The Washington Post began a recent front-page article with the headline “Why President Trump is Probably Right…”, and I was immediately suspicious. The Times is an outwardly liberal rag. I can’t recall one article – let alone a headline – where they’ve waxed positive about the current administration. Curiosity piqued, I read Kristine Phillips’ well-written article and discovered it was not so much about President Trump himself as it was about the “first 100 days”. You’re going to read a lot about that this weekend. And history tells us one hundred days – no matter the successes and failures contained within – rarely define the legacy of a U.S. president.
We have Franklin D. Roosevelt (32nd U.S. President – 1933-1945) to thank for setting the bar of “first 100 days”. Four months into his first term Roosevelt delivered a noteworthy “fireside chat” to the people, including a plan to pull the country out of the Great Depression. Roosevelt also had a congressional majority squarely aligned with his administration. As a result fifteen major bills were passed in his first hundred days, including the most critical; to stabilize the nation’s banking system. It was a virtual sink-or-swim chapter in American history.
No president since the days of the Great Depression has faced a more daunting economic crisis, which is why none of their “first 100 days” measure up to Roosevelt’s. Our last two presidents make for interesting examples. George W. Bush entered his term intent on cutting taxes and reforming education, and he did sign the No Child Left Behind Act within the first year of his administration. But more likely Bush will be remembered for the unforeseen events on and after September 11th, 2001. Barack Obama sought economic stimulus by signing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in the first few months of his administration. But more likely Obama will be remembered for the Affordable Care Act, signed towards the end of his first year.
Since Roosevelt’s administration, seven of nine presidents have been elected to a second term (not including Kennedy and Nixon). Accordingly one hundred days is usually the prelude of an eight-year tenure, representing less than 3% of the total time frame. I’d venture to say a president’s legacy is more the product of what happens during the other 97%.
To draw personal parallels, I thought about what it would be like to be judged as a son or a husband or a father; a student in school or a manager in the workplace – based on “first 100 days”. No thanks; I can say with confidence I needed “the other 97%” to establish my legacy in each of those roles.
So where was President Trump “right”, according to The Washington Post? The full headline read, “Why President Trump is probably right about the ‘ridiculous standard” of the first 100 days”. Assuming two terms, Trump’s administration has another 2,820 days. I’ll go with “probably right” too. After 100 days, you’re still circling the ring trying to land a punch. You’ve still got your fifteen rounds.
Again, the media will be all over this topic in the next couple of days so enjoy their rush to judgment. The conservatives will make a best effort to spin Trump’s first 100 days positive; the liberals not so much. The New York Times is quick to point out not one of Trump’s campaign-promised pieces of legislation has been passed, while The Hill prefers to recognize his “five key moments”. Even Trump himself – who I voted for – recognizes the significance of perception. One hundred days may be a perfunctory time frame but there’s no escaping the report cards. Hence we have a bold tax plan – which could amount to Trump’s most defining legislation – released just days before the end of “the first 100”.
The most thought-provoking quote I found on this topic came from author Doris Kearns Goodwin. “Less important than a scorecard of accomplishments,” she said, “is the leadership style demonstrated during the early days.” In other words, our commander-in-chief himself – not just his policies – is a work-in-progress well beyond this weekend. Keep your eye on the remaining 97%.