Three months ago, Americans heard President Trump promise radical changes to the size and scope of the federal government in his inaugural address. One hundred days later, we now have an opportunity — however arbitrary, or as Trump put it, “ridiculous“— to issue an initial assessment of the still-evolving Trump presidency.
Over the past week, we’ve published a series some of the best commentary examining the turbulent first months of Trump’s tenure. Here are some of the perspectives we’ve included so far:
- Marc A. Thiessen: “Forget the critics, Mr. President. Your first 100 days have been just fine.”
- Stephen Skowronek: “Is Donald Trump the Great Disruptor? Probably not.”
- Jonathan Capehart: Trump’s first 100 days: An appreciation
- Ed Rogers: Unpredictability and other intangibles define Trump’s first 100 days
- Andy Dehnart: Forget 100 days — we’ve been watching this Trump for years
- Eric Liu: Trump’s most striking accomplishment so far
- Joseph S. Nye Jr.: Trump has learned a lot. But he’s neglecting a huge part of American leadership.
- Jonathan Alter: Trump says his first 100 days have been a historic success. History disagrees.
- Barton Swaim: Judge Trump by his actions. You might be surprised.
- Danielle Pletka: On foreign policy, Trump has become — gasp — a normal president
- Danielle Allen: Trump’s presidency is teaching elites like me a lesson
- Daniel Lee: What the other Washington thinks of President Trump
- Henry Olsen: This failure may doom Trump’s presidency before it really begins
- Charles Koch: Trump’s policies must not benefit only big businesses like mine
- Michael Gerson: We set a low bar for Trump. He still failed to meet it.
- Ronald A. Klain: Three huge failures that will haunt Trump’s presidency
- Hugh Hewitt: Trump’s first 100 days give conservatives a lot to celebrate
- Fareed Zakaria: The education of President Trump (and us)
- Editorial Board: Trump’s first 100 days were alarming — and relieving
- Francis Fukuyama: Trump has already started building a legacy. It’s highly negative.
- Kathleen Parker: Disliking Trump is getting very boring
- Dana Milbank: A deep dive into Trump’s elaborate fantasyland
- Brian Klaas: The five ways President Trump has already damaged democracy at home and abroad
- Michael McFaul: Is Trump learning — or ad-libbing — on foreign policy?
- Jim Himes and Charlie Dent: What moderate lawmakers like us hope to do in the next 100 days
- Jason Grumet: Now we begin Trump’s next 100 days
- Donald J. Trump: In my first 100 days, I kept my promise to Americans
Historically, presidents have been measured by what they accomplish in their first 100 days. The concept — originally conceived after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first few months — is meant to capture the early successes during the “honeymoon period” after an election, when a president has the most political capital and momentum.
Trump himself emphasized the 100-days concept repeatedly during his campaign, promising big changes right off the bat. For a day-by-day recap of Trump’s first three months, check out our timeline here.
As a result, Trump’s presidency can be seen as a bit of a political science experiment: Will Trump be the radical agent of change that he promised? How far can an administration go in reconstructing — or deconstructing, as adviser Stephen K. Bannon vowed — the political system, particularly in such a polarized climate? Can a person change the presidency before the presidency changes the person?
After 100 days, many of our contributors remain unconvinced that Trump will deliver the undoing of the modern American state as promised. They instead see a man who attempted — and largely failed — to make much of a lasting change in the first chapter of his presidency.
As author Jonathan Alter notes, “Historians judge presidential debuts by lasting legislative achievements, not tweets or theatrics.” Trump has had a few victories so far — chief among them the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. But relative to other presidents, as Alter explains, that list runs extraordinarily thin.
Stephen Skowronek of Yale University puts this lack of achievement in a historical context, arguing that this is typical of presidents who rise to power as outsiders: “When the old order loses political purchase, the attractions of the loner-as-leader shine brightly. But such presidents have never been able to reorder national affairs. Once in office, they appear incompetent and in over their heads.”
Others, such as Joseph Nye of Harvard University, emphasize the steep learning curve of the job, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute explains that most modern presidents have to go through this enlightenment phase: “The foreign policy promises of presidential candidates are rarely gospel. The world has a way of upending even the best-laid campaign platforms.”
But not everyone is convinced by this narrative. Many contributors argued that, for better or worse, Trump has already made substantial changes to the country. Author Barton Swaim notes that Trump has fundamentally changed presidential politics — potentially for the better — with his unusual disregard for meaning what he says.
Conservative Ed Rogers argues that this unpredictability defines Trump’s tenure so far. Former George W. Bush speechwriter Marc A. Thiessen argues that conservatives will see the first three months by and large as a success, with promising tax reform on the horizon.
If anything, Trump has bolstered civic engagement in a way no other president has been able to do, as Eric Liu of Citizen University explains. Danielle Allen of Harvard adds that his election has provided a much-needed reality check for political elites who have forgotten the plight of working-class Americans.
Of course, the first 100 days offers no crystal ball into the next four years of this administration. Given how much Trump has changed in just the first few months in office, there’s plenty of time for him to prove all his critics — and supporters — wrong.
But so far, the American administrative state still stands. The public remains polarized. Our federal institutions haven’t been radically uprooted. Despite campaign promises, it’s clear no person alone can radically change government.
More 100 days coverage: