Halfway through his first 100 days in office, President Donald Trump has checked some boxes on his list of promises, but often in a haphazard fashion. At times, it seems Trump cares more about being able to claim he kept his word than about solving the problems that provoked the promises. Yet there are positive things happening for which he can claim varying degrees of credit.
Friday brought a good jobs report, with unemployment down two-tenths of a point to 4.7 percent and wages growing. The stock market is booming, and surveys show high confidence numbers among consumers and chief executives.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said illegal crossings at the Southern border were down 40 percent last month, meaning 13,000 fewer people came in. Trump’s aggressive stance is likely the cause.
Samsung plans to create 500 jobs for workers building microwave ovens in the United States, the latest of several announcements Trump uses to show he’s sparking the economy.
It’s too early to say exactly what economic news he deserves credit for, but it’s reasonable to believe his tireless combination of encouraging companies to build here and threatening those that don’t has led some businesses to alter plans. But it’s also just desserts that Trump has so frequently argued unemployment statistics can’t be trusted. The attempt from spokesman Sean Spicer to gloss over Trump’s attack on unemployment figures — “They might have been phony in the past but it’s very real now” — is a quote no “Saturday Night Live” skit will ever improve on.
And a look at the first 50 days shows much chaos caused by Trump’s bizarre comments and very little effective governance from his initiatives.
On March 4, Trump unleashed tweets claiming former President Barack Obama had his phones tapped. Since then, Trump has provided no evidence. A wiretapping order by a president is a serious crime. Law enforcement officials say it never happened. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says there is no evidence. Trump’s claiming it and not backing it up is disturbing.
Then on Monday, Trump introduced his second version of the temporary travel ban, but with no fanfare this time. The ban still denies visas to citizens of six countries and blocks refugees, but less clearly targets Muslims for exclusion. It does respect current visa and green-card holders. The new ban might hold up, but that would further the argument that Trump should slow down: Ideally he would have done it right in the first place.
More important, the United States doesn’t have a refugee problem. The United States has a problem with its entire system of immigration. We need rational visa rules. We have 11 million people here illegally, and we need sane policies that will allow a path to permanent legal status while deporting those who commit violent crimes. The Muslim ban achieves none of those goals and won’t keep us safer.
The biggest news last week came when House Republicans released their plan to replace Obamacare. Again, it’s a plan that allows Trump to say, “I did it,” but not, “I did it carefully and well.” It will likely cost 6 million to 10 million people their coverage while hobbling Medicare, Medicaid and the ability of older Americans to buy insurance. There are problems with health care coverage that need to be addressed, but this plan fails to.
House committees approved parts of the proposed bill even before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had evaluated its effect on the nation’s needs and coffers. The haste serves Trump’s desire to prove he acted, damn the obstacles. His surrogates began pre-emptive attacks on the credibility of the CBO, trying to discredit a valuable, trusted clearinghouse out of fear it will embarrass them.
Even the State Department is being marginalized. Mexico’s top diplomat came to the White House, but no one told State.
Trump was also quick to move on the promise to raise military spending by $54 billion. But he did so recklessly, via huge cuts at critical agencies, like the IRS, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and yes, the State Department.
And Friday, the Trump team was again bitten by its carelessness and disregard for proper vetting and ethics disclosures. News reports revealed that the president’s transition team knew that Michael Flynn had taken $530,000 to lobby for the Turkish government, all while he was attending intelligence briefings with Trump. The Turkey contract ended after the election, but Flynn was eventually forced to resign as national security adviser after lying about contact with a Russian official.
Trump continues to get results with rhetoric, but he’s failing to manage the government. Many voters loved him because he doesn’t speak in politicalese, is retreating from globalism and is willing to question everything about a bureaucracy that often is hidebound and silly. There are signs that when it comes to the economy, his approach may bear fruit. But he can’t shake things up so carelessly that he breaks them.
That means thoughtful communication that doesn’t diminish the presidency. That means prudent action with big changes to health care that allows time to rate the benefits and the costs. That means not trashing critical institutions just because they don’t cheerlead every move.
And it means worrying less about checking off the boxes of our nation’s problems and more about fixing them.