- - Sunday, April 30, 2017


Putting a name on the passage of a few months’ time and calling it an “era,” like celebrating an anniversary, is a conceit mostly of journalists looking for a peg to hang a story on. Some of these so-called eras last, and some don’t.

The Thousand-year Reich lasted barely a dozen years and came to a richly deserved bad end. “Anne of the Thousand Days” ran a little longer than a president’s “Hundred Days,” but ended with the beheading of Anne Boleyn, which was not necessarily encouraging for either Miss Boleyn or Henry VIII. Only historians can write accurate assessments, long after the fact.

Journalists sometimes imagine themselves to be historians (newspapermen, not so much), and are eager to pronounce a president a success or failure after his first hundred days. With President Trump there was little inclination to wait for three months plus 10 days, and over the past fortnight we’ve seen the hundred-day confirmation of the earlier verdict that the Donald just hasn’t cut it. He hasn’t built the wall on the border, he hasn’t repealed Obamacare, and he hasn’t produced a promised tax cut.

But he has done a lot, and much of it disappoints (and frightens) the chattering class and those who look to the chattering class to understand what’s going on. The new president has undone not only certain regulatory structures, but the very idea that regulatory structure, whatever it may be, is ordained, and must be permanent.

Mr. Trump’s greatest changes are tearing down institutions and repealing rules rather than creating new ones, says James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association. “He has introduced nothing less,” he tells Quartz Media, “than a different approach to government.”

Republicans have been historically inclined to “tilt toward market-based solutions and Democrats to regulatory based [solutions].” Mr. Trump has undone regulatory structures created by Richard Nixon four decades and more ago, and George H.W. Bush two decades after that. “If you view government as an active force in public life, that over time is increasing its ability to help people,” Mr. Grossman says, you probably won’t have liked Mr. Trump’s first hundred days.

But Republicans who understood that that was exactly what they thought they were getting with Mr. Trump are nothing less than cautiously thrilled. “This is just the first hundred days,” says Adam Brandon, the president of the Freedom Caucus. “It looks like the next hundred days will be even bigger and better.”

The Trump White House has not hidden its goal of giving the nanny the pink slip; her day regulating the lives of Americans is done, if the president can make the work of the first hundred days actually stick. The White House website touts 28 pieces of legislation he has signed to that end. He has instructed government agencies to eliminate two regulations for every new one they make.

Many Democrats who still can’t figure out why Hillary Clinton isn’t the president remain apoplectic. “If Trump wanted to help working men and women ‘prosper and grow,’ as he said during the campaign, he would have acted very differently during his first hundred days,” says the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

Like all agencies who don’t get what they asked for in the new budget, the State Department, which is getting “only” 70 percent of the appropriations it submitted, is said by certain employees to be “already debilitated.” That’s a pretty good accomplishment for any era, a hundred days or not. More debilitation is no doubt on the way.

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