WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is making history at a historic level. He tells us this himself.
“Good morning,” he said at the start of his Cabinet meeting Monday. “We just returned from a historic, 12-day trip to Asia.”
We knew the trip would be historic because the White House announced in advance that it would be “very historic.” And the day after the president returned, he himself affirmed that it had indeed been “historic.”
This is not surprising, because, in Trump’s telling, his first trip was historic, too. He said so before the trip (“a trip with historic significance”), during the trip (“historic and unprecedented … very historic … a truly historic week for our country”) and after (“full of historic and unprecedented achievements … it was truly historic”).
Technically, either trip could be categorized as historical, in the sense that both occurred in the past. But in the sense of being moments of great and lasting importance? Well, consider that on his latest voyage, the president arguably got the most attention when he called the nuclear-armed leader of North Korea short and fat. Nixon-goes-to-China it wasn’t.
Yet there is something truly historic about Trump – his histrionics. He surely has no rival in trying to assert the historic nature of everything he does. A search of the White House website finds that the president and his team have declared their actions historic nearly 400 times in their first 10 months in office.
Trump has always asserted that he is the best and the greatest, but his attempts to write himself into the history books have truly been history-making.
Among the things Trump has called “historic”: His initiative on women’s entrepreneurship. Pulling out of the Paris climate-change agreement. Executive orders on whistleblowers, financial services and the Antiquities Act. His apprenticeship initiative. The Clemson football team’s 2016 season. And the launch of a ship named for Gerald Ford.
In his inaugural address, Trump declared his election the work “of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.” In his first address to Congress, he announced “a historic effort” to deregulate and said he would introduce “historic tax reform.” After 11 weeks on the job, Trump reported that he had “achieved historic progress.” At the 100-day mark, his “historic progress” included “historic steps to secure our border.”
He predicted that his first Cabinet meeting would be “a historic Cabinet meeting” – and it was, as measured by the volume of praise heaped on him by his subordinates. He boasted in June that he had secured “historic increases in military spending.” (He hadn’t.) At his last Cabinet meeting before Monday’s, he declared that his “historic tax plan” would have a “historic cut.” (It didn’t.) He announced “a historic immigration bill.” (We’re still waiting.)
Some things are more historic than others. When Congress missed its “historic” chance to repeal Obamacare, Trump’s executive order to undermine Obamacare was “truly historic.”
His approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and his executive action on energy were just plain historic, as were his historic actions on trade and his historic tax overhaul, and both the nomination and swearing in of Neil Gorsuch. But his executive orders on trade and his work for veterans were both “very historic.” Also “very historic” was his effort to “modernize critical IT systems.” But “there’s never been anything so historic” as the recent hurricanes, the handling of which earned Trump high grades – from himself.
Vice President Pence is making even more historic strides to see historic occasions everywhere. He labeled a roundtable discussion on health care “historic.” So was the swearing in of the labor secretary, the confirmation of the education secretary, the swearing in of the ambassador to Israel, Trump’s meetings with the Indian prime minister and the pope, Trump’s air traffic control proposals and events such as the National Summit on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, the “Northern Triangle Conference” and the “Adriatic Charter Summit.” Pence even knows that Trump’s yet-to-be-announced infrastructure spending “will be historic.”
Other White House officials have given “historic” designations to things such as the Congressional Picnic; HR 1004, the Regulatory Integrity Act of 2017; and HR 1009, the OIRA Insight, Reform and Accountability Act.
“Historic pace.” “Historic accomplishments.” “Historic visit.” “Historic gathering.” “Historic day.” “Historic act.” “Historic event.” “Historic speech.”
What actually is historic about this first year of the Trump presidency will be left to the historians. But so far, Trump’s actual achievements have been few. What seems most historic about this moment:
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.