Sunday, April 30, 2017

The First 100 Days

The President of the United States
Now that the President has reached the vaunted 100 day mark, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look back at what happened, and what is happening, and what might happen.

When Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President as the Republican nominee, I don’t think there was a soul in the world that took him seriously. That ‘ride’ down the escalator in a shopping center was about the most unconventional way that any candidate for President  ever announced it. It was comical.

Unfortunately it was not intended as comedy. It was real. He meant  it. Although I don’t think even he believed he had a chance against a field of serious candidates with far more expertise and experience in government. Those candidates were far more articulate and knowledgeable. Trump’s vocabulary was so limited that he sounded almost illiterate at times. Where the other Republicans sounded Presidential, Trump sounded like someone running for president of his eighth grade class. 

His promises were either ‘pie in the sky’ or in some cases ridiculous and yet adored by his die-hard supporters. He was rude and crude, while the other candidates were refined and polished. Often he sounded racist.. He spoke in general populist terms, where the other candidates rattled off policies and details with proficiency. He insulted his opponents and even their families and constantly disparaged the media. 

His tweets were filled with braggadocio, inaccuracies, and hyperbole that would have sunk any other candidate.  His erratic shoot from the hip’ and ‘shoot first and ask questions later’  nature was something most sober political analysts on both sides of the political aisle feared. The consensus among most of them was that this was not the man you wanted with his ‘itchy’ finger on the nuclear trigger. Nobody believed it was possible for someone like this to be nominated.

But then a funny thing happened. He won the Republican nomination.

After his nomination, I predicted that Trump would win the election, defying the conventional wisdom at the time. I thought that if a man so obviously unqualified could win against a field of candidates so obviously superior to him in just about every way, there was simply something in the air. That rationality would go ‘out the widow’.

Very few people agreed with me,  believing that his Presidency would be a disaster and that the general public would be far more sober than his wild and wacky ‘uneducated‘ base that got him the nomination. 

Once he became the Republican candidate, some people thought he would change his tactics and act more ‘Presidential’. But nothing about him changed. He was the same  way with his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. 

In just about all of the debates they had, she came off as the adult in the room, someone with a lot of experience and knowledge at her fingertips. Trump came off as an ignorant boor most of the time. All while attacking the media. No one gave him a chance. The polls all suggested he’d lose in the general election. He disputed those polls to the laughter of the media and his political opponents.

But once again he defied the polls and won the election. He won a majority of the voters in most states. (He lost the popular vote because the two most populous states, New York and California are heavily liberal and voted for Clinton.)

That was a shock to just about everyone. Probably even to Trump himself.

For the first time in my lifetime we had a President that was an embarrassment to this country. Someone who managed to alienate many world leaders via the insults he hurled at them during the campaign. Someone who made promises he could not keep and would clearly never happen.

A lot of people feared him thinking that he would listen to no one. That he would cause a world crisis, ruin the economy, ruin the environment, and maybe even start World War Three! The night of the election world markets plummeted in record amounts.

Fortunately that did not presage what the US financial markets would do. We are now - 100 days post inauguration - at near record high levels of financial market indicators like the Dow, that Nasdaq and S&P. Most people that are invested in those markets are pretty happy with that. Especially those of us that have retirement accounts.

When I made the prediction that Trump would win, I was one of the few that did not think it would be the disaster that everyone else thought it would be. Yes he was a narcissist, ignorant and erratic. Yes he loved to hit back hard at those that attacked him even in the slightest way. Yes, he continued ‘tweeting’ stupidities, exaggerations, and falsehoods.

But the one thing his ignorance actually produced is exactly what I said it would. That he may have no core beliefs is actually a good thing. It means  that he can change his mind completely. He has chosen good people to advise him.  At least  as it pertains to foreign policy. And he is listening to them. While they are mostly very conservative politically, they are acknowledged by even his opponents to be highly competent in their fields. His choices for Secretary of Defense, National Security Adviser and UN representative have all acted responsibly and he has listened to them. 

