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While President Trump is technically correct in that the first 100 days is an arbitrary limit to examine the effectiveness of a presidency, it is a useful benchmark as it is usually the period of a presidency with the highest approval ratings, and is usually productive. Donald Trump’s presidency has been notably not productive, with no legislative achievements, most governing done through executive action (the most touted of which have been put on restraining order by various courts), and little else. Here is an examination of Trump’s achievements of the first 100 days.
After a contentious lack of a hearing for Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court President Trump put forward his own nomination on January 31, 2017; this was nearly a year after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who Garland would have replaced. Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed on April 7. This is unquestionably an achievement for Trump, but the majority of the work was done by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in preventing a vote on Garland.
In 1993, after several missteps to appoint an attorney general, Bill Clinton finally nominated the first woman attorney general, Janet Reno, who was unanimously confirmed. These missteps helped to shape his beginning impression as learning the ropes of the Washington political arena, and also indicated exactly how much of an influential advisor Hillary Clinton was to the administration.
The president’s Cabinet choices have been hard fought, in one case requiring vice president to cast the deciding vote, which was unprecedented with appointments. Many of his other choices have been extremely close, or voted on by strict party lines, although some were confirmed much easier. Even while the president complains about the Senate holding up his nominations in the confirmation process(such as Jon Huntsman for ambassador to Russia), the truth is that there are hundreds of positions that have not even been nominated, including many ambassadorial positions. 475 of the 554 key positions that require Senate confirmation have received no name to put forward.
After his healthcare plan, the AHCA, stalled in the House, President Trump had to rework his tax plan, which depended on cuts within his attempt to repeal the ACA. The new tax plan contains several parts that seem to be standard Republican ideas; corporate tax cuts (although Trump’s suggested rate is 15% which is significantly lower than most previously proposed) are a significant part of the plan. Cut taxes have rarely resulted in the promised raise in revenue in the past, and if they don’t materialize here, the President’s plan would dramatically increase the deficit. Although what has been released so far is just an outline, it seems that all of the most detailed aspects of the plan would hugely benefit Donald Trump personally.
In his first 100 days, President Obama was able to pass his stimulus package, which helped to begin to stem the tide of the banking crisis, although some argue its efficacy, with arguments on both sides. FDR, whose presidency began in the chaos of the Great Depression and a bank run, was able to help stem the tide of that banking crisis, by calling for a holiday, and then reassuring the American people on the strength of the system. He also created such organizations as the FDIC and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The first 100 days is not necessarily an indication of an easy or hard presidency. Ronald Reagan also gave his tax plan (which was an actual bill by that point) early in his presidency, but it is difficult to know where that would have gone without outside influence, as he was shot on March 30, 1981. While Bill Clinton’s budget moved through congress relatively easily, his many other agenda items got him somewhat stuck. He attempted to achieve a myriad of other things, and alienated congress by doing so, from Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, his own stimulus program, and putting Hillary in charge of Healthcare reform. This alienation caused a large part of his agenda to stall, some with consequences still felt to this day. However, while his first 100 days were difficult, the rest of Clinton’s terms were relatively successful.
Trump’s foreign policy does not seem to be bound by a cohesive strategy. He authorized a disastrous raid in Yemen, although he was resistant to take the responsibility for it. He authorized the missile strikes in Syria after a gas attack. While the use of a MOAB in Afghanistan (the largest nonnuclear weapon in the arsenal of the United States) made headlines, it seems to have been used for its designed purpose (neutralization of underground assets), and so is not as much of an escalation as advertised.
The big problem with Trump’s foreign policy is his inability to grasp the importance of Diplomatic and soft power. His first suggested budget cut the Department of State to a ludicrous degree, with Secretary Rex Tillerson recently announcing staffing cuts of almost 9% to confirm this vision of a reduced Department. This is in addition to laying off much of the seventh floor staff, which was a link to consular offices worldwide. America’s security and dominance in the world depends on our diplomatic power, and it seems as if those in charge simply have no grasp of its effectiveness. Trump’s comments dismissing everything from NATO to our allies’ efforts concerning Korea do nothing to make our country more secure, and in fact damage our position. We need a clear diplomatic strategy moving forward, and this administration seems to lack even the awareness of its necessity.
Presidents that are reacting to crises or war have more cachet and impetus from Congress to act. In his first 100 days, Truman, for example, ended WWII in Europe, dropped the atomic bombs, and ended the war with Japan. He also helped with the writing of the United Nations’ charter. While Trump has no such crisis, that doesn’t mean he has no ability to act, as the presidency has the most free reign on foreign policy matters.
Tempora et Mores
The most significant effect Trump has had on the culture of Washington is the way the government communicates with the people. Twitter has now become the standard, with everyone hanging onto the president’s feed for the next entertaining morsel. Where before statements were well crafted, extemporaneous stream of thought now rules the day, with analysis on what exactly the president might have been watching on everyone’s mind.
Transparency is also an antithesis to this government. Everything from what was once the standard of the president releasing tax returns (the recent tax outline is suspected to save Donald Trump tens of millions of dollars personally) to personnel is now treated as privileged information. Further, it seems that as different factions vie for power within the administration, they will leak information (or even just outright create it) in order to advantage themselves in some way.
1365 days left
Obviously, more was done than mentioned here. Clinton’s Family and Medical Leave act was signed. Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The Peace Corps was established by Kennedy, although ratification came later. Both Nixon and those who dodged the draft for Vietnam were pardoned. There is more to a presidency than any small, discrete period of time. Large issues take a long time to hammer out in Congress, and the influence of a president can be felt for years, if not decades afterwards. It is just one among many measures of a president, and despite Trump’s insistence, he doesn’t measure up.