Op-Ed: Let’s count the ways Donald Trump has gone where no president has gone before
We are not yet 100 days into the Trump presidency, but already the president has clocked one unenviable milestone after another. It’s all too easy to take for granted the broken norms that characterize this administration. So it’s important to pause and consider just how unprecedented the craziness has been. Herewith, a partial list of the myriad ways in which Donald Trump has already gone where no president has gone before.
He is the first president to:
• Be elected with the help of a hostile foreign power. The U.S. intelligence community released a unanimous assessment on Jan. 6 that concluded that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” and that Putin “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances.”
• Be investigated by the FBI for possible collusion with that same hostile foreign power. FBI Director James B. Comey has confirmed that his agents are looking into “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.”
• So fulsomely express admiration for a Russian dictator — Trump has praised Putin for being “very smart,” “strong” and a real “leader,” while dismissing any concerns about Putin’s numerous human rights violations by saying, “You think our country is so innocent?”
Of 553 key positions in the executive branch, Trump has failed to fill 488 of them — 88%.
• Lie so regularly and brazenly, and often about matters, such as the size of his inauguration crowds, that are of little consequence. PolitiFact reports that only 17% of Trump’s statements are “true” or “mainly true,” with the rest ranging from “half true” to “pants on fire.”
• Accuse his predecessor of “Watergate/Nixon” crimes by supposedly putting a “tapp” on his phones, and to then be publicly called out on his lies by his own FBI and National Security Agency directors, who testified that they know of no evidence that President Obama tapped Trump.
• Rely so prominently on his family in government. After John F. Kennedy made his brother attorney general, Congress passed an anti-nepotism law in 1967. Based on a questionable legal interpretation, however, the administration claims the statute doesn’t apply to White House staff. Trump is giving his daughter Ivanka a security clearance and a West Wing office without forcing her to give up ownership of her clothing company, while making her husband, Jared Kushner, “lead adviser” on relations with China, Mexico, Canada and the Middle East, all subjects on which he has no background.
• Have so many blatant conflicts of interest. Since winning the presidency, Trump has doubled membership fees at his “Winter White House,” Mar-a-Lago in Florida, to $200,000 and won valuable trademark protections from China. He has not placed his ownership of the Trump Organization into a blind trust. His sons, who are running his real estate empire, continue to pursue lucrative deals with dubious, politically connected tycoons from Turkey, Dubai, Malaysia and other countries. It’s hard to track all of the conflicts of interest, because of course Trump is also the first president in decades to not release his taxes.
• Appoint his former campaign chairman to the National Security Council’s Principals Committee in spite of his lack of national security credentials. True, President Reagan made campaign manager William J. Casey his CIA director, but Casey had previously served in the OSS — the agency’s predecessor — and in senior government positions. By contrast, Stephen K. Bannon formerly ran Breitbart News, a white-nationalist website, before being granted rank comparable to Defense secretary or secretary of State.
• Fire his first national security advisor, Michael Flynn, after only 24 days in office, because Flynn lied about making contact with the Russian ambassador. The shortest previous tenure on record was Richard Allen, who lasted nearly a year at the beginning of the Reagan administration.
• Leave so many executive branch jobs vacant. Of 553 key positions, Trump has failed to fill 488 of them — 88%. At the departments of State and Defense, the only confirmed appointees are the Cabinet members.
• So vitriolically attack the judiciary. Trump attacked a federal judge who put a hold on his executive order on immigration as a “so-called judge” who issued a “terrible decision” that will result in “many very bad and dangerous people … pouring into our country.” Even Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil M. Gorsuch, called the president’s attacks “demoralizing” and “disheartening.”
• Publicly denounce the media as “the enemy of the American people.” He regularly castigates the “fake news media” for reporting truthfully on his administration, with special venom for the “failing New York Times,” whose stock has risen 30% since the election.
• Be so ignorant of public policy. According to New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, citing a “senior European diplomat,” at his recent meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, “Trump knew nothing of the proposed European-American deal known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, little about Russian aggression in Ukraine or the Minsk agreements, and was so scatterbrained that German officials concluded that the president’s daughter Ivanka, who had no formal reason to be there, was the more prepared and helpful.”
• See two of his signature initiatives — an attempt to limit Muslim immigration and to repeal Obamacare — defeated so early in his first term.
It should be no surprise that as a result of all of these firsts, Trump has chalked up another dubious achievement: He is the first president to have such low approval ratings so soon after taking office. According to Gallup, just 38% of those surveyed approve of Trump’s job performance. The lowest previous tally for any president about two months after taking office was 53%; that was Bill Clinton’s mark in 1993. As Trump would say, we live in “unpresidented” times.
Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a contributing editor to Opinion.
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