Hell To The Chief: Donald Trump’s Disastrous First Hundred Days As President
The first 100 days of the Donald Trump presidency have been an unmitigated disaster.
Our penchant for anniversaries dictates a ritualistic pause-and-reflect moment as each president reaches that milestone. Barack Obama and George W. Bush, like their predecessors receding back into the mists of the last century, got mixed marks at 100 days, while Trump’s three month-plus tenure has been a Category Five catastrophe from the moment he put one small hand on a Bible and raised the other to take the oath of office.
This is not because of bad luck, disloyal Republicans or implacable Democrats. It is not because of an inability to translate campaign promises into policy, which can be difficult for any new president, nor even his penchant for picking fights and his authoritarian impulses, two characteristics that set him so appallingly apart from Obama.
No, it is this: For Trump, the presidency is all about him. He demands that we take his words seriously, but they are so twisted or outright false that his spokespeople, for whom damage-control has become a full time job, and his lawyers, in the course of fighting court injunctions blocking his draconian diktats, have had to repeatedly plead that he should not be taken literally.
The president of the United States should not be taken literally.
It turns out that behind all of Trump’s world salad illiteralness, noise and bluster is . . . more noise and bluster hiding a pathological dishonesty, bad faith and disinterest in detail. This toxic mix (fortunately) undermined the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, revealed his foreign policy “initiatives” to be empty shells, may well scuttle his plans to “reform” the tax code by rewarding corporations and the wealthy, and made his decision to launch a cruise missile strike against Syria while eating “the most beautiful” chocolate cake (as he tweeted) with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping on the deck at Mar-a-Lago a truly frightening moment. Until he confused Iraq with Syria in an interview the next day. And then approved the Pentagon’s deployment of the never used Mother of All Bombs in Afghanistan in an extraordinary example of military overkill.
Only Trump’s unilateral, rule-by-decree executive actions have lurched forward, and they have ripped apart families, will weaken public education, foul rivers, pollute air, decimate national parks and wilderness lands, and mean surrender to the calamity of climate change.
Campaign promises large and small remain unfulfilled or have been blithely ignored, from a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that is dead on arrival to a pledge to avoid the golf outings and private getaways he criticized Obama over that has translated into him doing considerably more of both — all at considerable taxpayer expense — in the first months of his administration.
Trump has spent only three of the 13 first weekends of his tenure actually working in Washington, had a leisurely four-day golf outing at Mar-a-Lago this past weekend while the crisis with North Korea came to a boil, and has spent an astonishing one out of every five minutes of his presidency in Palm Beach. He has made no appearances west of the Mississippi, only visited states that he won, and even in those states has not made a single appearance outside of tightly controlled environments. And he has stayed away from his beloved castle in the sky on Fifth Avenue in New York in dread of the immense protests his presence would trigger.
The president of the United States is afraid of his own people.
America has long been welcoming and its government comparatively open, both hallmarks of a democracy of which we can be justifiably proud, but Trump is the first president since Richard Nixon to work so determinedly in the shadows because his tissue paper-thin skin cannot tolerate scrutiny of any kind.
Trump refuses to release his federal tax returns, a bow to openness honored by his eight predecessors, because of the secrets that would be exposed regarding his finances and conflicts of interest.
The White House is supposed to be the people’s house, but unlike Obama, who released voluminous records regarding who visited the executive mansion and its grounds, Trump has brazenly declared that he will do no such thing because of “grave national security risks and privacy concerns” although a national security exception is built into the records policy.
The real reason for keeping visitors logs hidden is that he can meet with lobbyists, donors and individuals connected to the Trump Organization away from prying eyes. And we really didn’t have to know about House intel committee Devin Nunes’ cloak-and-dagger rendezvous on the White House grounds with National Security Council staffers who fed him secret documents in the service of Trump’s false claims that Obama had ordered the tapping of his phones in Trump Tower, did we?
The president of the United States is obsessed with secrecy.
Even Trump’s smallest gestures often mask a sleight of hand: He publicly donated his $77,000 paycheck from his first three months in office to the National Park Service, but quietly stripped the budget of its parent agency, the Interior Department, of $1.5 billion.
Trump’s incoherence is mind boggling. He is going to cover everyone, but 24 million people will lose their health insurance. He is a great deal-maker, but can’t even make deals with his own party. He is going to get Mexico to pay for his wall, but he isn’t. China is a currency manipulator, but isn’t. He wants to be friends with Russia, but doesn’t. He is not going to intervene in Syria, then does. He is going to wipe out the national debt, but his tax cuts and spending will add trillions to it.
Going into his presidency, Trump and congressional Republicans promised an ambitious legislative agenda, but have nothing of consequence to show for their bold claims unless you consider defunding Planned Parenthood, thus depriving the millions of women who rely on it for health care, to be an accomplishment.
When a commando raid in Yemen went south, Trump blamed the Pentagon, which had urged him to hold off. When the stink emanating from Stephen Bannon, became too great, he blamed him for the chaos in the White House although he had eagerly embraced this strategist-in-chief’s fringe views. When caught out on his claim that none of his associates had contacts with Russians, including Russian spies, only to see a string of disclosures that son-in-law Jared Kushner, his attorney general and late unlamented national security adviser, among others close him, had done just that, he continued to insist that the burgeoning scandal is “fake news” and a “witch hunt.”
The president of the United States refuses to take personal responsibility.
Kushner, who like his father-in-law has never done anything that can be described as good for the country, has been entrusted with tasks far beyond his meager experience. Making sure that there are mints on the pillows at Trump hotels is not exactly comparable with going mano a mano with world leaders. Nor is favorite daughter Ivanka’s experience selling push-up bras, tummy control pants and thousand-dollar accessorized bling patriotically made overseas going to help in her enhanced role as a West Wing heavy, while her bromides about workplace equality and paid parental leave are cruelly empty because women are being discriminated against more than ever because of her dear father.
Ivanka and Jared are portrayed as moderating influences on the narcissistic Trump, but their outsized roles are really all about flagrant self enrichment and profiteering, and their influential roles will further diminish the already small number of people who have the president’s ear while enhancing his sultanism.
The big reason they pushed behind the scenes for declawing Bannon was not that he is a kook with nationalist cravings, but that he is hurting the family brand’s bottom line.
The president of the United States is using his office as a profit center for his family’s business empire.
Many of us have been living in an unrelieved state of stress familiar to victims of sexual predation — as in not knowing when their abuser will strike next — and that is doubly so because Americans, guess what?, elected an avowed sexual predator last November.
And although almost everything that Trump said during the campaign has been chucked down the memory hole, most of his core supporters remain faithful even if he didn’t lock up Hillary, although their exultant choruses of “Get over it” seem to have faded as a slo-mo reality sets in that turning back the clock may not be such a great idea.
What will Trump say or do next? Will his support erode to the point that Republicans will screw up the courage to dump him, or will they just continue to screw up? Will his demolition of constitutional safeguards that are supposed to ensure that people don’t profit financially from holding office be checked? Will the Democrats grow spines? Will the resistance that coalesced around the immense post-inauguration marches remain energized? What will the morning’s headlines bring? Are we at war yet, daddy?
I’ll get back to you on that in another 100 days, but one thing is certain:
The president of the United States is incapable of changing.