There are some things in this world that you can rely upon. A steady stream of well-wishers on your birthday. An eruption of zits on the eve of a first date. An argument with your spouse two days into a three-week vacation. An argument with the in-laws two hours into a three-day stay. You can almost set your watch by such events.
There are political maxims too; simple rules of conduct that are so familiar that they are only ever conspicuous by their absence.
Take being president for example. The position does, after all, bring with it a certain amount of baggage. To be president is to be professionally unpopular. At any given time, around half of the people in the country will despise you, no matter what you do.
Or at least, that’s the way things end up.
During the first 100 days of an incoming presidency, things tend to be a little more festive. Imbued with energy and flush with victory, the new administration tucks its mandate into its belt and takes off at a full sprint eager to whet its appetite for change. Like chipmunks after a month-long Twinkies-only diet, they dash from post to post, cutting deals, repaying favors and pressing the flesh.
The honeymoon mood is infectious. The public, bloated with expectation, looks to Congress to grease the passage of the new political reality. Nobody in government wants to step out of line. Nobody wants to be the first to snub their nose at the electorate’s chosen leader.
Thank You For The Days
Those 100 days really do matter.
One way of measuring their success is to look at the number of laws passed through Congress during those first few months. For Lyndon B Johnson that number was 10. Nixon and Reagan both managed nine, Bill Clinton an impressive 24, Barrack Obama a respectable 11. Even George W. Bush helped pass seven pieces of legislation through Congress.
And then there was President Franklin Roosevelt. During the most intense period of lawmaking in the nation’s history, his administration helped guide no fewer than 15 major bills through a Congress that passed 76 laws in total. The suspension of the gold standard, the Federal Securities Act, the National Industrial Recovery Act, the creation of FDIC; the list was impressive.
The pace was brutal.
Not that he set a record or anything. Thanks to procedural changes, the current Congress tends to be far slower than their earlier counterparts which were on the whole far more productive. Still, from the 81st Congress (1947-1949) forward, the average number of bills passed in the first 100 days stands at 16.
Trump has managed 0.
Seriously, he’s got nothing.
In all fairness, President Donald Trump has not yet been granted his full 100 days. At the time of writing, he’s on day 65 and with his health care reform an abject failure it’s safe to say that his entire legislative agenda is about as seaworthy as a three-masted Schooner built out of sun-softened Lego bricks.
Those Endless Days
What about elsewhere? Perhaps those bemoaning Trump’s lack of action are part of the ‘fake news’ media that Trump is always warning us about? Surely Congress isn’t sitting idly by, waiting for trump to act.
Well, no, of course not. But what they are doing is the stuff that presidents don’t get to take credit for.
At the time of writing, the 114th Congress has enacted 14 laws. Such laws do not fit into the widely accepted framework used by most political scientists. Most are procedural changes to existing legislation whilst the rest are, to use a technical term, quite ‘small and twatty.’ At any rate, getting bogged down in internecine teeth gnashing over what does and does not pass for legislation is an act of futility.
Measure for measure, Trump is still trailing the worst performing 100 days of a presidency by 7 to nothing. And when you find yourself performing poorly against metrics set by George W. Bush, you know you’ve got issues.
Those Sacred Days
Screw Congress, right?
They were never going to play well with a political outsider like Trump. The ability to push one’s legislative agenda is an important test of a president for sure, but it’s only one tool in the commander in chief’s arsenal. The executive order might not be as flashy or all-encompassing as a full act of Congress but they are still much more than a simple flick of a pen.
There are three sides to this issue and we can look at two of them quantitatively and one of them qualitatively. The former consist of a simple set of metrics; executive orders issued and executive orders revoked. Harry Truman for example issued 25 orders in his first 100 days none of which were revoked. Ronald Reagan issued 18, all of which were revoked whereas Barack Obama managed 19, 10 of which were still standing when he left office.
How is Trump doing?
His tally stands at an impressive 17 orders signed since he took office including one that took place just hours after having been sworn in. Alas, for Trump a closer analysis reveals some upsetting truths behind what might otherwise be taken for decisiveness. Which takes us to the third test, that of quality control.
And it’s here that we see Trump’s carefully crafted policy turds getting flung into the reject bin with disturbing regularity.
Two of the orders relate to Trump’s immigration ban which has been placed on indefinite hold. Two others, the Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch — signed March 13 — and Core Principles for Regulating the United States Financial System — signed on February 3 — merely set up instructions to review and then advise on certain aspects of government policy.
They have yet to report back on anything whatsoever.
Days I’ll Remember All My Life
Of the 13 orders that remain, one is an as of yet unfulfilled congressional budget request for money to build a wall whilst another simply repeals the order of succession within the department of justice. A third is just a review of the Clean Water Rule that was signed by President Barack Obama in 2015.
That leaves ten.
Of course one of the remaining ten is Trump’s order aimed at reversing the Affordable Care Act. In light of his failure to strike a deal within even his own party, such an order scarcely bears mention.
All that is left is the rump. A series of petty invectives designed with single projects such as the Dakota pipeline in mind. A couple of near-sighted and overtly politicized attempts to do ‘something about immigration.’ Orders to make dirty rivers dirtier, some regulatory mummery that will do more harm than good. As legislative booties go, there’s not much to see here.
Days When You Can’t See Wrong From Right
Which leaves Trump with what exactly?
Well, even from an objective standpoint it’s hard to argue that his first 100 days have been anything other than a disaster. His list of achievements isn’t actually a list. It’s a piece of paper as White as his cabinet picks. His failure to broker a deal on ACA reform has not simply upset his legislative timetable.
It’s destroyed his presidency.
It is a failure without precedent in modern politics; a Mea Culpa of epic proportions, a snafu to eclipse all other snafus.
Forget Russia, forget impeachment, for a second; Trump is already a president without any real power. He’s unlikely to last the full four years it’s true but we should fear him less from this point forward.
Because at just over two months in, the duck isn’t simply limping.
It’s gone lame.
Watch CNN destroy Trump’s first 100 days.
Featured image from YouTube video.