foreign-born individuals and families as he can. Many on the right have cheered this development, but it is grounded primarily in a racist view of immigrants as detrimental to American society. It isn’t about rule of law or safety, but about returning America to a time when it was whiter. Trump’s rhetoric during the campaign made it clear that that was his goal, and his actions so far as president show that he meant it.

2. Trump is a poor manager. The Trump administration has been plagued by in-fighting, it leaks like crazy, and seems to have no coherent mission. In the beginning, it looked as if Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller would run the show. Then, it looked like Reince Priebus was trying to install order and finesse to the operation. Now, it seems that the Trump presidency is being run mainly be the Trump family, with his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his daughter Ivanka Trump exerting the strongest influence. Jeff Sessions is currently, and for the foreseeable future, the most consequential figure on policy, but it seems as if he’s getting his way because the Trump family made a decision to let him.

Absent from all this intrigue is Trump himself, who has totally failed to instill any sense of a shared mission, discipline, or direction into his administration. Being a neophyte himself with no experience in government, he surrounded himself with people who had no experience in government. Having little in the way of policy knowledge himself, he chose for his closest advisors people without any special policy knowledge either. Prizing loyalty himself above everything else, he has personally shown little loyalty to the people underneath him, firing Michael Flynn, ridiculing Priebus, and publicly slapping down Bannon.

Trump’s lack of experience was, in the minds of his supporters, supposed to be an asset. He’d run the government more like a successful business, and he’d use his managerial know-how to carry out his vision in an environment notoriously hostile to outsiders. Nothing about Trump’s first 100 days, though, suggest that he has any secret-sauce that would make the government run more efficiently or make it more populist. If anything, he appeared to be taken aback by the scope of the task at hand, saying in a recent interview, “I thought [being president] would be easier.”

Presidents have to manage large staffs, and have to oversee a massive bureaucracy. Trump was supposed to be an expert manager. Even granting his obvious weaknesses, few among his supporters expected running his staff would be a major roadblock in the early going. It has, though, and the main source of the problem seems to be Trump himself, who relishes drama, and thinks the principles of reality T.V. are transferable to government.

3. Trump is a bad negotiator. Another of Trump’s supposed strengths that would make up for his lack of experience and temperamental instability was his ability to strike a deal. After all, he wrote the book. He’s done deals all over the world. Wouldn’t he be able to make deals with Congress, with foreign governments, within his own administration?

The early evidence indicates that the answer to those questions is no. And what we’ve seen so far suggests that Trump actually lacks much of the skill-set needed to make constructive, non-zero sum deals.

Trump does have a set of negotiating tactics, but so far they have borne little fruit. He will strike an aggressive opening position, will set artificial ultimatums, will threaten payback for those who remain opposed to him. This was on display during the recent debate over whether Congress would fund the border wall. Trump came out with a wild position – we’d have a continuous, enormous wall stretching across the southern border, and Mexico would pay for it. When it became clear to most that Mexico would never pay in a form recognizable as “payment,” Trump began ginning up the idea that Congress would need to front the money. Of course, Democrats, as well as many Republicans, did not think a giant wall was a good use of resources, and it seems as if a bill to fund the government was never going to have money for a wall. Trump initially implied that he’d be willing to shut down the government over the wall’s funding, which set a deadline at the end of April. He told Democrats he’d withhold money needed to fund Obamacare’s subsidies if they didn’t fund the wall.

In the end, though, he didn’t get the wall, and it looks as if the government will continue to pay the money Obamacare needs to work. Of course, he may get the wall later, and he could decide to stop paying money to insurance companies at a later date, but I see no reason to think the dynamics of the situation will be different in September than they were here in April. As with management, the problem here seems to be mainly Trump himself.

Trump likes to portray himself as a master deal-maker, but he has behaved like an amateur. During the healthcare fight, he let other people set the terms, did not seem to know, or care to know, anything about the legislation being worked on, did not appear to understand the political dynamics at play, and set an ultimatum from which he pretty quickly backed down. He was supposed to be “the closer,” but reports indicated he did little more in the negotiating process than threaten members of his own party with primary challenges, and shoot the breeze.

There are other examples, like Trump’s dealings with China or NAFTA, that show Trump as a person who talks a big game, but emerges with little to show for it. The art of the deal has, so far, not translated very well to actually governing.

