We’re now through a whirlwind first week under President Trump’s administration. It’s an excellent time to evaluate – just how has this been going? We’ll break down Trump’s performance along three lines: policy, rhetoric, and what we’ll call the in-between.
Policy. Trump’s policies thus far have been largely terrific. Trump’s executive order reinstating the so-called “Mexico City policy” on banning federal funding for overseas abortion is first rate; so is his executive order re-examining the role of the federal government in immigration enforcement, as well as pushing forward the building of the wall. Trump has reopened the Keystone XL pipeline process, and he’s reviewing regulations as well as freezing new regulations; he’s purged the State Department of Obama appointees and instituted a federal hiring freeze; he’s attempted to stop President Obama’s last-minute funding of Palestinian terrorism. On the negative side, he’s killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership without a suitable plan for replacement, opening the door wide to Chinese influence in the Pacific and pleasing the very labor unions that have helped make American business less competitive; he’s required that the government use only “American-made materials,” passing the cost on to taxpayers; he’s backed off his promise to move the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. But the pros far outweigh the cons.
Rhetoric. Trump’s rhetoric, by contrast, has been largely counterproductive. He’s had his moments – his inaugural address was brilliant (but not conservative), his attacks on the media for failures to cover the March for Life were wonderful (so was his endorsement of the March for Life). But for the most part, Trump has spent the week fulminating over inaugural crowd size, mysterious voter fraud that cost him the popular vote, and attacks on free trade that would make an Economics 101 student blush. He never invokes the notion of small government, he never talks about individual freedom, and he never ignores a slight to his ego when he can instead spend all day talking about it with sycophants. He deploys his spokespeople to fib to the American people, then pretend they’ve never fibbed. He’s an ego machine, and he's busily converting conservatism into big government nationalist populism in his rhetoric.
The In-Between. This category consists of Trump’s statements about policy that have not yet materialized as policy. Trump’s been less-than-stellar in this regard. His talk of massive tariffs and his blustering regarding Mexico is foolhardy, and doesn’t actually forward the cause of preventing illegal immigration. His spokespeople’s insistence that sanctions may be removed against Russia without Russia changing its behavior is pusillanimous. His tweets about sending the feds into Chicago without a legal mandate are disquieting. But we’ll have to see whether all of this talk actually means something.
So, what’s the overall grade? Trump’s rhetoric matters a lot less than his policy – and Trump’s not going to stop being Trump, which means we have to discount even his rhetorical flubs, which will keep coming. That means Trump gets a B+ for his first week, an excellent grade only diluted by the fact that he can’t get out of his own way publicly. Trump’s been extremely active, which is the most important aspect of his presidency so far: he came in pledging to be a businessman who will get things done. So far, he’s fulfilled that pledge in spades.