Trump’s First 100: Little done and who knows what’s begun?

When thinking of the Trump presidency I alternate between viewing it through one lens looking for what is being done and another that focuses on the show, aimed mostly at grabbing our attention like a good advertisement.  Through the action lens Trump’s presidency looks willy-nilly, featuring much incompetence in his staff and their relations with congress, including the failure to fill many top vacancies.

Add a titanic sized boat load of conflicts of interest by the Trump family and the tendency to flip flop, including often doing exactly the opposite of the populism he campaigned upon.  Oh, and there is that lingering Russian connection under slow-mo investigation.

But as a show it is one display of fireworks after another and while many of us can only gag and shake our heads his followers, according to polls, are holding strong.   They are willing to cut him loads of slack given “the mess” he inherited in Washington and the frenzy of activity he engineers.   They see him tirelessly working for them, an image Mussolini achieved in Italy prior to WWII, by leaving a light on in his office all night.  Simpler times.

Trump is surely a whirlwind of activity though even that gets exaggerated by the bomb dropping impact of his tweets.   It might take him a few minutes to think through and pop off about Obama being “sick and  bad” for wire tapping him, but it sends reporters scurrying around for weeks.

Recently a TV reporter pressed Trump on the “sick and bad” comment and Trump called the interview over rather than explain himself.  Basically he left with “we all have our opinions.”  “But you are the president”  John Dickerson reminded him to no avail.   Dickerson was indicating the obvious, that we should be able to expect our president to explain what he meant by such an outrageous statement.

Turns out that’s not true in Trump world, a fantasy realm propped up by the Republican party in hopes it will get them what they want.  I doubt Trump ever knew exactly what he meant.  What he knew was it would be an attention grabber, just like all of the other personal attacks that have gotten him this far.  Who knew how wrong Jeb Bush could be when he told Trump at a debate:  “You can’t insult your way to the White House.”

Besides the tweets Trump is always signing something or meeting with someone, but judging what he actually accomplishes is tough.  Most of those executive orders either cut back on something Obama backed or proclaim a review of something that will likely be cut back.

Surely the national government can be trimmed, but the Trump team seems eager to cut before a review, such as the case of the State Department.   The goal  there seems to be to cut the staff by 30%  despite warnings by the likes of Secretary of Defense  Mattis, perhaps the most widely respected member of the administration.

Trump’s domestic successes can mostly be grouped under the heading:  Deconstructing the Obama Legacy.   From the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch to his domestic cabinet picks, they share an agenda to reduce government.  Sometimes to the point of absurdity, like the EPA, which now seems to stand for the Environmental Pollution Agency.  How could it be otherwise with a secretary who continuously battled the EPA when a state attorney general?

That reminds me of the novel Fahrenheit 451, a dystopia in which the job of the firemen was not to fight fires but to burn books.   Think of the other cabinet positions and you’ll see reflections of that as well.

You may have noticed I have said almost nothing about the foreign policy aspect of the brief rein of King Don.  That’s because I see no policy, just a lot of showboating.  Bombs dropped here and there to show the world Trump’s willingness to get tough.  But along with this is Trump’s flirtatious ways with strong men rulers, the targets of dire threats one day and praise the next.

Most of us would not say we’d be “honored to meet” with the prominent dictators of our day.   As if oblivious to their collective brutal suppression of others, or more likely, Trump just doesn’t care.

If you are a true blue America Firster, no one else really matters.

That’s a topic for another day.  As far as Trump’s success so far, David Horsey of the L. A. Times  has summed it up well:  “Perhaps Trump’s biggest accomplishment in his first one hundred days has been his ability to capture the constant attention of the country and the world.”

A huge win for our Narcissist-in-Chief.


 

Fareed Zakaria on Trump’s Rocking Chair Presidency

President Trump’s news conference/tirade last Thursday was really something.   Much of the 70 or so minutes was Trump blasting the media for “fake news” that ignored his many achievements thus far as president and cast an unwarranted pall over his White House staff.  In the process Trump told several easily verifiable falsehoods himself and made illogical arguments, but to dwell on them is to dwell on distractions.   He always does that.

The heart of the matter is:  “….. in the midst of it all, what has he actually done?” That question is raised by Fareed Zakaria, one of my favorite political  commentators.  And his answer detailed in a recent column is:  “Hardly anything.”

Zakaria employs an analogy proffered by philosopher Alfred Montapert:  “Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.’ We are witnessing a rocking-horse presidency in which everyone is jerking back and forth furiously, yet there is no forward movement.”

Here is a synopsis of Zakaria’s main points.  Trump has claimed “There has never been a presidency that’s done so much in such a short period of time.”  Zakaria points to several presidents who accomplished much more in their first 100 days than Trump is likely to, including Barack  Obama.

Trump has said his White House “is running like a fine-tuned machine”, but it “has not even begun serious discussions with Congress on major legislation. (also) According to The Washington Post, of the 696 positions that require Senate confirmation, the president has yet to nominate 661 of them.”  

Also, while Trump has “issued a series of executive orders with great fanfare” the only one that affects much is the travel ban that was so badly conceived and written that it got stuck in the courts.  Seems like that machine has a lot of important parts missing.

Zakaria quotes a piece by Zachary Karabell in a recent Politico Magazine that sums up Trump’s presidency.  “So far, Trump has behaved exactly like he has throughout his previous career: He has generated intense attention and sold himself as a man of action while doing little other than promote an image of himself as someone who gets things done.”

In short, the fine-tuned machine works best blowing smoke.

Zakaria concludes with two aspects of the Trump presidency.  There is the “freak show” that dominates the headlines but there is also “the savvy businessman” who picked some intelligent heavy weights like Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis to key positions.

It seems to boil down to this:   “For many people, the bargain of the Trump presidency was that they would put up with the freak show in order to get tax reform, infrastructure projects and deregulation. That may still happen, but for now at least, reality TV is in overdrive, and not much is happening in the realm of serious policy.”

Those interested in reading the full editorial can go here.