Blame Franklin D. Roosevelt, or the Great Depression, or the herd mentality of media elites still hostile to Donald Trump. But assessing the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency has become a national obsession. Talking heads who wouldn’t know the New Deal from New Guinea have been contrasting the 45th president’s record with FDR’s — and it isn’t going well for The Donald.
Slate magazine, a liberal outlet, compared Trump’s first 100 days, unfavorably, to William Henry Harrison’s. The gag here is that President Harrison died on his 31st day in office. “The Simpsons” pictured President Trump in bed, a la Hugh Heffner, signing legislation that gives tax breaks only to Republicans. The New York Times proffered its predictable verdict: “[T]he least successful first 100 days since the concept existed.”
The “concept” entered America’s political lexicon in 1933, when the country was overwhelmed by an economic crisis that dwarfs current conditions. Faced with thousands of bank failures, crippling slowdowns in agriculture and industry, and massive job loss, President Roosevelt and the 73rd Congress enacted 15 major pieces of legislation between FDR’s March 4 inauguration and Congress’ June 16 adjournment. Some of these programs, including the Securities Act and the Tennessee Valley Authority, remain relevant and on the books.
“What was more, the nation’s spirits had been markedly lifted by this stunning display of political acumen and legislative achievement,” notes Stanford University historian David M. Kennedy. “In comparison, a flopped effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and a clutch of court-blocked executive orders looks like a pretty paltry record indeed.”
“FDR came out of the starting blocks like an Olympic sprinter,” Kennedy added. “Donald Trump appears still to be doing stretching exercises.”
That view is a near-consensus among educated elites and rank-and-file Democrats: The new occupant of the Oval Office hasn’t grown in office, as Harry Truman famously did, they say. The man with the signature blond mane is still the same old Donald J. Trump. And he has some really lousy poll numbers to prove it.
But when do the normal rules of political engagement even apply to someone who has defied all the conventions of American politics? Viewed traditionally, there’s ample evidence that this White House is incompetent. They can’t even do the little things right. On Day One, Trump and his aides tied themselves into knots over a seemingly innocuous fact: that Barack Obama’s first inauguration drew a larger crowd than Trump’s. That was in January, and things don’t seem to be improving. The staff nearly bollixed the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, and last week it couldn’t run a teacher-of-the-year ceremony smoothly.
If they can’t do the ceremonial, feel-good stuff, they obviously can’t negotiate the minefields posed by Syria, Iran, Russia and North Korea — right? Well, maybe…