Hard to believe that we are a mere 108 days into the administration of President Donald Trump. After mostly keeping my mouth shut, I can’t help but weigh in on what’s transpired over the first 15 weeks of the Trump Administration. Whether you love him or loathe him, we are at a pivotal moment in American history and this presidency will be a major part of our history books decades and centuries from now (assuming the country and the planet are still here centuries from now).
On Inauguration Day, I wrote on my general Facebook page that we should all “give him his 100 days.”
So, now that we’re 100+ days away, I gave President Trump a chance and my feelings have not changed. I felt that he was woefully unqualified and unprepared for the presidency and those feelings have only been amplified. Frankly, he lost me within the first 100 hours, as I’ll explain below.
In this piece, I’m not going to present a fire-breathing “everything is horrible” anti-Trump point of view. There are plenty of articles of that type to read in the mainstream media, otherwise known as the “fake” media. There are some aspects of Trump’s first 108 days that offer hope and I’ll discuss those too.
Overall, I’m giving President Donald Trump a grade of C- for his first 108 days. It’s mostly not good but it’s not all bad.
So let’s go through the various aspects of and issues relating to Trump’s young presidency that raise or lower his grade.
National Security: C+
President Trump has put together a solid national security team, starting with Secretary of Defense James Mattis. After the initial missteps of putting Steve Bannon on the National Security Council and hiring Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor, Trump has reversed those errors by removing Bannon from the NSC, firing Flynn and replacing him with H. R. McMaster.
In addition, although I knew very little about him, I would say that Rex Tillerson may turn out to be a solid pick for Secretary of State. He hasn’t done many interviews but, in what I’ve seen, Tillerson shows that he has a deep understanding of foreign policy issues, far more than his boss. To whatever degree the former ExxonMobil CEO can bring his executive experience to streamlining and reforming the bloated State department, that’s an asset. I lot of critics have decried the White House’s proposed budget cuts to State. I say, give Tillerson a chance to make State leaner and meaner. This guy was recommended by both Robert Gates and Condoleeza Rice. That should make us all feel better about him.
One other positive aspect of the Trump national security team is the level of coordination between Defense and State that is unusually strong. Mattis and Tillerson meet every week and talk frequently. Strangely, the two departments often lack coordination and have historically sometimes been rivals to each other. Some have referred to Mattis, Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly as the “Axis of Adults” in the Trump Administration.
Finally, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, seemingly an odd choice for Ambassador to the United Nations, has been a good face for the nation on the international stage.
Most positive about the Trump Administration’s foreign policy is that the Commander in Chief has allowed the departments to chart their own course in ways that the Obama administration never did. Gates, who was Obama’s first Secretary of Defense, complained that the Obama Administration’s micromanagement “drove me crazy.”
Although the politicization of national security may be still to come in a Trump administration, so far it’s been an upgrade over the Obama years, in which every foreign policy decision was scrutinized for its political impact domestically.
What remains to be seen on the positive side is whether Trump’s rhetoric during and since the campaign about NATO member nations paying their “fair share” for their national defense will actually result in those members ponying up more dollars for their common defense. If indeed that happens, that would be a significant accomplishment for the President.
On the negative side, despite assembling a good team and letting them do their jobs, Trump’s own handling of foreign policy remains a significant area of concern. The President is not a student of history and doesn’t seem to yet grasp how significant his words (or Tweets) are around the world. The mere offer to meet face-to-face North Korean President Kim Jong Un, even under “the right circumstances,” elevates a man on the world stage who should not be elevated.
On the campaign trail, Trump talked about what a great negotiator he would be both domestically and abroad. He vowed to get tough on China on trade and currency manipulation but, after spending just 10 minutes with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he did a 180 based on Xi’s explanation about his country’s relationship with the rogue North Korean regime. Trump is correct that getting China’s assistance with the North Korean problem is more far important than labeling the country as a currency manipulator but one wonders if the inexperienced president is being played by the experienced and shrewd president of China.
It’s painfully obvious to anyone paying attention that Trump responds positively to flattery and feels an intense need to tell all of us what wonderful relationships he’s developing with world leaders. The more experienced and cunning foreign leaders will take notice and act accordingly. All reports say that Trump is very engaging in person. Despite his boastful and oft-bullying rhetoric, it should be no surprise that, in person, he “gets along” with the foreign leaders he meets. If you’re that foreign leader and want the new President to like you, just mention how impressed you were with his Electoral College victory and you will win a powerful friend in the Oval Office.
The Economy: B
The stock market remains at a record high and unemployment remains reasonably low, although “underemployment” (those no longer looking for work or working part time) remains high. The stock market hates uncertainty and a neophyte president would seem to be a great unknown but, so far, Wall Street is betting on the more business-friendly environment set under President Trump after eight years of President Obama.
