Michael D'Antonio: Trump at 100 days is just like the Trump who has always been: self-aggrandizing, prone to mistakes
He says but what's OK for an NY publicity hound is unconscionable, dangerous for a President
Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” (St. Martin’s Press). The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Aboard Air Force One, which he has used to commute almost weekly to his resort in Florida, Trump recently bragged of his great early success. “I think we’ve had one of the most successful 13 weeks in the history of the presidency,” he said as, oddly, the image of Darth Vader flashed on a video screen beside him.
The trouble was Trump had completed just his 11th week as president, not his 13th, perhaps indicating he is as disoriented as anyone, what with his innumerable advances and retreats in pursuit of actual successes.
Donald Trump’s controversy-a-day style has produced news at such an exhausting rate that it feels like he has held office forever.
His is the first presidency occurring in the equivalent of dog years, with domestic and foreign policy changing so rapidly that 100 days with Trump feels like two years with any other commander in chief. He is governing in the fashion in which he has lived his life, like an over-eager puppy who is all wriggly, attention-seeking, impulsive, prone to mistakes and clumsy to clean up.
Trump’s rabid supporters like him in part because he rejects the conventional. But even he seems to grasp that a President must meet certain benchmarks.
The fact is that, 100 days in, our President remains very much the man he was throughout his frenetic and haphazard decades in the public eye. If you track Trump’s record, as I have, you find yourself following a thousand pathways, many of which lead to dead ends. Recall that among the roles he has adopted and thrown off over the years include pro-football league leader, gambling casino magnate, mortgage lender and “university” founder.
And how different is it for Trump to use Twitter to bizarrely suggest, among other strange things, that President Obama had him wiretapped than it was for him to use tabloid trickery in his New York days? Back then, these tricks included assuming false identities to drum up publicity for himself.
With his Obama wiretapping accusation – a scandal on a level with “Nixon/Watergate,” he declared – Trump was the same reckless provocateur New Yorkers have always known. The difference, of course, is that what was playful for a Manhattan publicity hound is unconscionable for a President.
Unfounded allegations posted on his own Twitter account inevitably damage Trump’s credibility and the office he occupies. They also pose a challenge to anyone relying on Trump’s word. Devin Nunes learned this the hard way. Apparently eager to help the President out with the wiretapping nonsense, Rep. Nunes made a dead-of-night visit to the White House complex and then announced he had seen documents supporting the idea that Obama officials had spied on Trump folks.
But when Nunes, too, failed to produce proof, he had to step down from his position leading an investigation of the Russian election meddling.
If Nunes acted on the assurance that the White House had proof of Obama’s wiretapping, he was either deliberately misled or hasn’t ever paid attention to the way Trump operates. Trump has long been a flamethrower and anyone who gets too close runs the risk of getting burned.
The new President also set fire to our political system with his reckless claim that as many as 5 million illegal votes were cast in the election. These are all the acts of a man who still confuses self-promotion with the pursuit of success, mistaking headlines for achievement and the needs of his own ego for the national interest.
Trump’s extreme rhetoric, character flaws and obvious lack of relevant experience so concern the American people that a record-setting number of people turned out to protests held on January 21. (By one account, 1 in every 100 Americans participated.)
And true to his Trump-centric nature, the President has done little to calm the nation’s anxiety about him. Gallup reported that Trump’s approval rating is the lowest in history for a president nearing the 100-day mark in his first term. At 41%, Trump’s favorability rating trail’s Obama’s by 22 points.
What’s more, even with his own party in control of Congress, Trump remarkably couldn’t deliver on the big promise that would have pleased his base — repealing and replacing Obamacare. Here the trouble was that candidate Trump had promised to keep all the good parts of the health care system, including guaranteed coverage for dependents up to age 26, while removing the elements that pay for them.
As his West Wing staff set about working with members of Congress to reach a deal, it became clear that neither the administration nor the GOP in Congress had done the work required to actually improve the system and do better by the American people. Trump hilariously declared “nobody knew health care was so complicated.”
