For most people, the luxury of living in a stable democracy is the freedom of not having to follow politics with a nerve-racked constancy. Donald Trump’s ascension to power does not afford this.
On April 29th, Trump will have occupied the White House for a hundred days. In this short, yet critical period of time, his Presidency has become the demoralizing daily obsession of anyone concerned with global security, the vitality of the natural world, the national health, constitutionalism, civil rights, criminal justice, a free press, science, public education, and the distinction between fact and its opposite.
The hundred-day marker is never an entirely reliable indicator of a four-year term, but it’s worth remembering that Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama were among those who came to office at a moment of national crisis and had the discipline, the preparation, and the rigor to set an entirely new course.
In the same span, an impulsive, egocentric, and mendacious Trump has set fire to the integrity of his office.
Trump has created a reputation for himself of an unprincipled, cocky, value-free con who will insult, stiff, or betray anyone to achieve his gaudiest purposes. But what was once a parochial amusement is now a national and global peril. His constant blunders undermine the country he has been elected to serve and the stability he is pledged to ensure, and his blatant lies create a generalized anxiety that makes the great depression pale in comparison.
He appears to strut through the world forever studying his own image. He thinks out loud, and is incapable of reflection. He is unserious, unfocussed, and, at times, it seems, unhinged. Journalists are invited to the Oval Office to ask about infrastructure; he turns the subject to how Bill O’Reilly, late of Fox News, is a “good person,” blameless, like him, in matters of sexual harassment. A reporter asks about the missile attack on Syria; he feeds her a self-satisfied description of how he informed his Chinese guests at Mar-a-Lago of the strike over “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen.”
Trump’s list of domestic initiatives is largely confined to reversals of achievements of the Obama era. His first hundred days are marked by these disastrous achievements:
1. His attempt at a Muslim ban, which failed in the courts.
2. His attempt to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, which imploded in the House of Representatives.
3. Proposed an expansion of the prison at Guantánamo and ordered the easing of Dodd-Frank financial regulations.
3. Reversed plans to save wetlands and protect waterways from coal waste.
5. Reversed executive orders that banned gun sales to the mentally ill and that protected L.G.B.T. federal employees from discrimination.
6. His Vice-President voted in a Senate tiebreaker to allow states to defund Planned Parenthood clinics.
Because of the lavish travel habits of his family, Trump is shaping up to be the most expensive executive in history to guard. At the same time, his budget proposals would, if passed in Congress, cut the funding of after-school programs, rental-assistance programs, the Community Development Block Grant program, legal assistance for the poor, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
One success they can name is the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, although that his seat was stolen from Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.
The clownish veneer of Trumpism conceals its true danger. Donald Trump’s way of lying is not a joke; it is a strategy, a way of clouding our capacity to think, to live in a realm of truth. It is said that each epoch dreams the one to follow.
The task for the American people now is not merely to recognize this Presidency for the emergency it is, and to resist its assault on the principles of reality and the values of liberal democracy, but to devise a future, to debate, to hear one another, to organize, to preserve and revive our precious democracy.