Today is day 100 of the presidency of Donald J. Trump. And we’re all still here.
While it’s a pretty silly exercise to try to evaluate the effectiveness of an administration in a hundred days, the last three months or so have certainly given us some things to think about. It’s a bit like the first drive of the Super Bowl. It’s not going to determine the outcome. But you get a sense of what the team with the ball thought was a good idea with after a long time thinking about it.
To that point, it’s pretty clear that the Trump administration had a few ideas about what running the federal government was about. It’s clear that they thought that executive orders were something easily done and carried out. The same can be said for offensive military actions. It’s clear that they didn’t firmly grasp the actual mechanics of judicial review either.
Those are all things that we can likely file into the category of growing pains I guess, maybe not something to be too concerned about. Unless you’re one of the many people impacted by those early decisions.
The President tipped his hand a bit this week in an interview when he said being president was “harder than he thought it would be.” That statement was met with incredulity by many a critic. I didn’t mind it. It’s what every president has ever said after they left. He just blurted it out a little early. Trump style.
Why not, right? It’s just another bizarre thing we’ve gotten used to already.
There is something to note about the last 100 days that’s actually pretty material though. It was subtle at first, but as each day goes by, it’s becoming clearer. It’s actually a little bit, well, normal. It’s that Donald Trump is in fact, a Republican president. Or more accurately, he’s a Donald Trump version of a Republican president; grossly exaggerated, undisciplined and entirely unencumbered by any need whatsoever to appear decent or principled. But recognizably conservative. And there’s something actually counter-intuitively comforting about that.
Now, before we mistake this for me saying that everything is ok and we should all relax, it’s worth noting that I’m really just saying that it appears that we likely elected a strange and so far not super effective Republican president when many originally feared we handed the keys to Hitler.
So, yes, I’m relieved, somewhat.
In hindsight though, with a few months of distance behind us now, if you think what Donald Trump did during the election was something directionally different, I’d challenge that. The velocity and veracity of it was new and it lost a bit in the insanity of its delivery, but it was, in effect, the same old Republican campaign message. It was the tried and true strategy of winning the electorate by linking the Dixie Block Nations, as Colin Woodward calls in his fantastic chronicle of American cultural history American Nations, with the Appalachian thread of the midwest through the common values of white superiority and religion.
Since Trump was light on religion, though he did make a miraculous conversion, he knew he could stir the pot of latent white resentment to solidify a movement. That’s has been the Republican way to win elections since the Civil Rights Act.
Woodard wrote his book in 2011, years before anyone took Trump seriously.
Now that Trump’s in Office, we can see the well-worn conservative path materialize even more clearly by triangulating the Trump campaign rhetoric with the first hundred days in office and the Trump exaggerated circus multiplier (trademark to follow?) and it’s nearly mathematical.
Historian Thomas Franke lays out the eerily similar conservative blueprint in What’s the Matter with Kansas in 2005 when he attempted to describe how his home Appalachian state slowly swung from working class Democratic to staunch Republican. Note the date. It was before anyone even knew who Barack Obama was. Franke’s description of campaigns transitioning into governance seem as if they were written on a cocktail napkin that Steve Bannon slid over to the Donald at a fundraiser:
“Vote to stop abortion, receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking. Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining.”
Which brings us back to that same place we were, when we were left with the poor choices that got us in this mess. Donald Trump may learn a few things and get his administration together and actually accomplish things that may turn out to be good things for our country. But we’ll be forced to ask the question.
Was it worth it?
Was it worth ceding the norm of personal decency and opening up the old wounds of racial politics to get a weird, marginally effective, Republican president?
I would imagine that for many Americans that President Trump was willing to target as the enemy during his campaign to gain power, that answer is no. And I don’t have to imagine, as an American that cares about them, my answer is the same.