4. Trump’s promises mean very little. With the clear exception of immigration policy, Trump has broken, or is in the process of breaking, his promises on just about every conceivable issue. On healthcare, he promised that everybody would be covered, and promptly endorsed a plan that would cause millions of people to lose their health insurance. On taxes, he promised not to cut taxes on the rich, and then released an outline of a plan that would do just that. He promised to label China a currency manipulator, and then said he would not do so. He promised to cancel* every executive order issued by President Obama, and did not. He promised to propose a constitutional amendment to impose term-limits on Congress, and has not. He promised to work with Congress on 10 pieces of legislation during his first 100 days, and has worked with them so far on only one. He promised to propose legislation to allow insurers to sell insurance across state lines, and has not.

Some of these reversals, such as the decision to not label China a currency manipulator, may be written-off as being part of Trump’s idiosyncratic negotiating strategy. Others, though, such as the about-faces on healthcare and taxes, are clearly just instances in which Trump made promises and then decided not to keep them. On healthcare, he did not push for a more generous bill, and on taxes, the proposal being discussed is his own.

Trump has done little to ensure that his presidency matches the populism of his campaign, mainly, I think, because the most populist positions meant little to him. And, to be fair, they probably meant little to most of his supporters. His most ardent supporters were drawn mostly to his white nationalist vision of American society. The more hesitant mainstream Republican supporters were drawn to the idea that he was not Hilary Clinton, and only the most marginal voters came to him because they thought he’d deliver universal healthcare or would raise taxes on the rich. Trump has calculated that he can break his promises and not suffer for it, and so far, he’s been right.

5. Trump still lies constantly. Trump lies about big things and about small things. He began his presidency by lying about the crowd sizes at his inauguration. He followed it up by lying about the number of people who voted illegally. He claimed falsely that he had the largest electoral win since Reagan. He has lied about the number of people who watch him on TV.

It seems there is very little Trump will not lie about. It’s difficult, too, to ascertain whether or not he knows he’s saying things that aren’t true. He just does, constantly.

As far as political strategies go, lying is alright. If you can say something untrue that sounds better than the true thing, you can probably get away with it. With his first 100 days, Trump has tested the outer limits of that theory, and so far, it seems to be working out just fine.

6. Trump is making a lot of money off being president. One resounding success of Trump’s early presidency is the amount of money he’s been making. After being elected, he decided to have his sons run his businesses, ensuring that he was only thinly insulated from his businesses. He struck up an arrangement that allows him to pull money from his organization at any time. After being inaugurated, Trump doubled the membership price at Mar-a-Lago, and has been spending weekends there, delivering on the implicit promise that if you buy a membership at Mar-a-Lago, you may get to rub elbows with the president. Trump golfs at clubs he owns, which means that the Secret Service pays him money to protect him. Melania and Baron Trump still live in Trump Tower, which means the Secret Service pays Trump money to protect his wife and son. The Secret Service travels with Eric and Donald Trump, Jr., meaning that they pay Trump to protect his sons on business trips designed to hopefully make Trump money.

These are all examples of money being paid directly by the government to Trump, and don’t even begin to cover the kinds of obvious corruption Trump could engage in around the world, for the simple reason that he refused to divest from a company that has slapped his name on buildings across the globe.

Trump is open about the fact that he is greedy, but he said that he would go to Washington to be greedy for the American people. It appears, though, that he’s also being plenty greedy for himself.

7. Trump is delivering on his side of the deal he made with mainstream Republicans. Trump made a deal with congressional Republicans. I don’t know whether this deal was made explicitly or not, but it’s the reason Trump was able ultimately to ensure their support. In this deal, Trump would get to be corrupt, would get to pursue an aggressive immigration policy, would get to saying outrageous things in public, and Republicans would cover for him. In return, he would give them their agenda and would give them their Supreme Court nominee.

Trump is delivering on his side of the bargain. He gave Republicans Neil Gorsuch, who is about as conservative and qualified a judge as you could find. He is supporting their agenda of de-regulation and tax cuts.

The deal was a simple one, but it gave us the Trump presidency. It revealed that the parts about Trump that made Republicans uncomfortable were not the obvious corruption, the sexual assault allegations, the racism, or his unhinged temperament, but the suggestion that Trump might turn out to be more liberal in certain areas. Republicans were more disturbed by his pledge to ensure healthcare for all than by his casual admission that he liked to grab women “by the pussy.” They objected more to his heterodox views of tax policy than to his views on NATO or nuclear weapons. Republicans in Congress calculated that if they could turn Trump into a typical conservative, then they could live with the other stuff, and delivered the Republican base to Trump. Well, we’re living with the other stuff. The deal is a raw one for the country, but is so far working out well for Republicans.

* Link to his Contract with the American voter/100-day action plan. The promises listed following the link are taken from it. 

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