Arbitrary, for sure, but a measure nonetheless — the first 100 days. How has President Donald Trump done? I am getting out ahead of the story as his 100th day will be April 29.
Bear with me briefly as I just attached a wider-angle lens.
Turkey just had an election, narrowly and controversially approving constitutional changes that give its president much more power. The changes were pushed by Recep Erdogan, the current president, who was almost ousted in a coup several months ago. The changes were supported by only 51 percent of voters, and the Erdogan government censored much of the opposition campaign.
America doesn’t do coups or censor opposition parties. And it is almost impossible to change the Constitution, which is one reason our fights over who sits on the Supreme Court are so hard-fought. So as we assess the president, we should also grade ourselves and our political institutions. Presidents do not win elections or govern in a vacuum.
First, Trump. He would want to be first; nothing seems to move without a Trump context. Too bad.
At the 50-day mark, I would have given Trump an F, today a C minus. He is beginning to have a better feel for the job and whose advice is sound. Contrary to hard-core opponents, he seems capable of learning. Plus, he has pivoted more of his attention to international initiatives where the president has more discretion and his staff and cabinet support is better. Plus, he needed at least the appearance of short-term successes before going back to Congress on domestic issues. And believe me, in international affairs, final judgments on short-term actions are long in coming.
Congress, facing deadlines on financial affairs, gets an incomplete. Congress is always difficult to lead and a 100-day assessment would be unduly arbitrary. I should point out, however, that the Senate Minority Leader, Democrat Chuck Schumer, gave the Republicans a gift in forcing them to rescind minority rights to achieve confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch. The Republican majority, in order to pass any test, must now be more purposeful and cohesive.
If I were grading the majority in the House of Representatives, they would get an F. Theresa May, Britain’s Prime Minister just called a snap election for members of Parliament. Too bad that political tool cannot be used here.
The news media would get the same grade as Trump, a C minus. In the last week, it has been more likely to cover policy; a good thing. It is still, however, too consumed with Trump as a personality, outlier and entertainer. Hopefully, certain media will quit spilling ink by the barrel on him and indirectly his supporters. It does them no credit and fertilizes his “fake news” assaults. Hopefully, Trump will someday acknowledge, indeed appreciate, that the media does not exist to make his life easier and shouldn’t. Fat chance.
The free speech guarantee in our Constitution is sacred. The news media should work every day to live up to its corresponding obligations. When the coverage of any person or event is predictable, the publication is not serving the public interest. There is too much predictability in the coverage of Trump.
The political parties. Owls can pivot their head 270 degrees. They are said to be wise. At this moment, America suffers from stiff necks that can barely pivot from their intenseness as they double down on the orthodoxies of their bases that led to their rejection last year. Lacking internal knowledge on what turnaround strategies might be in the works, I’ll be charitable and give each a D.
Let me close by commenting briefly on us — those who support candidates and vote in elections. It is said that we get the government we deserve. In the 21st century this is not necessarily true.
U.S. politics are now gerrymandered, underwritten by concentrations of wealth, distorted by entertainment posing as news and given scant attention by a distracted culture. But, signs of life are encouraging. Members of Congress and especially Republicans are being tested at town hall meetings; in a republic, that is a good thing. So, to the public that is fighting stiff head winds, I would give a B minus.
America needs renewal. Are there any reformers who can also lead? If so, it is not too early to prepare for 2020 when the hard left and right need to be defeated by hard realities.
Photo by Diego Cambiaso
Al Sikes’ leadership helped shape the arc of 21st century communication technologies from positions as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and then President of Hearst New Media. In 2004, the Manhattan Institute chose Sikes as one of eight winners of the Social Entrepreneurship Award for having founded READ ALLIANCE, which trains teenagers to tutor children with reading deficiencies. Sikes second book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow was recently published by Koehler Books.