Here are a dozen things we have learned in President Donald Trump’s first 100 days.
1. Trump has had the worst beginning of any president since, oh, perhaps William Henry Harrison (who died a month after his inauguration). Trump has had no legislative triumphs, and he has by far the lowest public approval of any new president in polling history. Large majorities say he is not honest, does not keep promises and does not care about ordinary people.
2. Trump distinguishes himself in one area: incompetence. The debacle of the travel ban was followed by the collapse of the Republican health care bill, and I doubt we'll ever see passage of a tax reform package, a health bill or even a major infrastructure spending bill. Trump has made no trips abroad (at this juncture, Barack Obama had visited nine countries), and he has fewer than half as many nominees confirmed for senior positions as Obama did at this point.
3. New presidents typically grow into the job, but Trump remains a bully and a charlatan. In my career, I’ve never known a national politician as mendacious, ill informed, bombastic and dangerous as Trump. His tweets are as immature as ever, and The Washington Post calculates that he has issued 452 false or misleading claims since assuming office, churning them out at a rate of more than one every six hours around the clock (no wonder he seems so busy!).
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4. The opposition to Trump has been ineffective in reaching Trump voters, and he remains deeply popular with his base. Only 2 percent of Trump voters say they regret their choice in November, and an ABC/Washington Post poll suggested that if 2016 voters filled out their ballots today, Trump would be elected by the popular vote as well as by the electoral vote. Even more people say that the Democratic Party is out of touch with ordinary voters than say the same of the Republican Party. Trump’s popularity among Republicans means that the liberal aim of removing Trump by impeachment or the 25th Amendment is probably fantasy – and all this should prompt some hard reflection among progressives.
5. Trump systematically betrays his supporters. Elected in part on working-class anger at elites, he keeps proposing giant tax cuts for the rich financed by cutting health care for the needy, and his tax “plan” would in effect borrow from China to reward billionaires like himself. His “deregulation” includes letting chemical companies peddle an insecticide, chlorpyrifos, linked to brain damage in children.
6. Trump has built a colossal swamp in Washington, hiring lobbyists to craft policies governing the very companies that previously paid them. To cover up abuses, the White House issues secret waivers of its own ethics rules! The denizens of this swamp are also like nothing previously seen in the White House: One counterterrorism aide, Sebastian Gorka, founded an extremist political party in Hungary and allegedly has ties (which he denies) to a Nazi-allied group there.
7. Bless the American people: Scapegoating and bigotry carry a political price. Trump has demonized some of the most vulnerable people – refugees and unauthorized immigrants – but large majorities of Americans disapprove of his policies on immigration (57 percent to 41 percent, according a CNN poll).
8. After initially tussling with allies like Australia and Mexico, and apparently refusing to shake Angela Merkel’s hand for a photo, Trump has partially adapted to reality on foreign policy, abandoning his positions on two Chinas, on China’s currency and on the Iran nuclear program. He has replaced an awful national security adviser (Michael Flynn) with a good one (H.R. McMaster) and now has a respectable national security team.
9. Perhaps the greatest single risk of a Trump presidency is what he calls a “major, major conflict” erupting on the Korean Peninsula. I don’t think this is likely, but it would be cataclysmic. The problem is that Trump’s existing policy won’t succeed in getting North Korea to give up its nuclear stockpile – and one can’t help worrying when two inexperienced and impulsive leaders face off.
10. Democrats should be careful to avoid Trump Derangement Syndrome. A survey of Dartmouth students found that 45 percent of Democrats would be uncomfortable with a roommate of opposite political views, compared with only 12 percent of Republicans. Meanwhile, the passions to block conservative speakers at Middlebury and the University of California, Berkeley, should also give us pause: Liberalism mustn’t be illiberal.
11. Let’s avoid the temptation to chase the latest shiny thing. Focus on what’s truly important: health, tax and housing policy, the allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, the efforts to undermine women’s health programs, and the effort to slash foreign aid just as 20 million people face possible famine.
12. The Republic stands. Checks and balances have constrained Trump, courts have blocked his travel ban, journalists have provided oversight, and the public has hounded members of Congress. Alarm that the U.S. might slip into a fascist dictatorship has diminished – but it’s a long three years and nine months still ahead of us.