Roundtable – Trump’s First 100 Days

 

The Roundtable is a conversation about the news among Torchlight’s writers and editors. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity, and all citations and links were  added after the fact. The conversation happened April 29. 

Tom Rich

Welcome to the Roundtable, Torchlight’s weekly discussion of news and events. We’re sitting down on President Trump’s 100th day in office to talk about how those hundred days have gone. With us this week are Senior Managing Editor Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Politics Editor Christopher Dahlin, Junior Managing Editor David Schmitz, Trump supporter Sam Dieffenwierth and myself, Editor-in-Chief Tom Rich. We also have a special guest appearance by David’s popsicle-stick-wielding daughter. Thanks for being here, everyone. Before we dive into Trump’s hundred days in particular, let’s start with a more broad question: how important are the first hundred days of Presidency, generally speaking?

 

Josh Kyu Saiewitz

If you believe the media, more important than everything else in the world.

 

Christopher Dahlin

As a discrete set of time, not much.

 

David Schmitz

They are as important as any other 100 day stretch of a Presidency because the person who holds the office wields the same power.

 

Christopher

It’s just that as we get further in, midterms become a consideration and so on. So the first 100 days are basically the furthest from an election

 

Sam Dieffenwierth

I’d have to agree with David. Look at Bush- 9/11 completely changed his presidency, and that was well after the end of April.

 

Josh

I think as an arbitrary point at which to take stock, it has some value, even if it’s true that they don’t necessarily define a presidency.

 

Christopher

Yeah, it’s more important as a period from which we can all just review how the thing is going.  The specific time is arbitrary, but the actual review is important.

 

Sam

It sets the tone for the rest of the term, at least in the media’s eyes.

 

Christopher

As a note, it was originally used for FDR’s presidency, and is apparently the time between Napoleon’s escape from Elba, to his defeat at Waterloo.

 

Tom

Dang it, Chris, I was going to bring up Napoleon later. Scooped again!

 

Christopher

To be more specific, it was actually his return to Paris from Elba, to the restoration of the king Louis XVIII. Well, it can set the tone. but as we get further from it, actual events will supercede it

 

David

I find it, let’s say interesting, that the 100 days mark is seen as some kind of deadline to get things done by Presidents. There wouldn’t be a problem to get things done on day 75, or day 115, but since everything we do in politics is reactionary, our Presidents have to react to and try to drive the media narrative.

 

Tom

Day 100 doesn’t matter, except we act like it matters, so day 100 matters?

 

Josh

Goodhart’s law says that a measure which becomes a target ceases to be a good measure. Witness Trump trying desperately to throw together major legislation just before the 100 days deadline.

 

David

The ouroborus of media/politics narrative.

 

Sam

It’s an easy shorthand for competence and catchy soundbite for the media. Get a lot done, you’re a shining new star. Get mired down in the Beltway morass, you’re incompetent.

 

Christopher

The thing is, Josh, it is important for the president to be doing things.  I would say it’s more useless when you’re trying to make the 100 days look good, rather than trying to accomplish anything. Some political achievements take time.

 

David

Yep, although it seems every President just falls somewhere in between, regardless of the media slant. Progressives want their progressive President to be more progressive, Conservatives want their conservative President to be more conservative, and of course the opposing factions are certain that the first 100 days have spelled doom for the sitting President.

 

Tom

Which marks a good place to turn the conversation toward Trump’s presidency, and do our part to feed the media demon. So before we delve in detail, in no more than three words each, how would the panel sum up Trump’s first hundred days?

 

Josh

Incompetence trumps malevolence.

 

Sam

Action, betrayal, C+.

 

Christopher

He accomplished nothing.

 

David

(sorry, my daughter just ran at me with a popsicle stick)

 

Josh

David that’s way more than three words.

 

David

Direly Missing Appointments.

 

Tom

Violent, uncontrolled swerving.

That’s, um, a fairly dire series of summaries.

 

Josh

I think it’s important to separate out the different ways we can actually judge Trump’s presidency–first, against what he promised, what the base wanted, and how well he achieved that; second, how what he did or didn’t do actually affected the country.

 

Christopher

It should also be pointed out that what certain sides want in their president, whether they be conservative, progressive or other, is for all opposition to capitulate in the face of their arguments, and give them everything they want no questions. Which is why politics is disappointing.

 

David

From my summary’s perspective, I feel like the President could have done better to accomplish things to improve these summaries if he’d have had the full slate of appointments ready to roll at inauguration. We’re still left with a skeleton crew running our government.

 

Sam

Well that’s why Christie got fired. They rolled up day one and he had nothing for them.

