One hundred days in which normal rules do not apply

by Carlton Joseph

On October 22, Donald Trump travelled to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to announce his “Contract with the American Voter,” which formalized his pledges for the next 100 days.   It listed 18 actions he would take under his executive authority as president, and 10 pieces of legislation he would introduce in Congress.

On the executive action front he has accomplished the following: Selected and the Senate approved, using the nuclear option, Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court Justice;  withdrawn from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP); lifted the roadblocks on the Keystone Pipeline and other infrastructure projects; began removing illegal immigrants from the US; and imposed a five-year ban on White House officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government service.

On the legislative front many promises remain unfulfilled.   Mr. Trump has declined to label China a currency manipulator. His attempt to ban travellers from several Muslim-majority countries has twice been thwarted by the courts, and his plan to “repeal and replace Obamacare” never made it to a vote in Congress.   However, he has signed many bills allowing Republicans to use the Congressional Review Act to abolish rules on energy, firearms, federal labor contracts, and local control of education.  He has also assisted the Republican Congress to turn back parts of the Obama Legacy.

In his weekly address on Friday, Trump said “I truly believe that the first 100 days of my Administration has been just about the most successful in our country’s history, … in just fourteen weeks, my administration has brought profound change to Washington.”  In many ways Mr. Trump is correct.  He has changed the presidency more than the presidency has changed him.   He has brought the same aggressive lying and plain-speaking that characterized his campaign.  Social media, rather than press conferences, remains his favored conduit with the American people. The main media has bowed to his demands.  They are now labeling  outright lies, as “fake news.”  Taking a cue from his boss, Secretary of State, Mr. Tillerson, has ignored questions that reporters have tried to ask him, and in a break with tradition, only one reporter, Erin McPike, accompanied him on his trip to Asia.  From Trump’s ongoing refusal to release his tax returns to his refusal of requests to disclose visitor logs at the White House, he has indicated normal rules do not apply to him.

The first 100 days of an administration, though in many ways a ridiculous milestone, can be diagnostic. They can reveal the character of a presidency and set the tone.  Also they are indicative of the health of US democracy: the functioning of its institutions, executive, legislative and judicial branches.   These one hundred days have exposed weaknesses and strengths of this democracy.

The first 100 days revealed the power of states and municipalities.  For decades, “states rights” was the battle cry of white supremacists determined to uphold segregation in defiance of federal court orders demanding integration. Now progressive states are using this tactic to obstruct Trump’s immigration crackdown. Protest power, a tool of the civil rights movement, has again emerged as a significant force.

Trump has brought a fear factor to the American Presidency.  His administration is extremely unpredictable. He probably has no idea what he’s going to do five minutes from now. So one cannot really make predictions with much confidence.  At the United Nations, there’s a new focus on reform, especially of peacekeeping operations mainly because of the fear that the US could pull funding.

The Paris Conference did intend to reach a verifiable treaty, but they couldn’t because Donald Trump and the Republican Congress would not accept any commitments; therefore, the world was left with verbal promises, but no commitments.  The most powerful country in human history, the richest, most powerful, most influential, the leader of the free world, has just decided not only not to support the efforts, but also actively to undermine them.

On the foreign front in the first 100 days, Trump has dropped   the “Mother of All Bombs (MOAB),” in Afghanistan, bombed Syria, and focused on North Korea and Iran.  In North Korea, General McMaster, the national security adviser, said tensions with North Korea are coming to a head.  I am not sure what that means, but it sounds like a threat of preemptive strike on North Korea.

Trump is different from anyone else we’ve ever elected in values and behavioral patterns. We still don’t really know who has the man’s ear on most any issue. So we can’t be too comfortable saying what he will or won’t do about almost anything.   More important, we do not know where the interests of the presidency and his personal life begins or ends since he nor the family members he has placed around him are willing to divest from their companies.

To be certain, the first 100 days reveals that Mr. Trump is determined to maximize the use of fossil fuels, and transfer wealth from the poor to the rich by implementing massive tax cuts for the wealthy.   He is not going to provide funding for the Climate accord in Paris, nor to developing countries that are trying to do something about the climate problems.  To his followers, Mr. Trump had a great 100 days.  To his opponents his first one hundred days have been a failure and has given them renewed energy and hope to control Congress in the future.  As far as I am concerned, Mr. Trump is getting way to much press coverage and he is sucking all the oxygen out of the room.  Negative or positive press he seems to win, because the country’s division is entrenched, and truth is interpreted as lies and vice versa.


(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)