Friday, April 28, 2017

Lessons We've Learned in 100 Days, Just 7% of a Presidency

What’s the betting line on Donald Trump hoping, wishing, praying that TV writers go on strike May 2, thus silencing his many late night television critics including Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, John Oliver and Trevor Noah? 

The last strike, from Nov. 5, 2007, to Feb. 12, 2008, gave President George W. Bush a little breathing room, a 100-day respite from nightly deprecation, disdain, ridicule and humiliation.

100 days. Hmmmm.  Where have I heard that time span before?  Oh, yeah—100 days, as in the first 100 days of a new presidency.

The obsession with Donald Trump’s first 100 days sitting behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office is suffocating. The media, naturally, have a stake in advancing this obsession. It makes for good copy. Strong ratings. But let’s not give the bloviator-in-chief a pass. He, after all, last October at Gettysburg outlined in detail what he would accomplish during his first 100 days as president. He even issued a contract with the American voter.

Given that Republicans have tricameral control of the government—the White House and both chambers of Congress (actually, now that Neil Gorsuch has donned his supreme black robe the GOP has quatracameral control)—I would rate Trump’s tenure in office a solid B, not for achievement, but rather for the learning experience it has accorded us.

Let’s face it. Any Republican elected president was going to nominate a conservative justice to the Supreme Court. As well, a GOP president would cut funding to Planned Parenthood and international abortion providers/counselors, as Reagan and Bush I and Bush II did. And he (a she is still not possible) would be dismissive of climate change, though probably not as ignorant as Trump is. And he’d suck up to the NRA.

What Trump has provided is a civics lesson on checks and balances as intended by the Constitution. Moreover, he and his cadre of acolytes have shown us what autocracy and dictatorship can sound like, as when Stephen Miller said the president can do what he wants, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions denigrated a state (Hawaii) and a judge for thwarting the administration’s plans to punish sanctuary cities. 

It was reprehensible during the campaign when Trump maligned a federal judge involved in a lawsuit alleging fraud at Trump University. Trump is not a lawyer. He reacted tempestuously, as he does whenever confronted. But Sessions is a lawyer; he’s supposed to be the nation’s top lawyer. For him to question the checks and balances role of the judiciary as defined by the Constitution is a clear reflection on what the Trump administration thinks.

We also cannot ignore the lesson we have been given on the Holocaust, first by Trump not including any mention of the six million Jews killed by Nazi Germany in his statement on Holocaust Memorial Day, but also by Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s outrageously inept explanation of why Bashar al-Assad’s chemical warfare attack on his people was worse than what Hitler did during World War II. 

Trump and family and his appointments are a continuing lesson in conflict of interest examples. Be honest—had you ever heard the word “emoluments” before Trump? 

We’ve also come to appreciate the insidious actions Vladimir Putin and Russia have inflicted on our democracy and other elected governments around the world.

For his part, Trump’s near 100-day tenure has enlightened him to the complexity of government, from his difficulty getting Obamacare repealed and replaced to the layered relationship between China and North Korea. It’s not as easy as he thought, he has admitted. Too, while he criticized President Obama for issuing executive orders instead of working with Congress to pass legislation, and for excessive golfing outings, Trump has fallen into the same trap. But unlike Obama, his party controls both houses of Congress.

Populism helped transport Trump to Washington. Populism also is behind resistance to Trump, though maintaining a high level of involvement will be difficult to sustain for four years, or even 18 more months until the next congressional election cycle.  

Perhaps the saddest lesson of Trump’s nascent presidency is the susceptibility of a vast segment of the public to fake news. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found slightly more than half of Republicans (52%) believe Obama wiretapped Trump Tower despite there being no evidence it happened and numerous statements by heads of intelligence and law enforcement agencies that it didn’t happen. They believe it because Trump repeatedly said it did. 

It’s the “big-lie-repeated-often-enough-becomes-truth” syndrome. How sad that the American public has lost faith in traditional media to expose falsehoods. How sad that the American public has become so bifurcated that extremists on both sides of the divide set the national dialogue. How sad that “compromise” has become anathema to politicians. How sad that gerrymandering has negated the need to compromise. Perhaps not since the Civil War have families been so divided on the outlook for domestic tranquility.

It may seem longer, but Trump’s first 100 days is just 7% of his term of office (assuming, he’s not re-elected). How much damage could he do? David Brooks of The New York Times ended his Friday column calling Trump a “political pond skater—one of those little creatures that flit across the surface, sort of fascinating to watch, but have little effect as they go.”

I disagree. Trump will have an effect that may not be reparable in four or eight years on the global environment, on domestic clean air and water, on America’s standing in the community of nations, on our internal ability to work together as a people toward a common good. 

If ever we needed the escape of political satire to get us through the next 100 days and beyond it is now, so please, let’s not have a TV writers strike.