April 7, 2020

The 100-Day Fever

By Stephen Tuttle | April 29, 2017

President Donald Trump is right about one thing: The first 100 days is a ridiculous way to judge a new president.

This began in the first 100 days of FDR's first term when a compliant and fearful Congress passed huge chunks of legislation designed to bring the country out of the Great Depression. Every president since has received a 100-day report card.

It is absurd when you consider it is 100 days of a 1461-day job. It's not a probationary review of a new employee we can just dismiss.

Unfortunately, candidates running for president have only fed the 100-day fever. They promise all manner of miracles in their first 100 days, sometimes even reducing it to “on day one.” And they absolutely, positively promise.

Nobody promised more than Trump. Great and awesome promises, believe me.

Late in his presidential campaign he made what he called a contract with American voters. Speaking in Gettysburg, he outlined his 100-day legislative plan. All of it, he said, would be introduced. Here's the list:

Middle Class Tax Relief and Simplification Act, End Offshoring Act, American Energy and Infrastructure Act, School Choice and Education Opportunity Act, Repeal and Replace Obamacare Act, Affordable Childcare and Eldercare Act, End Illegal Immigration Act (yes, that's the one with The Wall and a declaration that Mexico would pay for it), Restoring Community Safety Act, Restoring National Security Act, and Clean Up Corruption in Washington, D.C. Act. 

Nine of the ten first 100-day promises have yet to see the light of day and the one that did, repealing the Affordable Care Act, was withdrawn when it was clear Republicans didn't have enough votes in their own party to gain passage.

His promise to “drain the swamp” has resulted in a minor flood of swamp denizens flowing directly into his administration.

Trump actually has had the least prolific legislative first 100 days since Jimmy Carter. But he's been busy with executive orders and presidential memoranda.

The bulk of those have either hardened immigration rules or loosened environmental rules.

Coal companies are now freer to let their waste spill into local streams and creeks, the Keystone XL pipeline is again in forward motion, carbon emission standards have been eased, mileage standards for vehicles have been extended and the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't believe carbon dioxide contributes to climate change.

Illegal immigrants and some who previously believed they were here legally are now easier to deport and we're building new detention centers.

Trump also quickly nominated, and had confirmed, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, and rained down missiles on a Syrian airfield. 

According to Trump, it's the greatest start in history, for Trump supporters it's an admirable and promising start and to Trump detractors it's a laughable and dangerous debut for a clueless president (it's more than a little ironic that many now loudly criticizing Trump's legislative inaction don't actually support any of the proposals).

Trump hasn't learned the hard truth that the White House is not the only center of power. The president has a great deal of latitude as commander in chief of the military, but not much anywhere else. There is the veto pen, the bully pulpit, and the political skills to influence and move a legislative agenda. But it's Congress, the first among separation of powers equals, where real power rests. It's not clear the president's bravado can influence what's become a fractured and unruly bunch. 

But he just started. Let's assume Trump's first 100 days have simply been the stumbles of a presidential toddler finding his legs. Legislation takes time and it's possible if not likely some version or elements of the president's campaign promises will eventually come to fruition.

Trump detractors will have to get used to the fact that he, his cabinet and to some extent this Congress are going to do things they don't like. That's what happens when you lose the White House after having already lost Congress.

The tone being set in the first 100 days is more troubling. Nobody should be excited about Trump's misstatements, falsehoods, late night tweets and insults. Being anti-establishment is one thing; acting like a petulant child quite another.

Ongoing investigations into former Trump campaign workers' relationships with Russians aren't so good, either. Nor is Trump's refusal to release his tax returns, making it impossible to know if his tax reform proposals directly benefit his various business entanglements.

But whether you're a virulent Trump resister or a blind loyalist, there is still plenty of time for a Trump agenda to take shape, to your horror or delight. He's only answered a couple of questions on a very long test so, like every president before him, his grade for the first 100 days is “Incomplete.”  

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