His Secretary of State - despite his lack of experience in government - has in my view shown himself to be an asset as well. There is little that has changed from previous policies. Here are some examples: NATO is secure. Israeli settlements are still technically opposed. The US embassy will not be moved to Jerusalem.  

What has changed is for the better.  The new Secretary General seems to be far more objective than his predecessors - recognizing the historical antisemtism that defined Europe and ended up in the Holocaust.The UN's new US representative has been firm in calling them out on the anti Israel prejudice that permeates so many of their subdivisions. The entire US Senate has responded with a 100% demand that the UN end that bias.  I do not believe it is a coincidence that this is happening now just 100 days into Trump’s Presidency.

The fear that he would unfairly favor Russia because of unfounded accusations of some sort of personal business relationship with them (whether direct or indirect) has instead turned into a hard line against their policies in Syria. The wall on America’s southern border will not happen. The antisemites he inspired to support him are disappointed at the number of Orthodox Jews (or Jews in general) that are in his close inner circle. His supposed insensitivity to the Holocaust has been put to rest by his passionate address to the Holocaust museum during Holocaust remembrance week.

His belligerent approach to foreign leaders has not alienated them. Instead they are tripping all over themselves to get on his good side. If people are afraid of you, they tend to be a little more respectful of you. On the other hand, when you are overly friendly they way the last few Presidents have been it breeds contempt. Which can easily result in  selfish nationalist policies that hurt the US. In the past American diplomacy would not allow, the relationship to sour over a policy they may not like.  That is clearly not the case with Trump.

What about North Korea? A lot of people fear that country’s leader Kim Jong Un will end up starting world war 3 if he isn’t appeased. Ldt him do what he wants, they think. He hasn't attacked us and never will. So what if he's exploding a few bombs. Just ignore him.

That's why Kim Jong Un is getting way with a nuclear weapons program that includes developing the means to deliver them to the  American mainland. Completely disregarding pleas by even their main benefactor, China, to abandon that program. 

Trump’s advisers know that diplomacy hasn’t worked. They have now opened the possibility military response. So far North Korea has ignored it, with is usual threats of destroying the US if we try anything. But China has no desire to test the new administration. I believe they will finally put the kind of pressure n Kin Jong Un that - as North Korea’s only benefactor - only they can.

Sure the danger of war has increased. But at the end of the day. I don’t think Kim Jung Un will risk annihilation that they must know America is capable of. Nor are they willing to risk alienating their only benefactor, China. The era of appeasement is over.

Domestically the Trump administration has a long way to go. Obama care is still the law of the land. the taxing structure has not yet changed But here has been some progress in other area. NAFTA is secure. The stock market is up. He has gotten a respected conservative Justice on to the Supreme Court. He has reversed some of his predecessors policy implementations that he believed hindered jobs and economic growth.

It is way too early to judge whether his. Presidency is a success or failure. But I think it should be plain to anyone with an ounce of objectivity, that his Presidency is not the disaster everyone thought it would be. Trump may not be pushing policies that are favored by the liberal establishment. Which is what the mainstream media clearly consists of. But he is following a more or less conservative policy that is guided by respected conservative advisers. Not extremist nut jobs like Steve Bannon. 

What about those with less experience that are his close advisers? Like his son in law Jared Kushner? He is one voice among many. I don’t think he’s said or done anything to hurt us. His quiet ‘camera shy’ nature should not be misconstrued as stupidity. That the media has no access to him means that no one really knows what he is doing. He may eventually just surprise even his detractors. 

The future is hard to predict. Trump has been tempering his comments. I don’t think he’s tweeted much recently. He is not the been quite embarrassment he has been til now.

I have no idea what the future holds. But one thing I am as certain of as I was under the last administration - is that we will survive. And who knows, maybe under Trump’s unconventional way of doing things - things might actually improve.