Because he has no significant legislative accomplishments yet, much of what Trump has done as President has been through Executive Orders that roll back environmentally-related rules and prohibitions from the Obama Administration. Giving the early green light to the controversial but overrated Keystone XL pipeline (highly overrated on both job creation and negative environmental impact) was a signal to the business community that the era of over-regulation was over. Protecting the environment is obviously an important prerogative (and Republicans in general dismiss it too much) but the Obama Administration’s EPA took it to a level of religious zealotry.
On the issue of trade, Trump announced early on that he was withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership but has so far not delivered on his promise to renegotiate NAFTA.
On another front, although it is far, far, far from a done deal, the promise of significant tax reform (in particular a large reduction in the corporate tax rate) is a boon for business. That tax reform plan’s cornerstone is a 15% business tax rate. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has often said in interviews that a 20% corporate would be revenue neutral (and 15% would not be) but if the GOP manages to to make this happen, it would spur badly needed economic growth.
Of more dubious benefit (and likelihood of passage) are the proposed changes of the personal income tax code to three brackets with no deductions (except for mortgage interest and charitable contributions). The plan proposes three tax rates (10%, 25% and 35%) but no detail on the “break points” for each so it’s impossible to know what level of middle-class benefit it would provide. The proposed elimination of the alternative minimum tax has been derided as a giveaway to the wealthy but it might make sense based on the elimination of other deductions. Without details and specifics, it’s impossible to know for sure. The proposed end of the estate tax would be of great benefit in the future to Barron, Tiffany, Ivanka, Eric and Donald Trump Jr.
Yes, until he releases his own tax returns, many Americans including this one will distrust any tax plan that Trump champions as a giveaway to himself and his family.
Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch: A-
This is really Mitch McConnell’s accomplishment, not Donald Trump’s, but the President gets an A- for using the Supreme Court vacancy to get himself elected and for following through on the promise to those who voted for him. I think it’s fair to say that, if the replacement of conservative icon Antonin Scalia wasn’t in play, Donald Trump would not be the President of the United States. It’s because of this issue that Trump was able to hold the conservative Republican base together, a base that otherwise might not have looked past the nominee’s personal shortcomings.
Again, this is really McConnell’s accomplishment. It was the Senate Majority Leader who made the decision not to hold any hearings on Barack Obama’s appointed replacement, Merrick Garland. Filling the “Scalia seat” was a rallying cry for Republicans, enough of a rallying cry to push Trump over the top in the election.
On this front, McConnell gets a A- and not an A+ because he was unable to persuade enough Democratic Senators to back the highly qualified Gorsuch, resulting in his need to invoke the “nuclear option” that eliminated the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees.
On this issue, I’d have to give Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer a D on his handling of the Gorsuch confirmation. He led his caucus off the plank by playing hardball in a game he was destined to lose. As a long-time Senator, McConnell really didn’t want to go nuclear but the political demands of the Republican base required seating Gorsuch on the court. Now that the filibuster is gone, Trump and the Republicans can put anyone on the SCOTUS they want if another vacancy opens during Trump’s term in office.
Schumer had to know that the “Scalia seat” had an enormous symbolic importance to the electorate that put Trump in office and allowed the GOP to hold the Senate. If Schumer had made a handshake deal with McConnell that he would not go nuclear on the next nomination and quietly found him 8 “yes” votes among red-state Democrats, he could have given McConnell his win without him needing to change the rules. Now that the sanctity of the filibuster has continued to erode, President Trump is lobbying for getting rid of it entirely, even on legislation. This would be catastrophic for our nation. The filibuster is the only thing left in our democracy that prevents the tyranny of the majority.
If you’re a Republican who’s championing the elimination of the filibuster for everything, I ask you this: if Trump’s presidency is an utter catastrophe and the Dems take full control in 2020 under a President Warren or Sanders, won’t you wish you still had the filibuster around?
Repealing and Replacing ObamaCare: D
On Friday, the Republicans in the House and President Trump had a ceremony in the Rose Garden and, without context, you might have thought they had just announced a cure for cancer. Instead, they were simply celebrating the hastily crafted House passage of a highly flawed ObamaCare replacement bill, a bill that many congressmen hadn’t read and that hasn’t yet been scored by the Congressional Budget Office.
The only thing the Republicans accomplished Friday was being able to say that they accomplished something even though they accomplished nothing at all. The bill now goes to the less conservative Senate and, with no hope of any cooperation from the Democrats, the GOP can afford to lose only 2 votes (out of 52). So essentially Trump and the House Republicans spiked the football even though they’re only on the 50 yard line.
I’m not going to go into all of the pros and cons of the Republican measure in this space but, suffice it to say, health care is the new third rail in politics. Obama and the Dems managed to pass the Affordable Care Act in March 2010 but paid the price, getting drubbed in the mid-term elections that fall. The roll-out of ObamaCare was plagued by a website that didn’t work and, later on, by anger over Obama’s false promise that “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan, period.”
