Donald Trump has just completed his first six months as the nation’s president. While the first 100 days are commonly recognized as providing the first real benchmark, the first six months probably constitute a more meaningful measuring stick. By this point, a new president has a legislative record that can be assessed, has made at least one international trip, and has established the general policy direction of his administration. In the first six months of a new administration, a new president has clearly indicated his competence for the office and his temperament to deal with crises, and both of those factors, more than any others, can provide a meaningful picture of the man he will be for the remainder of his time in the office.
And so, without any further ado, here is my report card on President Donald Trump and his administration:
Legislation – Grade D-. Trump really has nothing of consequence to show in terms of legislative accomplishments. Congress has not passed a single bill of consequence and may not even be able to repeal (never mind replace) Obamacare at this point. The House version is not going to get to Trump’s desk, and the Senate alternative (with the latest developments this week) isn’t going to either. Trump did get his Supreme Court nominee confirmed but Mitch McConnell had to use the nuclear option (throwing out the filibuster) to get Neil Gorsuch through (by the slimmest of margins).
International travel – Grade D. Trump did fairly well on his two major trips so far (not counting the most recent one to France to make friends with Emmanuel Macron), provided he stuck to his script. But he was largely ignored at the G-20 meeting last month, especially with respect to climate change, where the other 19 countries all but spit on his decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. In terms of Russia, his official meeting with Vladimir Putin was a joke from the start, with Putin “assuring” him that Russia had no hand in attempts to manipulate the 2016 presidential election. And then, as we finally learned this week, he had a second meeting with Putin (at the big G-20 dinner) without any staff accompanying him. He treats the presidency as if it were a country club membership, and is an embarrassment to his country when he tries to hold his own against the likes of Putin or Angela Merkel, who can make him feel good about himself to his face while they laugh about him behind his back.
Policy direction – Grade D-. Actually the grade here should be an F because to mention Donald Trump and policy in the same sentence is oxymoronic. Trump is more ignorant of policy details than any of his recent predecessors, and that includes some legitimate contenders for that “honor” like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. But Reagan was a policy-wonk compared to Trump, and Bush would at least have a basic understanding of what was in a bill he was promoting. Trump doesn’t read, doesn’t like to be briefed, and, from all accounts, doesn’t care about specifics. But he avoids an F because, in spite of all the rhetoric to the contrary, he hasn’t seriously pursued the construction of a wall (the most absurd of his many absurd campaign promises) and he occasionally says something that suggests a desire to moderate his party’s most alarming designs. (He did, for example, say that the House version of repeal-and-replace was “mean,” which some found encouraging.) But he is also responsible for the retreat from the Paris climate accord, and that one act alone sets the ceiling for his grade on policy.
Competence – Grade F. Trump fails miserably in this critical category, primarily because when it comes right down to it, he doesn’t care enough about the job to learn how to do it well. In this respect, his performance can hardly be a surprise. He never showed an interest in learning about the job as a candidate. He just likes the accolades that the office provides. A president who can say that “nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated” is not competent. A president who claims he learned that North Korea is “not so easy” after all of ten minutes of conversation with the leader of China is not competent. A president who refuses to accept the intelligence community’s unanimous conclusion that Russia attempted to impact the presidential election is not competent. A president who doesn’t understand how Congress and the courts and even his own administration function is not competent. After six months in office, Donald Trump’s continuing incompetence is disgraceful. The fact that he doesn’t care is appalling.
Temperament – Grade F. Don’t the tweets say it all? He’s an embarrassment, if not a complete buffoon, a sociopathic liar if not a psychopathic megalomaniac. He is impulsive and reflexive, vitriolic and vengeful. He rails against “fake news” while he proclaims as facts things that are fake. He refuses to shake hands with Ms. Merkel, but opens the Oval Office to Russia’s top diplomat and that country’s U.S. ambassador. He fires the FBI director and admits he did so because of the Russia investigation. He bullies. He intimidates. He scolds. He scorns. He promotes himself, first and foremost, and seems to care for little else but himself.
North Korea looms as the biggest potential crisis on the horizon. Trump is as likely to start World War III over that eventuality as he is to decide he doesn’t care if Kim Jong-un has the ability to launch nuclear weapons at the United States. Russia-gate (I keep waiting for that term to catch on) is growing to Watergate proportions, especially with the latest disclosures of a willingness by his campaign aides to collude with the Russians to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. He is as likely to force a constitutional crisis were he impeached and removed from office as he is to resign suddenly when faced with mass defections from his political base.
Trump is unpredictable, which he says he likes to be, but being unpredictable is unsettling to other politicians and threatening to foreign governments. He is also capable of becoming unhinged, which can be disturbing in social circles; but it’s terrifying when the unhinged person has control of the nuclear codes.
We have now lived through one-eighth of Donald Trump’s presidency (or one-sixteenth if you believe he will serve two terms; or something less than one-eighth if you don’t think he will complete his first). To this point in his presidency, he has fully earned the grade that best represents his performance and accomplishments. And that grade is a resounding F.