Trump’s first 100 days: All drama, no action — and thank goodness

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Donald Trump has done little more as president than sign executive orders, which can be reversed by the next president, writes Mark Salter. | Andrew Harnik/AP

As he approaches the milestone he embraced as a candidate and tries to downplay as president — his first 100 days in office — Donald Trump’s product launch has been a failure. None of the bold strokes he promised in his first months in office to “make America great again” yet exist in legislative form or in law.

Obamacare is still with us. The North American Free Trade Agreement still governs our trade relations with Mexico and Canada. No ground has been broken on a Trump-branded infrastructure project. Trump’s steep budget cuts are mostly non-starters in Congress. Not a dollar has been appropriated for his border wall, which is going to be a fence if it’s ever built at all, will still cost tens of billions of dollars, won’t cover the entire border, will be tied up in lawsuits from landowners, and won’t be paid for by Mexico now or ever.


Overseas, China is no longer a currency manipulator, and President Xi Jinping — America’s archenemy according to Candidate Trump — is now President Trump’s best friend forever. NATO is no longer obsolete. The European Union muddles along. The Kremlin is still suffering economic sanctions imposed by the West. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is, thankfully, de facto leader of the free world.

Ethno-nationalism, Trumpism, Breitbartism, whatever you want to call it, may have crested with Trump’s election. It was defeated at the polls in the Netherlands and now probably in France, where centrist Emmanuel Macron should handily defeat the national socialist, Putin vassal and Trump enthusiast, Marine Le Pen.

To his credit, Trump nominated a qualified jurist to the Supreme Court, whom the Senate confirmed at the cost of the executive calendar filibuster. Trump has also signed more executive orders in 100 days than any of his predecessors, and seems inordinately proud of the large signature that adorns each one. I wouldn’t have thought that would be a record constitutional conservatives could applaud. And what can be done by executive order can be undone by executive order, as former President Barack Obama is discovering.

Other than these modest achievements, along with his very limited but welcome military response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons, and his frequent hyperbole about personally intervening to keep manufacturing jobs in the country, Trump hasn’t done much of anything.

Of course, 100 days is a ridiculous measurement. Big changes in public policy take much longer than three months to affect, and 1,360 days remain in his term. It’s theoretically possible he could turn things around. But I’m not holding my breath.

Trump remains incapable of getting out of his own way. He’s still consumed with insecurities and resentments, and driven to complete distraction by negative press coverage. He tolerates and encourages staff score-settling and paranoia.

He won’t stop making promises he can’t keep. He seems to see presidential conduct as a mix of photo ops, theatrical boasts, combative exchanges with the press, frequent rounds of golf, and enjoying unexpectedly delicious slices of chocolate cake. It’s unlikely that his will ever be even a modestly accomplished presidency.

And I’m OK with that. Believe me.

It’s not that I wouldn’t want to see the tax code reformed or smart investments in infrastructure made. It’s just that I believe it’s better Trump continue to be ineffectual than run the risk of success breeding success.

A President Trump empowered by success might actually attempt to deport 11 million immigrants. He might start a real trade war with our biggest trading partners. He might lift sanctions on Russia, and not defend NATO allies from Russian threats. He might overreact to some security challenges, making them more dangerous, and underreact to others because their instigators took the precaution of flattering him.

A U.S. president who makes no secret of his admiration for anti-American French politician who defends Vichy collaboration is capable of doing immense harm to a world order that has made America incomparably powerful and wealthy.

I prefer that Donald Trump spend every day of his presidency frustrated by his inability to make Washington bend to his ridiculous boasts, whining about the New York Times, inciting his White House staff to greater excesses of internecine warfare, while leaving the management of U.S. interests to National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Take it easy, Mr. President. Spend more time at Mar-a-Lago. Play more golf. Tweet away. And at the end of 1,460 days, a grateful nation will thank you for not doing your worst.

Mark Salter is the former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain and was a senior adviser to the McCain for President campaign.


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