President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office were mostly about empty noise. The next 100 likely will be the same.
There is no principle at the heart of Trump’s policies. In many cases, there are no policies at all, just improvised attempts to bridge the gap between Trump’s rhetoric and inconvenient reality. This is no way to run a corner bodega, let alone the greatest nation on Earth.
What kind of president calls North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a “pretty smart cookie,” as Trump did in an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation”? Who uses words of grudging admiration for a brutal dictator who consolidated power by executing hundreds of people, including his uncle? Who gives props to the leader of a rogue regime that threatens U.S. allies with nuclear weapons and may soon have missiles that can target Seattle?
The aides and surrogates who speak for the president will have to walk back those remarks, just as they have walked back so many others. I’d feel sorry for Trump’s mouthpieces, but they chose to do those jobs.
What kind of president invites a man like Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House? Duterte has addressed his country’s problem of drug-fueled crime with a campaign of assassination that has killed more than 7,000 people without arrest, trial or judgment, according to Human Rights Watch. That’s not the kind of leader the U.S. president usually invites to drop by.
Yet Trump and Duterte had a “very friendly” chat by phone on Saturday, according to the White House. The State Department and the National Security Council were reportedly caught off guard. Those who claim Trump is on a learning curve should be honest and acknowledge that he takes two steps forward, then two full steps back.
What kind of president guarantees health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions, under the back-from-the-grave Obamacare replacement measure being considered by the House, when no such guarantee of affordable coverage is in the bill? “I guarantee it,” said Trump. Not really, says the legislation.
In the “Face the Nation” interview, it became clear that Trump does not understand what is in the bill he so vocally supports. States would be allowed to void the pre-existing conditions requirement if they establish “high-risk pools” to accommodate the unhealthy. But there is no requirement that states provide the ample funding necessary to make such an arrangement viable. The bill would punish the sick and renege on a central Trump campaign promise. He is either being dishonest or clueless.
What kind of president seeks to govern a divided country – he lost the popular vote, remember – by holding campaign-style rallies designed to appeal only to his political base? Trump skipped the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner; the last sitting president to do so was Ronald Reagan in 1981, when he was recovering from a gunshot wound suffered in an assassination attempt. Trump decided instead to continue his absurd and self-defeating war against the news media.
Speaking in Harrisburg, Pa., Trump called CNN and MSNBC “fake news” and railed against the “failing New York Times.” Meanwhile, journalistic icons Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein stood on the dais at the WHCA dinner as a reminder that this isn’t the first time an administration has sought to deflect scrutiny by attacking the media – and that what Bernstein called “the best obtainable version of the truth” will emerge if journalists do their jobs.
Protestors at the Harrisburg event waved Russian flags, a reminder that the question of possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and agents of the Russian government remains unresolved. Woodward and Bernstein inspired a generation of journalists who are determined to unearth the answer.
I chalk up two actual accomplishments for the administration in the first 100 days. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch was nominated and confirmed. And substantial progress has been made on a pro-business – and mostly anti-consumer – agenda of deregulation.
But what else has worked out the way Trump promised? He didn’t, after all, label China a currency manipulator. He didn’t, after all, pull the United States out of NAFTA. He didn’t, after all, get funding to start building a border wall. He did, however, order a missile strike in Syria, breaking his pledge of an “America First” foreign policy.
This nation isn’t being led, it’s being buffeted this way and that by the president’s bluster. What British politician Gordon Brown once said about a rival is true, in spades, about Trump: “The more he talks, the less he actually says.”
Eugene Robinson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.