 

Christopher

It is honestly hard to tell which incompetence is intentional, and which is because he honestly doesn’t know what he’s doing.

 

Josh

That seems more feature than bug for Trump, though, who appointed department heads devoted to the destruction of the department. Tillerson for instance just announced an attempt to literally decimate the State Department by cutting personnel by 9%. Shrinking the job rolls of the government seems like a Trump accomplishment, not a failure.

 

Christopher

To be fair to Christie, there is a significant faction in the Trump administration that genuinely does not want government to work.

 

Sam

Very true! Unfortunately for Trump’s hopes of getting things done, he appointed Reince Preibus as his chief of staff. I’m sure on a lot of this stuff Reince stonewalled and dragged his feet. They don’t make you head of the RNC if you like government.

 

Christopher

And compared to Bannon, the RNC are all loveydovey with government.

 

Tom

See, I would have blamed Bannon over Preibus for the delays, since Bannon openly wants to bring the establishment crashing down.

 

David

It’s amazing how your opinion of someone can be changed because they may or may not have been the reason your home government hasn’t imploded in six months.

 

Christopher

Basically, I think this year is going to be the point where the Republican party realizes that government is what gives them power, and tones down the reactionary idiocy, or they discover that their base and reactionary wings are too strong, and then we’re all in trouble.

 

Sam

I’d say it’s the latter. You’re already seeing a lot of pushback from his voters about the decision to get rid of Bannon

 

Tom

You’re referring to pulling Bannon off the NSC, there?

 

Sam

Yes, and his marginalization in White House decisions. For all his faults, Bannon was the guy that came up with the ideas that Trump won on- free trade hurts workers, halt illegal immigration, etc. And I’d also agree that you’re seeing a lot of backstabbing from the House and Senate on his ideas.

 

Josh

I think a lot of what drives Trump’s failures on passing legislation like AHCA or his tax “plan” is a combination of laziness and ignorance. But the reason the GOP hasn’t just done this for him goes back to the 2016 primary (cf Tom’s excellent piece). Normally the primary winner wins because they win the support of multiple factions of the party, but Trump came in on a different alignment entirely, a mixture of (false) economic populism and racial animus, winning the voters but not the party apparatus or Congressional Republicans. So there’s an ideological gap between these groups, the hardliners and the relative moderates, that Trump’s victory didn’t solve and so now prevents movement on healthcare or many of the other things Trump would like to claim as first 100 days victories.

 

Tom

I think that’s a good point, Josh. Our politics gets a lot of flack for being two-party, but in many ways we’re a multi-party system where factions that might be minor parties in a different system have to operate under the same name. Trump didn’t weld those factions together like earlier candidates did, and now he’s having trouble getting them to work together on what parts of his agenda he’s tried to advance.

 

Sam

Right. Paul Ryan really doesn’t want to get that wall built, and he’s sort of strung it along by saying “we need to take care of X and Y first and then we can get to the wall”, where X and Y are disastrous healthcare plan and tax cut policies. N.B. I’m sure Trump doesn’t mind getting a nice tax cut for himself but it’s not a big priority for him

 

Christopher

Well, part of that is because he doesn’t actually know anything about the political factions within the Republican Party, and doesn’t particularly seem to care.

 

Sam

Also true! He’s kind of in a unique situation in that the people who elected him have absolutely no power in Congress or the judicial system.

 

Josh

There are a lot of factors here, but to me it does come back to incompetence and inexperience–who’s to say how well the GOP could be aligned if Trump did what Obama did on ACA, putting together legislation after months of careful work and buy-in from politicians and industry reps and so on, and then spending a year or so stumping for it.

 

Tom

Nobody had any idea healthcare was this hard; nobody had any idea tax reform was so complex; I didn’t realize how hard this job would be.

 

David

From everything I’ve seen, the only tangible accomplishment in this first 100 days has been the nomination and confirmation of Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. But, I’ll continue to contend that is an accomplishment wholly achieved through the actions of Mitch McConnell. Gorsuch would have probably been the choice no matter who the Republican President was, and he’s only on the Supreme Court because McConnell was willing to sacrifice the legitimacy of all three branches of government to get here.

 

Christopher

His one notable achievement, by the way, is Gorsuch.  and that isn’t his so much as McConnell’s, and not really his choice, either.  I don’t think he knows why Gorsuch’s role is important.

 

Josh

Instead you get stuff like this tax “plan,” which Trump announced, surprising the guy whose job it was to write the tax plan. Result? A 1 page document with no details that’s terrible on the face of it, and then pressure from the WH to vote immediately. 

Yeah Gorsuch is his one major achievement and it required basically no work on his part.

