We’re all playing the 100-day game, and it’s kind of silly. What’s Trump done since January 20 last? But that’s like asking who won the first 100 yards in a marathon.
The only game that really matters is the 1,285 game. That’s the number of days till the 2020 election.
But then the mind does tend to focus on round numbers, and so let’s ask what’s happened since Trump was inaugurated.
And the answer is a lot in some ways, less in others. But in one respect, there’s been a huge change, and that is our sense that there’s a new sheriff in town, there’s a new guy in charge, and things we could never have imagined had Hillary won are now possible. More than possible. On the cards, more likely than not to happen.
In great measure, that’s because of actions Trump has taken. The tomahawk missile attack on a Syrian base. The MOAB bomb in Afghanistan. What is vastly more important still, though hardly noticed, the successful courting of President XI and the possible rapprochement with China. In 100 days, Trump has reinvented American foreign policy and shown himself a master of diplomacy.
But it’s more than what he’s done, even as FDR’s first 100 days was about more than the flurry of legislation passed in the spring of 1933. That’s the benchmark, when people talk about the first 100 days of an administration. Roosevelt had inherited an economic crisis and had a compliant Congress that rubber-stamped anything the White House sent its way.
When it comes to what was actually passed in FDR’s first 100 days, however, not too many people could tell you offhand. The list included some benign welfare laws, such as the Federal Emergency Relief Administration; some useful infrastructure projects that put people back to work; and the semi-fascist National Recovery Act (the Blue Eagle) that was happily shut down by the Supreme Court.
The point is that what changed, with FDR’s inauguration, was more than a new set of laws. There was also the sense that, after a cruel depression, things were finally going to get better. America had lost its step and would now rebound. And in the end, that mattered more than anything else, in the 1930s.
FDR’s New Deal programs came from some of the smartest minds of the time. With the benefit of hindsight, a lot of those ideas seem nutty today. With the benefit of hindsight, a lot of things from back when seem nutty. But that doesn’t begin to describe the sense of relief that people in the 1930s felt about America, with a new president in office. Go back and listen to his fireside chats, and see if you don’t feel the same way.
That’s why, in looking at the first 100 days of a new administration, you have to go beyond objective yardsticks — what was passed, what was done — and ask whether there’s something new in the air.
Americans are looking at him the way we did in the 1930s with FDR. After the hesitancy of past presidents, after the confusion of mixed messages, we now have someone in charge who knows what he’s doing. And the evidence is there. The latest National Association of Manufacturing (NAM) survey shows that 93.3 percent of manufacturers are either somewhat or very positive about their own company’s outlook, up from 56.6 percent one year ago and 77.8 percent in December. That’s an all-time high for this index. The Conference Board/Consumer Confidence Survey is now at 125.6, the highest level since December 2000. And the stock market is enjoying a boom, with the Dow up 15 percent from November 8, 2016.
There’s a lot left to be done. The Republicans in Congress are an embarrassment. There are a ton of administrative appointments yet to be filled. The legislative agenda — health-care reform, tax reform — is still a work in progress. But Trump is telling us what we want to hear, and objectively people seem to believe him. There’s a new spirit of optimism, and that matters as much as anything right now.
F.H. Buckley teaches at Scalia Law School. His most recent book was The Way Back: Restoring the Promise of America (2016).