Opinion: Seven different ways to look at President Trump’s first 100 days

President Trump addresses a joint session of Congress in February.
President Trump addresses a joint session of Congress in February.
(Jim Lo Scalzo / Associated Press)

The Times’ editorial board laid out its criticisms of President Trump in a six-part series earlier this month, so there’s little new for us to say at his first-100-day milestone. But the series focused on Trump’s character, which is the most troublesome aspect of his presidency, not on what he’d accomplished. Those accomplishments — the policies he has pursued, the orders he’s issued, the appointments he’s steered through the Senate — are what the White House has been touting as this time-honored but wholly artificial milestone approached.

So in that spirit, here are seven ways to think about what the new president has done through his first 14 weeks and two days in office:

1. The snow flurry presidency

Trump has been a whirlwind of activity, issuing some 30 executive orders and signing a roughly equal number of bills into law, while also steering a Supreme Court nominee through the Senate, proposing a major tax cut, holding summits with multiple world leaders and offering a blueprint for a budget that would dramatically shift spending priorities.

Many of those actions were simply proposals or preparatory steps for possible future moves, however, and the most consequential of the bills he signed into law would only undo things his predecessor had done. So thus far, at least, it’s not clear how much of what the administration is churning out will produce real, new initiatives. A lot of snow is falling, but how much will accumulate?


2. The predict-me-not presidency

Trump has dutifully carried out a number of the promises he made on the campaign trail, such as the one withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But on a whole series of other fronts, he has reversed himself in the face of hard truths about policymaking and foreign relations.

China was a currency manipulator on the campaign trail’ now it’s not. Allowing Syria’s brutal dictator Bashar Assad to stay in power used to be the realistic thing to do; now it’s unconscionable. Medicaid once was sacrosanct; now it needs to be cut by 25%. The list of policy shifts goes on and on. Candidate Trump said he wanted to be unpredictable, and he has certainly brought that approach to the Oval Office.

3. The newbie presidency

One thing voters liked about Trump is that he’s spent his life in the business world, not toiling within the government they’d lost faith in. But being inexperienced in the ways of Washington isn’t necessarily an asset, as evidenced by the administration’s multiple pratfalls.

The unforced errors started even before Trump was sworn in, when the president-elect tabbed Michael Flynn to be his national security advisor without subjecting him to the vetting that post demanded. Since then, we’ve seen the administration shoot itself in the foot time and again — for example, by making demonstrably false claims, issuing ultimatums that lawmakers ignored, creating error-ridden public databases and botching an attempted show of force in the Korean peninsula. These are rookie mistakes.


4. The plutocrat presidency

He may have been the most populist-sounding presidential candidate since the 1970s, but Trump has stacked his Cabinet and top administration posts with millionaires and billionaires. In particular, he’s shown an affinity for Wall Street titans – five Goldman Sachs alumni are either in or awaiting confirmation to top positions, and a former lawyer for Goldman Sachs is Trump’s pick to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Some very able governmental officials have been Wall Streeters, so there’s nothing wrong with dipping into that talent pool. It’s a problem only if there are no other perspectives within the president’s inner circle to provide balance. And in Trump’s case, at least, some of the Wall Streeters have been the voices of reason on trade policy and other economic issues.

5. The ‘it’s complicated’ presidency

Having conceded that healthcare is, in fact, a complex issue (who knew?) and that containing North Korea was “not so easy,” the latest admission from Trump is that being president itself is hard. Some have found this admission a nice bit of humility from a guy so hubristic that he once said he knew more about defeating Islamic State “than the generals do.” But it seems more like a forehead-smacking moment, as in how could anybody not know how difficult it would be to lead an operation with a nearly $4-trillion dollar budget, a civilian workforce of more than 2 million and a military deployed around the globe?

Chalk it up not just to Trump’s inexperience, but also to his lack of preparation for the job. Maybe if he’d known how much work was involved, he wouldn’t have run for it.


6. The direct-to-public presidency

President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously used radio broadcasts to take his message straight to the public, with no news-media intermediaries — a practice that presidents have continued to this day. But Trump quickly established himself as the King of Unfiltered Communications with his (wee hours) use of Twitter. He’s so enamored with the platform, he has two accounts: @realDonaldTrump and @POTUS, the official White House version.

Whether that’s a good thing depends on whether you think a president should be filtered, if not by the news media than at least by cooler heads in the administration. Trump has used Twitter to further his us-vs.-them view of politics and policy, and to reduce complicated (there’s that word again) issues to 140 characters. It’s the perfect tool for a presidency without nuance.

7. The anti-Obama presidency

Among the many Republicans running in the 2016 primaries, Trump was probably the least ideologically Republican. He ran more against the Washington establishment than he did against the Democratic Party vision of an activist government.

In his first 100 days as president, however, Trump has moved dramatically to the right. His proposals to eliminate dozens of federal programs and slash the anti-poverty safety net, his aggressive push to roll back regulations, his call for enormous tax cuts and his drill-baby-drill approach to energy production in the face of a changing climate all are ripped from the Heritage Foundation playbook. It’s as if Trump is scouring the government for his predecessor’s fingerprints, then trying to erase them.


Twitter: @jcahealey