There’s no sugar coating the first 100 days of the Trump administration. A merciless deportation regime, respecting no difference between hard-working strivers and “bad hombres,” has struck fear into the hearts of millions of immigrants and broken up families, exiling undocumented mothers away from their U.S. citizen children. A new associate justice – healthy, 49 years old, conservative as hell – now occupies the Supreme Court seat that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stole from President Obama, and filled for Trump by deploying the “nuclear option.” Trump’s flurry of executive orders and regulatory rollbacks have given the coal industry a right to pollute streams, financial advisers a green light to rip off mom-and-pop investors, and Big Oil the OK to secretly bribe foreign governments.
The president has attacked journalists as his “enemies” and spewed a torrent of “alternative facts” – on matters both trivial (inflating inauguration crowds) and gravely geopolitical (lying about movements of a Navy carrier). The commander-in-chief who campaigned as an isolationist, has launched Tomahawks at Syrian jets, dropped the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan, and played a terrifying game of nuclear chicken with North Korea.
The administration has raced to bring the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines online. In his cabinet, Trump has placed a fossil-fuel champion in charge of the EPA, seated a documented racist as attorney general, installed a dilettante to head the department of education and appointed a man who declared himself unqualified for any post as the chief of HUD.
The self-styled populist – champion of the “forgotten man” – has rounded out his team with Goldman Sachs bankers and sundry billionaires. Just this week, Trump unveiled a tax plan – ending the estate tax, slashing the rate on corporate and pass-through income tax to 15 percent – that reads like the work of a supply-side pornographer.
Enabled by a GOP-controlled Congress that has tacitly suspended the rule of law, Trump is enriching his opaque real estate empire through the office of the presidency, including with official weekly jaunts to his private club, Mar-a-Lago. Trump is transforming the White House into an arm of his family business, in which his most powerful deputies are his daughter and son-in-law. America has entered an age of Banana Republicanism.
These have been a dark 100 days for the nation. But they could have been much, much darker. President Trump has been hamstrung by five factors. First, he was met with a massive popular uprising – in the streets (the Women’s March, the March for Science), at airports, and at congressional town-hall meetings, where the grassroots Indivisible movement adopted Tea Party tactics to shock-and-awe even red-state congressmen. Second, Trump’s autocratic impulses have been checked – as the founders intended – by the courts, which have blocked his Muslim ban and its “watered down” successor, as well as the president’s lawless threat to defund sanctuary cities. Third, despite his party controlling both the House and the Senate, Trump found himself bedeviled by the same anti-government radicals who overthrew Speaker John Boehner. Unable to move major legislation, Trump has been forced to tinker around the edges with executive decrees. Fourth, Trump and his administration have been clouded by the smoke of a Russia scandal that’s darkened by the day. And fifth, the weight of office has revealed Trump as a Twitter tiger – a man whose braggadocio masked shallow understanding, artless dealmaking, a debilitating attention span and an empty ideological core.
Through the first 100 days, these factors have blunted Trump’s revolutionary ambitions and transformed him, instead, into the reluctant manager of his predecessor’s storied legacy. The electoral earthquake that installed Trump has not toppled Obamacare. Speaker Paul Ryan failed for the second time this week to bring a vote on a repeal-and-replace plan in the House – a bill that, with near certainty, would be DOA in the Senate. The Paris climate accord is still standing – with even Energy Secretary Rick Perry calling for its renegotiation rather than outright rejection. The Iran nuclear deal has been the target of hawkish grandstanding, but instead of tearing it up, the Trump administration now admits that it’s working. Drug War champion Jeff Session has rattled his saber on pot, but the $7 billion state legal marijuana industry continues to grow, openly. After a conversation with Sessions this week, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper reported to NBC, “He didn’t give me any reason to think that he is going to come down and suddenly try to put everyone out of business.” The Trump administration did block a late Obama order opening school bathrooms to transgender students. But the Obama administration’s Title IX guidance – expanding protections to victims of campus sexual assault – remains untouched. More broadly, Trump’s neglect in staffing government – the administration has yet to make nominations for more than 450 positions requiring Senate confirmation – has left dozens of agencies and departments without new captains or lieutenants, leaving many on cruise control, following the course set for them by the previous administration.
Trump’s lack of depth and conviction has also brought about head-spinning reversals, and little follow through on the America-First agenda that threatened to upend the world order. America’s alliance with NATO is suddenly no longer “obsolete.” Trump has come to embrace the “One China” policy, and backed off threats to label that country a currency manipulator. The administration has abandoned its pursuit of a protectionist border-adjustment tax. Instead of sparking massive trade wars, Trump has settled for a tariff skirmish with Canada over softwood lumber. The president this week even embraced NAFTA – NAFTA! – which he had long decried as the “worst trade deal in the history of the world.” Perhaps most important, dangerous reactionaries on Trump’s national security team – Gen. Michael Flynn, K.T. McFarland and Steve Bannon – have all lost their posts on the president’s national security team.
At the close of 100 days, the Trump administration has been marked by sound and fury, but few concrete accomplishments. And the sledding gets no easier from here. Trump has burned through the limited political capital that accrued to a man who lost the popular vote by nearly three million ballots. He sits on an approval rate in the low 40s. In the House, the GOP’s partisan majority – ideologically fractured – is not a governing majority. Trump’s “skinny budget” and outline for tax reform may fare no better than the campaign to repeal and replace Obamacare, which was allegedly the GOP’s unifying cause. What’s more, Trump’s toxic opening act has galvanized (even centrist) Democrats into a united opposition bloc. And as the intense focus on House special elections has made clear, the 2018 election season in already upon us – likely shutting the door on prospects for bipartisan legislative accord.
The president now enjoys running room only on foreign affairs. His loose talk on North Korea could still shape U.S. history in ways that are too terrible to imagine. But back home the president’s political future looks increasingly constrained. We are governed by a president who has revealed himself as uniquely unsuited for the job – and who is hating every day of it. As Trump admitted to Reuters this week, “I loved my previous life. I had so many things going.
“This is more work than in my previous life,” he said. “I thought it would be easier.”