Op-Ed

After 100 days, we have a better measure of Trump

President Trump, and the nation, are looking back at his first hundred days in office.
President Trump, and the nation, are looking back at his first hundred days in office. AP

It may be news to President Trump that the original One Hundred Days ended with Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. In fact, if Trump learned about Napoleon from “Fox & Friends,” he would probably snarl, “I like my conquerors of Europe not to end up exiled to an island so remote you can’t even build a world-class hotel on it.”

One hundred days remain an unfair standard to assess any president’s accomplishments, especially since using that benchmark tends to reward easy victories and symbolic gestures. A far more fruitful approach would be to assess what we have learned about the new president, the Congress, and the nation during the 100 days since Inauguration Day.

▪ Trump is no autocrat-in-chief. The opening months of the Trump administration have offered a crash course in the limitations of presidential power. The courts blocked two executive orders banning immigration from seven overwhelmingly Muslim countries. The national-security establishment rebelled against the ethically challenged Michael Flynn, Trump’s short-lived NSC adviser. And the House balked at passing Trumpcare.

▪ Wild improvisation is not a legislative strategy. Unlike President Obama, Trump has been willing to deploy the traditional tools of presidential persuasion like phone calls and dinners. The problem, instead, rests with the president’s impatience, disdain for substance, and complete lack of understanding of the folkways of Capitol Hill.

This week offers a prime example. Trump, whose party controls both houses of Congress, has been nurturing the fantasy that only the Democrats will be blamed if there is a government shutdown over his insistence on funding his unpopular border wall. At the same time, offering some vague campaign-style promises about an unfunded tax cut is a far cry from passing complex legislation.

▪ Trump’s contempt for ethical norms may have lasting consequences. While no future president is likely to have his name emblazoned on a hotel within easy walking distance of the White House, it is easy to imagine Trump’s successors balking at releasing their taxes or fully divesting their business dealings. Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner appear to believe that working in the White House is just another branding opportunity.

▪ The ‘alternative facts’ White House. Nothing is more fatiguing than trying to keep up with the lies uttered by the president and aides like Sean Spicer, who dance for Trump’s approval. The danger is — whatever the ultimate verdict on the Trump presidency — we will have permanently poisoned fact-based political discussion.

▪ Congress cannot mount a credible, nonpolitical investigation of a president. The Watergate model of a bipartisan group of senators working to ferret out the truth about a corrupt president now seems a weird 20th-century artifact. The new congressional motto has become, “If the president is from my party, I have no curiosity about what is going on behind closed doors in the executive branch.”

Congressional dithering goes well beyond the two sputtering Russia probes. There is a disturbing lack of interest on Capitol Hill about the legal justification for Trump’s impulsive cruise-missile attack on Syria. And it seems almost impolite for any Republican to question the unseemly buckraking by the Trump family.

▪ Democrats may be heading for a nostalgic journey back to the 1980s. That was the decade when the Democrats lost three landslide elections in a row. At a time when the out-of-power party should be uniting to battle a polarizing president with an approval rating of just above 40 percent, the Democrats instead are returning to their fractious ways.

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have adroitly held congressional Democrats together on issues ranging from healthcare to Neil Gorsuch. But away from Capitol Hill, the party keeps reenacting the Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders battles from the 2016 primaries.

One day it was Sanders sniffing that Jon Ossoff, who almost won Tom Price’s seat in Georgia’s 6th District without a runoff, isn’t a progressive. Then Sanders and new DNC Chair Tom Perez, in the midst of the Unity Tour, touched off a furor with NARAL and women’s groups by endorsing an anti-abortion mayoral candidate in Omaha.

Pretty soon, the derogatory phrase DINO’s (Democrats in Name Only) may enter the political lexicon as the party decides that ideological purity is more vital than electoral majorities.

▪ Republicans risk long-term damage from their uncritical embrace of Trump. While it is folly to predict the political climate on Election Day 2018, the early readings from polls, special elections, and history suggest that GOP House members in competitive districts should not be buying real estate in Washington.

As the GOP braces for a bumpy ride in 2018, it remains baffling why so few Republicans have distanced themselves from Trump. The Republican silence on Trump-era ethics, governmental chaos and bizarro tweets suggest that many in Congress are placing party loyalty over personal survival. It is worth asking: What has Trump done to earn such trust?

▪ The good news. The nation endures without new terrorist attacks or economic crises. And maybe we can weather the next four years, despite that intemperate man in the White House.

Walter Shapiro, a columnist for Roll Call, has covered the last 10 presidential elections. He also is a lecturer in political science at Yale.

©2017 CQ-Roll Call, Inc.

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