It will take years to undo damage from Trump's 1st 100 days

Donald Trump at the Giant Center in Hershey in December.

100 days, 100 nights
To know a man's heart
And a little more
Before he knows his own

-- Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, "100 Days, 100 Nights"

It shouldn't be that hard to sum the first 100 days of Donald Trump's presidency -- but apparently it is. One appraisal this week from a writer I know and respect featured the headline that the first three-months-plus of the Trump era have been "a big yawn," while the New York Times' Gail Collins -- one of the best in the business -- wrote about "Trump's can't-do presidency," the sound and fury of a POTUS who, in the end, signifies nothing.

I beg to differ. There's quite a lot going on with Trump's presidency! Look at everything that's happened in 100 days. (OK, actually 98 -- the 100th comes Saturday with the most exciting thing to hit the Harrisburg Farm Show since the 2017 butter sculpture.) The much-ballyhooed tax-reform  package that turned out to be as detailed as an 8th-grader's term paper...that he started in homeroom with a frantically borrowed pen. The consequential news that the United States would pull out of the NAFTA trade agreement, which was then tossed down the memory hole. The bizarre class field trip, complete with the chartered bus, to the White House for all 100 members of the Senate, to get a completely inconsequential briefing on North Korea. The sight of the president's uniquely unqualified daughter representing the United States at a major event in Germany, where she leaked to a reporter that she may run a kind of venture capital fund for women entrepreneurs -- funded by large corporations and friendly foreign governments -- out of her office in the West Wing. Then there was this real dictator move by Trump, threatening to break up the 9th Circuit of our supposedly independent judiciary because he doesn't like its rulings. Of course, he doesn't have the power to do this. Not yet, anyway.

I'm sorry, did I say this was what happened in Trump's first 100 days? I meant, this is what happened on just one day of Trump, WEDNESDAY. (And I left some good stuff out.) Now multiply that by 100, and you'll start to see the method behind Trump's madness. The grifter behind Trump University and Trump Vodka is overwhelming your senses with bad information, good information, head-fakes, reversals, and -- on a daily basis -- blatant lies and falsehoods. The basic concept is to numb your brain to the point of apathy, where you no longer care about the daily outrageousness of all. When we wake up, Trump will have glorified his name and enriched his family, at the expense of everything that America has built up for a couple centuries.

If we wake up, that is. Hint: Editorials headlines about "the big yawn" should be a clue that the plan is working. Yes, it's true that Trump is nowhere close to delivering some of the cataclysmic policy changes that he promised during his campaign: The repeal of Obamacare, the "great wall" on the southern border, the Muslim ban, etc., etc. Don't let those failures lull you into a false sense of security. Trump has already sledgehammered the basic trust between Americans and their government in ways that will take years to repair. Let's focus on the biggest ones:

*************************************

You know a man
Can play the part
Of a saint
Just so long
For a day comes
When his true, his true self unfolds

1. The most dishonest president ever. It's certainly worth noting that a) Donald Trump's "true self," to repeat the Sharon Jones refrain, unfolded a long time ago, going back to the 20th Century and his multiple business bankruptcies, his repeated stiffing of honest and hardworking small business owners, his scams like Trump U. and that b) every president has offered some proof of the famous I.F. Stone dictum that "all governments lie," from LBJ's Vietnam "credibility gap" to Watergate to Obama's "if you like your health insurance you can keep it." 

Yet there are barely words in the English language to describe the extent to which Trump is in a league of his own for dishonesty. No president in American history has lied so often, or so bigly -- starting on Day One of the 100 with the ridiculous Captain Queeg-like untruth about the inaugural crowd size. It's only gotten worse. Daniel Dale, a Canadian journalist who's created a cottage industry in tracking Trump lies, says the president averages 2.2 whoppers a day but outdid himself with 16 lies in one "bonkers" interview with the Associated Press last week; there, he told untruths about China's currency policy, about which party has an edge in the Electoral College, whether dairy farms are in NAFTA, when he first learned about Wikileaks, etc., etc., etc. Not all the lies are about big important things. Yet.