 

Sam

You’re all forgetting the mass deportation, the symbolic smackdown of Carrier Air Conditioning, and the refusal to sign the TPP.

 

Josh

It’s all symbolic. That’s the problem

 

David

Yeah, the tax outline is a joke for now.

 

Christopher

Well, the first is on hold (both times!), the second is as you say symbolic, and the third he honestly doesn’t know why the TPP was important.

 

Tom

Are deportations actually up over the Obama years, or are we just no longer focusing on illegal immigrants with criminal records?

 

Sam

The latter.

 

Christopher

Don’t sign TPP!  Now, how do we strengthen ourselves against China?

 

Josh

Didn’t Trump say this week that he wanted to have some way to deal with China on trade, not understanding that that was the point of TPP to begin with?

 

David

Well, the deportations are happening, ICE is working hard to find every Dreamer they can.

 

Josh

Yeah.

 

Christopher

It is definitely the latter. And let’s not forget a limitation of refugees

 

Sam

With the TPP he ran on ending free trade and then he sank the biggest free trade deal in history. I think that counts as an accomplishment.

 

Josh

It’s also important to note when comparing deportations that Obama’s number is inflated by “deporting” people back across the Mexican border who had just arrived or were crossing at the time. Very different from taking somebody who’s been here since they were five 20 years ago and booting them out of the only home they know.

 

Christopher

Going back to the tax outline, Trump’s insistence on the vote seems to be 50% wanting a 100 days achievement, and 50% he doesn’t understand how legislation works

 

Josh

Sam, how do you feel about the NAFTA conversation that happened this week? Trump ran on ending that too and caved as soon as Trudeau gave him a too-firm handshake.

 

Christopher

There needs to actually be legislation to vote on.  This isn’t a CEO thing of “Come up with an outline, we can fill it in later.”

 

David

Oh, and before I head out early, I’ll proclaim that Trump’s greatest achievement this first 100 days has been to be the impetus for a growing trend in news media. First, there is us at Torchlight. But now there’s also Wikitribune doing their thing.

 

Tom

Hold on a second, guys, we’re going all over the place.

 

Josh

David is probably right in that Trump’s biggest impact is cultural, the destruction of norms, the energizing of the Democrats, etc.

 

Tom

We’ve got about 25 minutes left. Let’s take the next ten on immigration, then swing over to the TPP.

 

Sam

Obviously I’d prefer a full repeal. But even renegotiation is better than what we have now. His swing in attitude is something I’d also attribute to Bannon getting blackballed from the W.H.

 

Christopher

Part of the problem with Trump’s “accomplishments” in immigration is that the places that actually have the immigration do better, and aren’t against it. And tearing apart families for little reason is obviously horrible

 

Josh

He’s been able to do stuff, where the courts haven’t smacked him down; mostly enabling the jackboots at ICE to go hog wild. But that stuff is, itself, terrible, in terms of what I defined as the impact question.

 

Sam

You’ve got to take a look at pro-illegal-immigration attitudes with a critical eye, though. Is the region for it because they genuinely need workers, or are they for it because they like cheap gardeners and nannies? One of his biggest failures I think has been the lack of action on sanctuary cities, and it’s going to be something his base is going to hammer him on if he doesn’t get it done.

 

Christopher

Well, cheap food is also good.

 

Josh

Nobody is pro-illegal immigration, just looking for a different solution than the deportation of otherwise law-abiding, tax-paying people. Just like you can be for the decriminalization of marijuana without being pro-pot.

 

Christopher

He tried on the sanctuary cities, Trump continued his tirade against federal judges.This administration’s dismissiveness of the legal system is also going to have lasting effects.

 

Josh

Why does Trump’s base want to smack down sanctuary cities? Aren’t Republicans supposed to be in favor of states’ rights and local politics over the federal government?

 

Sam

I do agree with your point on the judicial system. The left sees it as an attack on the courts, and the right (well, his base at least) sees it as liberal judges holding up his orders for political reasons.

That’s more states’ rights on education or abortion or such. Sanctuary cities are very much a law-and-order thing for them. Imagine if a Southern city suddenly decided that it wasn’t going to enforce the law on murder if the victims were black.

 

Christopher

I see this administration vilifying any legal precedent against them “Judge on some island in the pacific”, Some San Francisco Judge”) to be an attack on the courts.  Granted they also don’t understand how the legal system works (Breaking up the 9th circuit will not help them get better decisions)

 

Josh

It might if they broke it up and packed the new positions with conservative judges.

 

Tom

About two minutes left on immigration, guys. Final thoughts before we swing over to the TPP, NAFTA, and free trade generally?