With the nation watching, the self-proclaimed great negotiator ran out of moves and chose to be photographed behind the wheel of a big truck, looking for all the world like a little boy pretending to drive. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan withdrew the plan before he and the President could suffer a humiliating roll call defeat. The image that emerged from this debacle was of a President unable to close a deal even when he was negotiating with people in his own party.
Despite all the failures, Trump continues to apply the skills and strategies of his past to the present, even though running a family real estate empire isn’t remotely like being President of the United States. For example, Trump has always struggled to trust others and surrounded himself with family members charged with bearing enormous responsibilities, whether they were qualified or not.
He’s doing the same in the White House, turning to his daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Trump has added so many responsibilities to Kushner’s portfolio that this young man with absolutely no experience in public service can now be seen as a “mini-me” version of the President.
Add to this daughter Ivanka’s installation in a White House office as “adviser” and it’s easy to get the impression that the 45th President is trying to run the country the way he ran his family business, with relatives holding the positions closest to him. Americans aren’t very happy with this arrangement. A Quinnipiac University poll released April 20 showed a majority think Jared and Ivanka’s roles are “inappropriate.”
Another Trump trope he has brought to the White House is his lifelong habit of changing his mind whenever it suits him, refusing to be held to prior statements and claims.
So, first it’s China manipulates its currency. Now (he says) it doesn’t. First, it’s the North Atlantic Treaty organization (NATO) is obsolete. Now he says it’s not. First the Russian strongman Vladimir Putin is worthy of admiration. Now Trump is in conflict with Putin. First the Federal Reserve Bank’s interest rate policies were wrong. Now he approves. And so on.
As with these reversals, Trump has simply set aside a great many of his campaign promises. For example, not a single linear foot of new wall has been constructed along the US border. (He’d promised to get started on day one of his presidency.)
On foreign affairs, the isolationist candidate Trump has been replaced by an interventionist Trump, and again he has made himself ridiculous while trying to ratchet up pressure on Kim Jong Un by announcing that an aircraft carrier group – he used the quaint term “armada” – was headed to the waters off North Korea. Unfortunately the carrier was not actually headed where the President indicated, which opened him up to all sorts of deflating mockery.
Indeed, controversy and mockery have trailed Trump in abundance during his first 100 days in the White House. Late night political humor has enjoyed a resurgence and anti-Trump fervor can be seen at town hall meetings, even those conducted by Republican members of Congress, across the country. A few days ago a gathering of psychiatric experts at Yale concluded that Trump has a “dangerous mental illness” and is not fit for the office he holds.
Many of Trump’s opponents may feel gratified to note his struggles and nod in agreement with diagnoses offered by professionals. This exercise is beside the point. Trump remains the only President we’ve got.
For this reason we must pray for some moderation and appreciate the signs that it may be at hand. We can also appreciate the ways in which Trump has revived civic life. During his first 100 days, the response to Trump from citizens, courts and members of Congress has been more consequential than anything the President has accomplished and, remarkably, that response may actually be having a salutary effect on him.
On April 21, the Los Angeles Times noted that Trump had completed his least chaotic week thus far. It seems the American system may be stronger than the man’s pandemonium and he may yet be calmed by the weight of the office.
The 100-day takeaway is that Trump still confuses frenzy with action and lacks the experience, temperament and character to be President. It’s a matter of who he is – and the man’s past indicates that except in cases of absolute failure (for example, major bankruptcies) he doesn’t really learn and adapt.
Unfortunately, as President his failures are our failures, too. This sobering fact should inspire more pushback from competing institutions and from people taking to the street. Such resistance is how the nation will help itself survive the Trump era.
It may also teach the old publicity hound some new tricks. He may even learn to calm down before he bites someone and does more serious harm. Were he to function as a more-or-less normal chief executive, Trump would receive the treats he has always craved, including attention, approval and admiration.