If the House repeal and replace plan becomes law, you can bet that the GOP will pay a price in next fall’s mid-term congressional elections, perhaps even losing control of the chamber. As Trump said recently, “who knew health care could be so complicated?”
So why is it so complex? The answer to that question is pretty simple: it’s that the advances in medical technology and health care have advanced far beyond our ability to pay for it. People are living for years or decades with diseases that would have killed them in years past. This is a good thing of course but right now health care is a finite resource and there are too many people in the U.S. who can’t afford to help pay for their care.
Trump gets a D for a couple of reasons. The first is that he prioritized getting a “victory” over getting a good bill. The second is that he let Ryan talk him into passing health care before tax reform. Ryan’s reasoning was that, because these bills have to pass through the Senate on budget reconciliation (which requires only 50 votes), they must remain budget neutral. So the the logic is that the savings on the rollback of Medicare expansion through health care repeal would save the hundreds of millions of dollars that would enable tax reform to pass in a budget neutral manner.
Ryan is a policy wonk and a numbers guy; forgetting the policy for a moment, the logic of his sequential plan was sound but it put the politically toxic health care repeal in first position. This will now get mired in the Senate and will likely never pass. If he and Trump had decided to do tax reform first, they might have accomplished something big. Yes, it would have been less sweeping than what would have been possible after passing health care reform first but it would have been far more popular politically.
For Democrats, voting against the health care repeal is really easy: the line is “the Republicans are giving the wealthiest Americans a big tax cut while tens of millions of poorer Americans will lose their health insurance.”
If the GOP had passed a tax cut first (with real and tangible benefits for the middle class), that would have been a much harder bill for the Dems to obstruct and, with 9 Democratic Senators who live in states Trump won up for re-election in 2018, might have had a shot to pass with 60 votes.
So Trump (and Ryan) both get a D for putting the Obamacare repeal on the top of the legislative agenda.
This was the signature issue of the Trump campaign, highlighted his absurd claim that he would build a wall along the southern border and that Mexico would pay for the wall and his controversial proposal to restrict the travel of Muslims into the U.S. These two promises, along with getting tough on trade, were the building blocks of Trump’s victorious Electoral College majority.
From the beginning, the notion that Mexico would pay for a wall along our border was preposterous and laughable. During the campaign, when confronted about how he would get Mexico to do this, Trump back-pedaled, saying that the U.S. would pay for the wall but Mexico would reimburse us through a variety of means, whether it be through tariffs or fees or something else. The whole thing was ridiculous from the beginning.
Well, so far, Trump’s southern wall isn’t happening. He did not get one dollar of funding for its construction in the spending bill that passed earlier in the week, which was a political defeat for him and a victory for the Democrats. The party line now is that they’ll address it in the fall and Trump has threatened a government shutdown in order to force the issue.
The other main immigration failures in the first 100 days, of course, were the two executive orders restricting travel from certain Middle Eastern countries, both of which were shot down by the courts. Besides accomplishing nothing whatsoever, the real folly in the executive orders is that it hardened the opposition against him. When new presidents take office, they often get a little rope and a honeymoon period from the party on the other side of the aisle. Because of his controversial style and the manner in which he won the presidency, President Trump might not have had a honeymoon period no matter what he did but the first executive order intractably united the left against him.
The only reason President Trump doesn’t get an F on immigration is because reports are that illegal border crossings are in fact down since Trump was elected. There may be no new physical barrier but Trump has erected a mental barrier, and thus has slowed down illegal immigration just by being Trump.
Presidential Demeanor: F
I am really sorry to say it but every day I am embarrassed as an American that this man is President of the United States. The Trump Administration feels like an awful joke. At the beginning of this piece I noted that President Trump had lost me within the first 100 hours. The reason is that, hours after ascending to the most powerful office in the world, he’s obsessed with the size of his inauguration crowd, insisting that it was bigger than Barack Obama’s in 2008.
First of all, obviously the first black president would get a massive crowd in mostly-black Washington D.C. If inaugurations took place very four years in Harrisburg, PA, Trump may very likely have outperformed Obama on crowd size. But who fracking cares? Shortly after the crowd size fiasco it was the preposterous claim that he would have defeated Hillary Clinton in the popular vote if it weren’t for 3-to-5 million people who had voted illegally. It doesn’t matter. He won the Electoral College. That was the game he was playing and he played it better than his opponent, who didn’t campaign in Wisconsin at all or Michigan until it was too late.