 

Christopher

To be very clear, immigration is a Federal Jurisdiction issue.  So the cities basically saying “we won’t help you” is actually an important legal question, because we don’t know if states can be compelled to assist in matters that are not theirs. The 9th circuit would still exist, though.

 

Sam

It also smacks of nullification, and it’s very interesting that both sides have embraced it- red states on things like abortion and trying to get around Roe v. Wade, and blue states on immigration laws.

 

Josh

There are real stories of how Trump’s change in immigration policy has resulted in people like musicians and academics not being allowed into the country–like the Africa symposium whose African attendees never made it here. Tourists react by not coming through or to America. To say nothing of things like illegal immigrants being afraid to go to court or report crimes. Ultimately it’s a racist, damaging, wrongheaded policy. It’s one of Trump’s biggest achievements thus far.

 

Tom

Honestly, I don’t think there are a dozen people, anywhere, who are truly, philosophically committed to states rights. It seems like an argument that’s raised when it matches what you already want to do, and abandoned as soon as it’s inconvenient, or a useful bludgeon against the opposition.

Ok, fifteen minutes left in the roundtable, let’s switch gears and talk about trade a little bit. NAFTA, TPP, free trade generally. Trump has halted the TPP, but not pulled us out of NAFTA. How does that square with his anti-free-trade rhetoric in the campaign, and what does it tell us about what might happen going forward?

 

Josh

Trump doesn’t understand negotiating, diplomacy, economics, or trade–witness his reversal on calling China a currency manipulator. Assuming he has a real ideology on free trade and it’s not just bullshit, I think he’s incapable of meaningfully impacting the issue, outside of just foolishing starting trade wars.

 

Christopher

Well, TPP would have been a new thing, so it’s easier to not do that, even if it would have given us leverage over China. NAFTA being an actual thing for 20 years, pulling out would have hurt lots of jobs, and someone made Trump understand that means voters.

 

Josh

Here’s my broad take on the free trade issue, btw: free trade is generally better for the world but specifically bad for some people sometimes, and ideally we have free trade with a strong social safety net to mitigate those downsides. People who advocate for an end to free trade should instead advocate for stronger social programs.

 

Sam

If you’re a poor country free trade is great for you in the short term- you get lots of jobs and new factories. If you’re rich, it’s bad- companies are going to move your factories offshore and your economy’s going to be hollowed out. Ultimately, it’s bad for both sides since it’s one enormous race to the bottom. Except instead of companies chasing non-union states in America, they’re chasing children-chained-to-the-wall countries in the world.

As far as NAFTA and the TPP goes, well, by all accounts Bannon had Trump’s ear back in January and early December and Kushner has it now. Kushner worked for Goldman Sachs, of course he’s not going to rock the boat on this stuff.

 

Josh

Is there anybody in this administration who hasn’t worked for Goldman Sachs?

 

Sam

Same could be said for the last administration. Goldman Sachs is a blight.

 

Josh

Wasn’t Trump supposed to change things, though?

 

Christopher

Well, a bunch of manufacturing also went to China (then Vietnam because those labor prices went up, etc), and also Manufacturing became more automated.

 

Josh

#draintheswamp and all that? Was that bullshit or is Washington a place of voodoo magic?

 

Christopher

You can’t really change manufacturing not being the career opportunity it once was on NAFTA alone.

 

Sam

He was! If you don’t want Trump to win in 2020, hammer him on this. It’s his biggest issue and the most important, and he hasn’t delivered on it.

 

Christopher

I think the Goldman Sachs thing is part of why he thinks of Betrayal as one of Trumps key words

 

Sam

Exactly. And no, you can’t pin it on NAFTA alone, but there’s also CAFTA, PAFTA, etc. NAFTA hasn’t been an overwhelming success for the other two members either- we wiped out a million farmers in Mexico when they couldn’t compete with U.S. agribusiness.

 

Josh

Protectionism is ultimately bad policy, even if it is sometimes good politics. But we’re out of time to go over that here. Final thoughts?

 

Sam

The President needs to remember who elected him and what he promised. Otherwise he’s going to be out of a job come 2020.

 

Christopher

The President needs to concentrate on substantial issues, not just ephemeral praise of 100 days or the like.

 

Tom

We seem to keep coming back to Trump’s lack of detailed understanding of policies and issues as a problem. He’s going to have to learn some detail if he doesn’t want to keep floundering.

 

Josh

My final thought is, there is no pivot and Trump will never change. These 100 days will rinse and repeat for the next 1300.

 

Tom

And on that note, we’re out of time for the roundtable this week. Thanks for a lively discussion as always, everyone!

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