Arbitrary, for sure, but a measure nonetheless—the first one hundred days. How has Trump done? I am getting out ahead of the story as his hundredth day will be April 29th.
Bear with me briefly, as I just attached a wider angle lens.
Turkey just had an election, narrowly and controversially approving constitutional changes that give its President much more power. The changes were pushed by Recep Erdogan, the current President, who was almost ousted in a coup several months ago. The changes were supported by only 51% of voters and the Erdogan government censored much of the opposition campaign.
America doesn’t do coups nor censor opposition parties. And it is almost impossible to change the constitution, which is one reason our fights over who sits on the Supreme Court are so hard fought. So as we assess the President, we should also grade ourselves and our political institutions. Presidents do not win an election or govern in a vacuum.
First, Trump. He would want to be first; nothing seems to move without a Trump context. Too bad.
At the fifty day mark, I would have given Trump an F, today a C minus. He is beginning to have a better feel for the job and whose advice is sound. Contrary to hard core opponents, he seems capable of learning. Plus, he has pivoted more of his attention to international initiatives where the President has more discretion, and his staff and cabinet support is better. Plus, he needed at least the appearance of short-term successes before going back to the Congress on domestic issues. And believe me, in international affairs, final judgments on short-term actions are long in coming.
The Congress, facing deadlines on financial affairs, gets an incomplete. The Congress is always difficult to lead and a hundred day assessment would be unduly arbitrary. I should point out, however, that the Senate Minority Leader, Democrat Chuck Schumer, gave the Republicans a gift in forcing them to rescind minority rights to achieve confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch. The Republican majority in order to pass any test must now be more purposeful and cohesive.
If I were grading the majority in the House of Representatives, they would get an F. Theresa May, Britain’s Prime Minister just called a snap election for members of Parliament. Too bad that political tool cannot be used here.
The news media would get the same grade as Trump, a C-minus. In the last week, it has been more likely to cover policy; a good thing. It is still, however, too consumed with Trump as a personality, outlier, and entertainer. Hopefully, certain media will quit spilling ink by the barrel on him and indirectly his supporters. It does them no credit and fertilizes his “fake news” assaults. Hopefully, Trump will someday acknowledge, indeed appreciate, that the media does not exist to make his life easier and shouldn’t. Fat chance.
The free speech guarantee in our Constitution is sacred. The news media should work every day to live up to its corresponding obligations. When the coverage of any person or event is predictable, the publication is not serving the public interest. There is too much predictability in the coverage of Trump.
The political parties. Owls can pivot their head 270 degrees. They are said to be wise. At this moment America suffers from stiff necks that can barely pivot from their intenseness as they double down on the orthodoxies of their bases that led to their rejection last year. Lacking internal knowledge on what turnaround strategies might be in the works, I’ll be charitable and give each a D.
Let me close by commenting briefly on us—those who support candidates and vote in elections. It is said that we get the government we deserve. In the 21st Century, this is not necessarily true.
United States politics are now gerrymandered, underwritten by concentrations of wealth, distorted by entertainment posing as news and given scant attention by a distracted culture. But, signs of life are encouraging. Members of Congress and especially Republicans are being tested at town hall meetings; in a republic that is a good thing. So, to the public that is fighting stiff head winds, I would give a B minus.
America needs renewal. Are there any reformers who can also lead? If so, it is not too early to prepare for 2020 when the hard left and right need to be defeated by hard realities.
Writing, for me, is mostly enjoyable and particularly when inspiration happens. Certainly, the Trump phenomenon has provided plenty. But, having a weekly deadline (mostly self-imposed) has sometimes turned pleasure into work. So, with thanks to the Editors with whom I work, my column will, in the future, be stirred by particular interests, not the calendar.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.