100 Days to Duck for Cover

by John Lawrence

Well, first the good news: we made it! One hundred days into the Trump Administration and thus far, we have avoided stumbling into a major war, repealing the Affordable Care Act, or rounding up thousands of “professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters” – the people Trump accused of resisting his policies – and deporting them to Guantanamo.

That’s about it for the good news, unless you count the energizing of the Trump opposition that, with any luck, will sustain its outrage and engagement until at least the 2018 mid-term election. Otherwise, the first 100 days of the Trump Administration has been an endless succession of lies, stumbles and political screw-ups unprecedented in American history. Back in February, I gave Trump the “William Henry Harrison Award” for the worst first 30 days as a new president (Harrison died 30 days into his term). He has done nothing to cause me to doubt that he richly deserved the honor.

In fact, the New York Times published an account of Trump’s 100 days, highlighting a distortion, lie or juvenile provocation for each day. (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/29/us/politics/fact-checking-president-trump-through-his-first-100-days.html) I could only get through a week of the prevaricating, mendacious statements.

Worse than his statements, however, have been the genuinely malicious actions this narcissistic blowhard has unleashed, although many have amounted to little more than directives to review past policies for possible reversal. The source of his imagined mandate remains obscure: did the country really vote for more methane releases that accelerate climate change? Should we really speed up offshore oil leasing when oil prices are low and taxpayers will get shafted by low bids? Are consumers really demanding rollbacks on auto and appliance efficiency standards?

The executive orders that really seemed to put a bounce in Trump’s step have run afoul of the courts, including bans on refugees and sanctions against sanctuary cities. During last year’s campaign, Trump declared that he “did not plan to use too many executive orders,” a practice he erroneously alleged “came about more recently. Nobody ever heard of an executive order, then all of a sudden Obama — because he couldn’t get anybody to agree with him — he starts signing them like they’re butter.” (Actually, Ronald Reagan issued 361, and Bill Clinton 364; Obama came in with a paltry 276, fewer even than W’s 291, but never mind.) Trump pledged to “do away with executive orders for the most part,” which seemed possible given GOP control of the House and Senate. Of course, the difference is that Obama faced a political opposition that blockaded his legislative agenda (although Trump incomprehensibly blamed Democrats for preventing passage of his health care repeal).

Trump has little regard for congressional Republicans whom he views as part of the problem – the problem being not doing whatever he wants. In interviews this week, Trump admitted he was “disappointed” in the performance of Congress for failing to deliver him any legislation beyond repeals of Obama-era regulations. Trump admitted that devising a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act was much harder than he anticipated, but he still declared that he was “disappointed that it didn’t go a lot quicker. It is a very tough system.”

Despite the mis-steps and failures — the allegations of nepotism for placing his preening daughter and unqualified son-in-law in positions for which they lack any qualification whatsoever, the chaos in his White House staff, the investigations into possible inappropriate contact with Russians who were undermining the 2016 election, the juvenile tweets that he substitutes for thoughtful dialogue, the schoolyard taunts of Democrats and the gratuitous insults of international allies – despite all this manufactured chaos, Trump glides on, surrounded by sycophants, supported by 93% of his voters, and unfettered by the norms of presidential behavior.

And he thinks he is doing well. “No administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days,” he fatuously insisted in Wisconsin, one of the states that gave him his stunning victory. He reiterated the point this weekend, demonstrating not only his exaggerated sense of his own significance but also his abysmal knowledge of American history. “I truly believe that the first 100 days of my administration has been just about the most successful in our country’s history,” Trump declared. “Our country is going up, and it’s going up fast.” I presume that “going up fast” is a Trumpian translation of “winning big.” It is difficult to tell whom Trump thinks might actually believe such nonsense, other than acolytes like press secretary Sean Spicer who observed, “When you look at the totality of what we’ve accomplished on job creation, on immigration, on trade, it is unbelievable what he has been able to do.”

He’s certainly right about that.

Now, some may argue it is unfair to judge Trump too harshly for his anemic 100-day performance, an artificial and admittedly brief tenure. Of course, Trump himself made many extravagant pledges about what he would accomplish in the first 100 days, so it isn’t really too unfair. But I can’t help but compare his stunning non-productivity with the burst of legislative success registered in 2007 when Democrats regained control of Congress, not in the first 100 days, but the first 100 legislative hours.

Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and congressional Democrats pushed Congress to adopt an agenda they had named “A New Direction for America,” also known as the “6 for ‘06” agenda. The short list of initiatives was winnowed from dozens of suggestions based on several criteria: an ability to unify Democrats, a broad bipartisan appeal, and, importantly, the fact that only the Republican majority’s refusal to allow these consensus policies an up or down vote had prevented their enactment. Pelosi and Reid won approval for many of their initiatives and George Bush signed them into law, including a major energy conservation law, a minimum wage increase, and a toughening of lobbying laws.

Pelosi and Reid didn’t register these successes because they enjoyed majorities – most of these bills won substantial Republican support, too. They succeeded by working with their members, using the political and personal connections that are so integral to the legislative process, providing incentives and cutting members slack when necessary to cobble together an enactable piece of legislation.

By contrast, Donald Trump has no understanding of or respect for the legislative process (or the Congress, for that matter). He has invested little time in getting to know the Republican legislators he barely knew before assuming office, and he has made no effort to collaborate with Democrats, whose votes he needs to achieve major policy objectives.

In 2006, Pelosi (like Trump a decade later) ran a national campaign promising to “drain the swamp” in Washington, but she knew when to put the rhetoric to bed and get serious about bipartisan legislating. Until Trump schools himself on the rules for dealing with an assertive Congress, he will, like a swamp, continue to produce more gas than substance.

(apologies to Paul Simon for the title to this blog!)