Spring, when nature’s clockwork reveals the certitudes of life bursting forth after the hidden dormancies of winter. California is witnessing a super bloom of wildflowers coaxed forth by drought-busting rains. And home gardeners are dealing with the ever-vexing question of which tomato varieties to plant.
The springtime of a presidency, too, has its new-growth marks. Reports on the new president’s honeymoon being over are quickly followed by the hoariest of benchmarks for the new guy’s (always a guy, still) first 100 days. Some presidents — FDR, Obama, Reagan — are viewed as those who did great things in their first three months in office. All modern presidents are judged thusly; it’s the first rule of Beltway journalism.
There are scores of stories, commentaries and gasbag explosions about the infancy of President Donald Trump’s tenure, which hits the 100-day mark Saturday.
I’ve been biting my tongue about President Trump for several reasons: the wait-and-see reflex, the avalanche of coverage out there about Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride, and the wise admonition my mother instilled to not say anything if you can’t say something nice.
Judging Trump’s first 100 days as a colossal failure would be too easy, though accurate. A lot of people are doing that, including most Americans who put his popularity at the lowest level ever for a new president.
It would be easy to rattle off the ways the Trump administration has pushed retrograde policies on every issue from health care and the environment to immigration and criminal justice reform. It would take no hard work to assemble a long list of naked lies, empty boasts, clumsy threats, self-inflicted wounds and pocket-lining grifts perpetrated by the White House over the past three months. But that game is overwhelmed by players.
Trump’s only big deed is restoring a conservative majority to the Supreme Court with Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who refused to allow a vote on Judge Merrick Garland for a year, really won that trophy for the GOP. Trump simply picked the best-looking conservative off a handy list compiled by the Heritage Foundation. Any Republican president could have done that. Hell, you or I could have done that.
Still, I’ve put together a list of positives generated by the Trump White House. It doesn’t include his raft of executive orders, which aside from those blocked by courts, don’t amount to much but words on pretty paper. Nor am I going to give credit for his use of awesome arms in one-off attacks in Syria and Afghanistan. Those miserable wars remain unabated, and your guess is as good as mine in divining what Trump will do to help end them.
Credit, though, is due on several fronts:
— Golf: Trump has played so much golf that it must be doing some good for the sport, though I doubt many young people will take to the links in emulation of their 70-year-old president. Since he won’t disclose his taxes, I say Trump should release his golf scores, so we know if anything is getting better.
— Emoluments: While xenophobia was the fancy new word learned by many Americans during the 2016 campaign, emoluments has been added to our vocabulary as he moved into the White House and turned on the open-for-business sign. I believe the White House should announce daily how much money the president made in the past 24 hours. Again, as a kind of reassurance that at least something is getting better, I.e. the Trump family fortune.
— Citizen engagement: Trump’s nascent presidency has stirred Americans and citizens throughout the world. Hundreds of thousands have marched in support of women, immigrants, scientists; Thousands of would-be candidates are lining up to enter politics; and many “safe” Republican congressional seats may be hotly contested in 2018. These are good things.
— Truth and lies: The leader of the Republican Party, the party whose great thinkers have long longed decried moral relativism, has brought us a golden age of factual relativism, in which all negative news is fake news and critical journalists are enemies of the people. This has caused resurgent interest in the literature of authoritarianism and newspaper subscriptions. It’s good more people are reading Orwell and, maybe, fewer are logging onto Breitbart.
— Nuclear war: So far, Trump hasn’t touched his nuclear arsenal against North Korea or Canadian dairy farms. That is good. The other night, though, some of his top advisers — nicely dressed chowder heads on Fox News — were glibly weighing the pros and cons of preemptive nuclear strikes on North Korea. Let us hope that Trump, who boasts the best TiVo in the world, won’t be swayed by these lunatics. The White House just proved it could learn about the Holocaust by using Wikipedia. Maybe they should look up “Hiroshima” by John Hersey and start learning some rudiments about the reality of nuclear weapons.
— Things are complicated: Trump has been playing catch-up on several fronts. He has learned that several things, including being president, health care, North Korea, NATO, trade pacts and having a campaign under FBI investigation are complicated. These baby-step signs of humility from the man who bragged, “I alone can fix it” last July are good things. It’s probably better to have a maniac capable of learning rather than a closed-minded megalomaniac in charge of the country.
— Business of government: In his wild AP interview last week https://apnews.com/c810d7de280a47e88848b0ac74690c83
Trump acknowledged a big flaw in the old saw of running-government-like-a business. He said he’s learned that as a public leader you have to care about people, to have a heart. That’s rarely the case in the business world, where the bottom line is all and a heart is best keep cold.
“Well, in business you don’t necessarily need heart, whereas here, almost everything affects people,” he said. “You have to love people.” This tiny glimpse into the heretofore unseen soft side of Trump may be a good thing. It’s a good thing when a national leader isn’t a heartless bastard.
I don’t expect Trump to go all hippie, “Love is all,” on us in the next 100 days. But maybe he will learn a few more things about public leadership now that he’s admitted one of the main duties is to actually care about people. That is if a 70-year-old man with super-abundant self-adulation can detect much of anything beyond the glow of his own star.