President Trump also remains a horrible example about how to speak and behave in general. We all learned as children that it’s not nice to call other people names. And yet, there was “Little Marco,” “Lyin’ Ted” and “Crooked Hillary.” As bad as it was that he used childhood bullying techniques to win the presidency, it might be forgiven (by some) if he had turned on a dime and acted more presidential after being elected, as he promised he would.
But being presidential is not in this president’s DNA. Three weeks after taking the oath of office, Trump taunted Democratic senators in a closed door meeting by claiming that “Pocahontas is now the face of your party,” a reference to Elizabeth Warren. The Massachusetts Senator (and potential 2020 presidential nominee) was once touted by Harvard Law School as “Native American” even though, according to a CNN piece, a genealogist found her to be potentially just 1/32nd Native American. I have to admit, the first time Trump called Warren “Pocahontas” (during the campaign), I laughed. Trump does in fact have a gift for comedic delivery. But it’s wholly inappropriate for him to keep doing it as the President of the United States.
By the way, there have been reports (you can read the Politico story here) that the Republicans are hoping to elevate the liberal Warren and make her the face of the party in advance to the 2018 mid-term elections. My cautionary reaction to that is, “be careful what you wish for.” Warren has a strong national profile, is popular with the base of her party, could easily gain the support of the Bernie Sanders voters and has proven her ability to battle Trump on stage. It’s easy to postulate that she would be too liberal to win the presidency if she won the party’s nomination in 2020 but remember that nobody (including yours truly) thought Trump was electable either.
Anyway, the thing that drives me insane about our president are the things that drove me batty during the campaign. He is uniquely self-absorbed and petty, wasting his mental energy on things that don’t matter. Who cares that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings on the The Celebrity Apprentice were worse than his? Who gives a hoot? Even if Trump can’t help feeling some personal self-satisfaction about it, why would you lower yourself by Tweeting about it?
Of course, the worst Tweet was when he accused President Obama of wire-tapping him. His assertion has been backed up by nobody (and directly refuted by FBI Director James Comey). This was a classic unforced error and has created weeks of controversial and derogatory news coverage.
And speaking of TV, there’s the whole “fake news” thing. No matter what he says (or what Sean Hannity says), anyone who thinks that CNN or the The New York Times are just making things up, creating fake news stories, is living in a fantasy land fueled by Trump’s special brand of Kool-Aid. These and other outlets are clearly displaying bias in the percentage of coverage that’s negative towards Trump (and the GOP in general) but they’re not inventing things out of thin air.
Now, regarding the media, I do give Trump credit for being more accessible for interviews than his predecessors even though he puts his foot in his mouth all the time. He would probably be better off never talking to the media at all because he keeps saying dumb things, but at least he’s talking. Taking the cake for dumb comments was the recent one in which the President suggested that the Civil War wouldn’t have happened under Andrew Jackson’s watch. Trump likes to criticize everyone on the planet (except for Vladimir Putin) but to implicitly criticize Abraham Lincoln for not preventing the Civil War was just insane. And yes, the President doubled down on this comment with a Tweet a couple of days later.
Looking ahead to the future of the Trump presidency: Incomplete
Needless to say, if we’re handing out grades, the future is an “Incomplete.” I no longer have any hope that President Trump will behave in the manner befitting his office, that he’ll stop Tweeting, that he’ll stop getting his information from the cable news shows and that he’ll stop obsessing about himself. I have no hope for any of this.
Trump’s brand, his raison d’être, was and is reflected in the title of his best-seller The Art of the Deal. He constantly touts his deal-making ability. We have yet to see it in action. Yes, he twisted some arms to get a bad health care deal passed in the House but, beyond that, we have yet to see his legendary negotiating ability in action. I’m hoping that will change. Maybe he’ll find a few red-state Democrats in the Senate who are willing to make a deal with this president and help him accomplish some things the nation needs, like with his dreams of a trillion dollar infrastructure plan.
What I also hope is that Trump keeps learning that he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. I hope that he he listens to his intelligent advisers on matters of foreign affairs but also there are people in his inner circle who have secret “what if he really loses it” contingency plans to keep the world safe.
I’ve Republican since 1980 and yet, for the first time ever, I feel like a man without a party and a man without a president. Last November, for the first time in my life I didn’t vote for the Republican candidate for President. I voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson, who would have not made my top 12 if he had run in the Republican primaries. Unless Trump really turns it around, it’s unfathomable that I would vote for him in his re-election bid of 2020, if indeed he runs at all.
As much as I want to be a patriotic American and a loyal Republican, I am torn. I find myself rooting against almost anything that would be politically beneficial for the president even if it’s something that I would otherwise support. Therefore, I understand why the Democrats are taking an “obstruct everything” approach just as the GOP did when Obama was in office. It’s a bitter disappointment to me that the Republicans have the dream fulfilled of a unified government in both chambers of Congress and the White House but with such an unfit leader occupying the Oval Office.
Thanks for reading.