During the U.S. presidential campaign, many voters supporting Donald Trump did so because of his ability to get things done. This supposed ability allowed them to overlook all sorts of missteps and behaviors unbecoming of a president.
Washington’s perceived ineffectiveness was without a doubt one of the strongest factors that propelled Trump to the White House. For the average voter, it was clear that the federal government simply was not working: Many years had gone by without passing a budget, divisiveness between Democrats and Republicans had made any legislative initiative practically impossible, and the health care system overhaul had passed only with Democratic votes, while being denounced by Republicans every day thereafter. Furthermore, the ineffectiveness was worsening because of economic and labor uncertainty for ordinary folks, as well as the threat of terrorist attacks.
With this backdrop of a highly polarized political climate exacerbated by the radicalization of the media and audience segmentation (a person picking the news source that would confirm their preconceived biases instead of the most truthful or trustworthy source), the tough guy, supposedly effective candidate’s message was enough to win the election.
The disaster of Trump’s first 100 days, far more chaotic than any other, and his relatively low popularity have been fertile ground for growing media and journalist criticism. Each day, markets and analysts take him less seriously as his tweets yield diminishing returns and the credibility of his word continues to fall. Nevertheless, the U.S. president has defended himself by stressing that the media are the opposition conspiring against him, the Democrats’ goal consists of questioning the legitimacy of the election because of Russian involvement, and it all goes to prove those at the top in Washington and New York are joined together against the average citizen.
Donald Trump is determined not to abandon his electoral base. He believes that what worked in the primaries and general election, in the face of advice and predictions that he must become more moderate, is where he will again find the faithfully allied base. The relative isolation of the White House will lead him to spend more time there, at least to fill his free time and for public events. That is why it’s illogical to expect a more moderate President Trump, even if facts and implementation of public policies wind up being more centrist.
At the end of the day, Trump’s presidency will be judged by success in terms of economic growth, his ability to respond to domestic and foreign crises, and legislative advancement — tax reduction, health system, gridlock in Washington D.C., national security, job creation. The problem he has is that the likelihood of success depends in part on presiding over an effective government. Even when it comes to economic growth, where he could simply avoid blunders and reap rewards sown by others before him, markets have started to draw back their initial euphoric expectations.
This problem is even greater when you consider the capabilities of this White House and its cabinet. The consensus in the United States now is that Trump has a good secretary of defense, a good secretary of homeland security, and a national security advisor with a strategic outlook. The three are generals accustomed to discipline and having the ability to execute.
The rest of the team is most remarkable either for its absence entirely or the steep learning curve ahead. Secretary of State Tillerson must still earn the trust of his boss and his staff and the ability to make decisions. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin has the difficult task of selling a tax reform that leads to a significant increase in the public deficit while preparing himself to break from those in the previous administration and announce a weak dollar. At a meeting he was heard saying that one day he would like to sign a thousand-dollar bill, perhaps without realizing that such a high denomination can only correspond to a currency that had excessively eroded. Of course, it would have the face of his boss on it. Secretary of Commerce Ross wishes to head international trade negotiations, which the still un-confirmed United States trade representative will challenge and, to complicate matters, is allegedly coordinating with Peter Navarro in charge of trade and industrial policy in the White House.
And all this with a notable absence of personnel at the sub-cabinet level, where almost nobody has been nominated, much less confirmed. People close to the White House defend the chaotic model of government as Trump’s personal style of governing. The problem is that, without results, support will continue to decline and there will be a constant erosion of credibility at home and abroad.
Without progress for those within his own country, it will spell the end for Trump. First, the group of sensible Republicans who have stood with him so far will back away by claiming that the United States, and they as well, need a successful president. Then those who gave him the benefit of the doubt and checked the box for Trump under the assumption of his effectiveness, setting aside the bravado and lack of preparation, will follow. In the end, the only ones left are those to whom he promised so much, and even though the promises may not come to fruition, they will keep blaming everyone else for Trump’s lack of success.
The danger for everyone, not only Americans but the rest of the world and specifically their neighbors in Canada and Mexico, is that Donald Trump does not know how to lose. He will be willing to double down on a bet and then step away when a challenge arises. A well-intentioned but ineffective president, Barack Obama for example, would hardly have caused any major damage. But an ineffective, narcissistic, belligerent, and risk-taking president who does not believe himself to be so is another story.