Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

100 days down

During his election campaign, candidate Trump voluntarily issued a 100-day “contract” with the American people. With low popularity ratings, he now says that benchmark doesn’t mean much

100 days down
100 days down

Even though many of the pledges US President Donald Trump made during his campaign were not met after 100 days in office, White House staff and his supporters insisted that a lot had been done. They also claimed that whatever the new president did, the “liberal,” anti-Trump media would never be satisfied.

However, the reality is that it was Trump who made the 100-day benchmark a big deal in the first place. While campaigning in October, then candidate Trump issued a “contract” with the American people, setting in detail all the legislation and orders he planned to issue right after taking over the White House.

Ahead of Saturday’s 100-day deadline, the moody, unpredictable Trump had another assessment. “It’s an artificial barrier,” he tweeted. “Not very meaningful… A ridiculous standard,” he added.

However, only 10 days before, it was the same president who seemed to care most about the 100-day occasion. “No administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days,” Trump claimed in Wisconsin.

Moreover, White House staff planned several “first 100 days” events, briefings, receptions, websites and rallies. Supporters of the right-wing, unexperienced politician also never stopped short in dubbing Trump the man with the “most important” achievements, the most successful, the president who signed the biggest number of executive orders and bills, and who managed to enjoy the best relationships with foreign leaders, all in his first 100 days.

Obsession with the first 100 days dates back to president Franklin Roosevelt, who took office during the 1930s in the Great Depression and passed 15 major pieces of legislation in short order. Ever since, presidents have tried hard to show that their first 100 days in office marked a shift from the policies of their predecessors, creating a sense of achievement.

While historians differ on the influence of the first 100 days on the performance of US presidents during the rest of their four-year terms, there is no doubt that it has turned into an important benchmark that each president had to consider after taking over the White House.

George W Bush, for example, had an extremely uneventful first 100 days in office, overwhelmed with the controversy around his election over Democratic rival Al Gore. However, it was the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, nearly a year after becoming president, that defined his two terms and led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that cost the US thousands of dead and wounded, as well hundreds of billions of dollars.

While judging the first 100 days of Trump is controversial, there is no doubt that the president sought to give the impression that a lot was being done. He has signed 25 executive orders, numerically surpassing most recent presidents. He also signed 28 bills into law, the most of any president in 70 years. However, of the 10 major legislations he pledged to engage with Congress in order to approve “within the first 100 days,” only one has been introduced.

Meanwhile, most of the controversial promises he made on the campaign trail were not fulfilled or were delayed, like building a border wall with Mexico, renegotiating or scrapping the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), temporarily barring visitors from predominantly Muslim countries and revamping healthcare. Trump also reconsidered his repeated promises to mark China as a “currency manipulator,” and after meeting NATO’s secretary-general, he announced that he no longer thought the military alliance was “obsolete” as he claimed during his campaign.

Moreover, his approval rating stood around 40 per cent, the lowest among recent presidents after 100 days only in office. However, Trump does not seem to care to improve his popularity, looking only at his own power base, who continue to give him high ratings, up to 94 per cent. 

Asked about the 100-day “contract” by The Associated Press a week ago, Trump avoided giving an answer, saying, “somebody put out the concept of a 100-day plan.”

“We feel very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish to fulfill the promises that he made to the American people,” Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, said. “But I think it’s got to be kept in context.” The context, he added, “is it’s 100 days, and you’ve got four years in your first term and eight years for two terms.”

Asked why the White House was making such a production if it was an artificial measure, Spicer said it was an inevitable concession to the reality that every news organisation is busily preparing an assessment.

Meanwhile, he pointed to several “achievements” of Trump, such as confirming his nominee for the Supreme Court, pulling out from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement, launching a missile strike against Syria, and dropping the “mother of all bombs” on a mountainous area in Afghanistan to target supporters of the Islamic State who allegedly were hiding in tunnels and caves.

On the foreign policy front, Trump’s first 100 days also marked clear shifts from the policies of his predecessor, Barack Obama. The billionaire businessman clearly sought to restore America’s image as the country ready to use its military might to achieve its goals, whether through targeting Syria, the escalation in rhetoric with North Korea, or increasing the scale of military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Military experts pointed out that the new US president has clearly relaxed the strict regulations placed by Obama on the use of targeted bombings, and gave his military commanders wider powers to use force on suspected terrorist targets.

Trump also restored Washington’s ties with several countries that his predecessor, Obama, disregarded. Trump repeatedly praised Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, after nearly three years of strained ties with the previous administration who criticised his human rights record, and the removal of former president, and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi.

However, while Trump seemed to see more eye-to-eye with Al-Sisi on the prime importance they both gave to the fight against terrorism, the US president seemed to back off from election pledges he made that he would consider the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist group” after taking over office. He pledged, nonetheless, to work closely with Cairo in fighting terrorism in Sinai, and on the Middle East peace process.

Meanwhile, no other president in US history has ever faced similar charges as Trump during their first 100 days in office, particularly in terms of his relations with Russia and allegations that Moscow might have interfered to help him win the election over his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

An FBI investigation over alleged links between Trump campaign operatives and Russia has cast a shadow over the White House. He lost his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, over Russia less than a month into his term.

Still, some Republicans who backed Trump early argue that his voters understand that fulfilling his promises will take time. “They give him an ‘A’ for effort. They know he’s trying very hard and they know it’s going to be a long process,” said Bryan Lanza, a deputy communications director for the Trump-Pence presidential campaign who is now a managing director of Mercury, a public relations firm.

“DC is not going to be changed in a 100 days. What you’re talking about is disrupting an institution that doesn’t want to change,” Lanza added.

“I’ve been glad that he’s made some of the changes he has on foreign policy,” said former Senator Kelly Ayotte, who was once deeply critical of Trump. “I’m impressed with his team there. (National security adviser) H R McMaster, General (James) Mattis, (Admiral John) Kelly, Ambassador (Nikki) Haley — I think they’re very strong team, and that, to me, is very important that he has made some shifts there.”

Other Republicans who opposed Trump also see signs that the US president has become more comfortable in his job and are optimistic the Trump of the first 100 days is not necessarily the Trump of the rest of his presidency.

“We’re still in the first 100 days, so it’s early. I think he’s starting to settle,” said Ryan Williams, who worked for former Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

“It’s such an unconventional presidency, and the first three-four weeks were such a shock to everybody, because he doesn’t operate like a traditional politician,” he said. “I see people becoming more comfortable with it and saying, ‘All right. He’s our president now.’”

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