LBJ and Richard Nixon were hounded from office over their falsehoods. Trump has proven that if you're going to lie, lie large, and lie a lot. The majority of Americans have lost faith in the government and what it has to say -- but that may actually help Trump as the public grows numb to his fakery, and when the lies aren't about Wikileaks but a possible World War III. What's more, Trump has fostered a climate of unreality in which citizens now decide with their emotion who is telling the truth. Polls show that so far as many as 40 percent of Americans -- certainly those who watch Fox News -- believe the World According to Trump, which could be enough (remember November 8?) to extend this nightmare deep into the 2020s.

2. The most corrupt president ever. Every day brings another headline about the ways that Trump, his family and occasionally his inner circle are using the awesome power of the presidency to enrich themselves, either directly or by pumping up the once-sagging Trump brand. Remember how we were talking about the craziness of just one day -- this past Wednesday -- in Trump's America? That one day also brought revelations that a) Jared Kushner, who happens to be Trump's son-in-law and also his closest adviser, is in-deep in real estate deals with an Israeli family tied to large-scale corruption and b) that retired Gen. Michael Flynn, the campaign adviser who was briefly Trump's national security adviser, didn't disclose sizable payments from pro-Putin Russia Today and from powerful Turkish interests.

Again, Team Trump is prospering through the Al Capone theory that if you're going to steal, steal big. Or bigly. The president has taken a loophole in interpretations over whether he is covered by conflict-of-interest law and driven a Brinks truck right through the middle of it. While not selling his core business or even establishing a wall between himself and his sons who nominally run it, Trump also routinely calls attention to his private golf courses and resort properties, promotes them on government websites, doubles the Mar-a-Lago initiation fee the week of his inauguration, makes foreign policy moves with life-or-death implications in counties where he has pending trademark cases, and congratulates the authoritarian dictator who's supported his business interests in Turkey. All this while his daughter and son-in-law conduct their own tangled financial dealings while working in the West Wing.

In just 100 days, Trump has established a template for presidential theft that -- while familiar to anyone who has lived in a banana-republic-style dictatorship -- has left our body politic stunned, a Potter County deer standing in the path of the oncoming SUV of American kleptocracy. In the last two decades, we've learned that the system is perfectly capable of handling one highly dubious impeachment allegation -- lying about oral sex -- but breaks down when confronted with dozens of them. Which means that the grift coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will only get more brazen.

3. The most dangerous president ever.  Everyday citizens have taken heart -- and they should -- over the way that a hastily organized Resistance to Trump's policy has not only arisen so quickly but has used the remaining trappings of American democracy, such as the courts and lobbying wavering members of Congress, to stop the worst of it so far. The Muslim ban. The repeal of Obamacare. The war on our sanctuary cities.

There's just one problem. The Resistance has little ability -- none, really -- to thwart the most awsome power we've given to American presidents in the national security state that arose after World War II, which is the power to make war and peace. But mostly war. Trump is desperate for what he calls "wins." He hasn't learned very much these 98 days -- learning's not really his thing, if you know what I mean -- but his reckless and impulsive strike on Syria, his dropping of the Pretty Big One on Afghanistan, and now his brinksmanship with Pyongyang have shown him that large explosions can bring him instant adulation with the push of a button, just like the one he hits to get a fresh glass of Coke.

Think back through the history of authoritarian, strongman-type leaders -- and how many of them waged major wars. It's kind of what they do, in the end. The only way for a ruler like Trump to sustain the kind of nationalistic fervor that keeps him on top is by creating enemies -- and there comes a day when "Crooked Hillary" or the "dishonest" news media just isn't big enough. That is the day that I dread. The day when it won't matter so much whether moderate Republican House members support him on health care.

This is what we've learned in 100 days and 100 nights -- that one con man can so quickly break the heart of the American Experiment and crush the faith that it's taken 241 up-and-down years to build up. How many years with it take to build back the trust in our elections, our institutions, and the notion that we are a functioning democracy? Two years? Five? Ten? And here's the part that's even scarier. We're just talking now about the damage that a Trump presidency has caused in 100 days. Baring impeachment or the nuclear armageddon, there's a mind-boggling 1,361 days to go.

I had a man
Tell me things
Made me feel
Just like a queen
And I thought
He was the one
I would hold
Oh yes I did
But one day
I looked around
That old man
Was nowhere to be found
100 days for this heart to unfold


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