“The president obviously has a unique style,” Senator John McCain told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday, adding, “I keep trying to remind myself that we are still in the first 50 or 60 days of this presidency, and we don’t want to prejudge.”
With all due respect to the faux maverick from Arizona, at this stage of President Trump’s admittedly young administration, this argument is strained to its breaking point. We’ve had Trump the overt politico among us for nearly two years now, and since his election to the White House, he has proceeded to confirm just about every bad impression he made on the campaign trail. Unless a wild reversal is forthcoming, the President Trump I’ve observed in action represents at best a redoubling of the abuses and errors of his predecessors on all the federal-level issues I care about most.
Consider first foreign policy, which I’ve argued is the single most important topic to take into account when evaluating a presidency.
After sounding a few notes of restraint on the campaign trail, Trump has so far either maintained or brutally escalated all the wars he inherited. He’s increasing military spending without an accounting of what the military currently spends (and wastes and loses).
He’s put ground troops (as opposed to special forces) in Syria for the first time, explicitly abandoning the “advisory” role the Obama administration insisted upon. This was done without any congressional authorization, which White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said was unnecessary because the Trump administration does not believe putting U.S. troops in battle against the Islamic State is the same thing as war. (Do you think George Orwell has spun all the way out of his coffin yet?)
Oh, and the drone war has kicked into higher gear, too, with Trump so far approving drone strikes at more than four times the rate President Obama did. Trump has signed off on a bombing every 1.25 days since his inauguration.
Then there’s executive power, which it seems safe to say is Trump’s new favorite toy. After pledging to drain the swamp, Trump happily embraced the swamp’s willingness to let him govern by fiat, issuing executive orders at a terrific pace. He positively basks in the celebrity and attention the modern presidency entails, the very cult of personality that the Founders abhorred.
Of course, the overgrowth of the imperial executive did not begin with Trump. That, perhaps, makes it all the more remarkable that he managed to push it to the limit of a judicial smack-down after fewer than three weeks in office.
And finally, Trump is off to a terrible start on civil liberties issues like surveillance and the drug war.
The president doesn’t like the idea of being spied on himself, as his recent accusations about President Obama reveal, but he’s been more than willing to let the feds spy on the rest of America. Privacy is a luxury for special people like The Donald, it seems.
As for the drug war, the Trump administration stands athwart even the Republican Party in its determination to re-escalate what is unquestionably one of the federal government’s biggest, most expensive, and most tragic failures. With Jeff Sessions running the Justice Department, the administration’s early actions on drugs will likely prove a grimly reliable predictor on this front.
None of this means I believe nothing good will come out of the Trump presidency.
There will unquestionably be some indirect benefits, like the new attention to civil liberties, peace, diplomacy, and the rule of law Trump has inspired in his critics. That attention is a little on the late side, but I welcome it heartily nonetheless. There will likely be some more direct goods, too, like the president’s interest in cutting taxes, reducing onerous regulations, and even trimming the TSA’s budget.
Nor does this mean I am unappreciative of those like Senator Rand Paul, who are trying to push Trump toward his better impulses on issues like foreign policy and health care. As with any politician, Trump should be given credit and cooperation when those are due.
No, my point is simply that, halfway through the first 100 days, there’s little to like. If only his substantive deviations from Washington orthodoxy weren’t consistently for the worse.