By Zhao Minghao Source: Global Times Published: 2017-4-27
In the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt made about 15 legislative achievements with support from Congress in his first 100 days in office in order to address the Great Depression. Since then, almost every US president faces a "first 100 days" comparison. On April 29, the Trump administration will be in office for 100 days. Trump tweeted several days ago and scoffed at the 100-day mark as a "ridiculous" standard. He obviously does not anticipate being positively assessed. In particular, he expects no warm words from the American media in any case.
Indeed, Trump has been the most unique president in decades. With zero political experience, he fired an avalanche of criticism at the political elites in Washington. He did not mention the word "freedom" in his inaugural address, making no secret of his protectionist propensity. Days ago, he announced a new "Buy American and Hire American" executive order in Wisconsin. It is estimated that the H-1B visa program for foreigners working in the US will be changed. For a nation of immigrants, this executive order, together with the "Muslim Ban," seems very "un-American."
Last October, Trump campaigned on an ambitious 100 Day Plan including tax reform, terminating illegal immigration and fighting political corruption in Washington and so on. And he obviously delivered on far fewer campaign promises after taking office. His national approval rating right before he made the decision to pull the trigger on a missile strike in Syria was merely 35 percent.
Over 25 executive orders have been signed in three months since Trump took office, which clearly shows that Trump`s presidency features a strong unilateral touch. Trump originally planned to scrap "Obamacare," the Affordable Care Act, on his first day in office, but this March, his plan met resistance and was opposed by many Republican members of Congress. This legislative setback deeply disgraced Trump.
A worse scenario is that if the Congress does not pass the government budget proposed by the Trump administration, the Federal Government will have to shut down this Saturday. Many members of Congress do not agree to pay for the proposed wall on the US-Mexico border. Besides, they are uneasy about Trump increasing the defense budget by $54 billion while entailing steep cuts for diplomacy.
Certainly, the whole world has every reason to celebrate Trump`s failure to fully deliver on his "100 Day Plan." In particular, the Trump administration has spared China from the currency-manipulator label with Beijing`s hard lobbying and it has yet imposed a 45 percent tariff on imports from China. After the first meeting between Trump and President Xi Jinping at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, the two leaders spoke twice on the phone recently. China and the US are taking unprecedented steps in exchange and collaboration to cope with the North Korean nuclear issue.
Like his predecessors, Trump`s policies deviated from his campaign rhetoric. In the 1970s, Richard Nixon, who used to chastise "Red China," became the American president who opened the door to China. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan pushed forward negotiations with the Soviet Union despite his extremely hardline attitude toward Moscow during his election campaign.
Trump is now becoming increasingly "mainstream." He no longer randomly unleashes criticisms on NATO and other allies. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis have also repeatedly stressed US obligations to its allies. The Trump administration has agreed to hold "comprehensive economic dialogue" with China, showing that the two sides are trying to seek new ways of reducing trade frictions. The White House seems to have realized that a zero-sum game does not benefit the US. Besides, Trump is becoming more interested in trade agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
To a large degree, Trump`s learning curve is not as steep as people have predicted. Instead, he and his team are endeavoring to adjust to realities within and outside of the US. Within Trump`s inner circle of decision-makers, modest and prudent people like Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, are playing a bigger role, whereas dumping Stephen Bannon, a radical rightist and White House chief strategist, from the National Security Council post is a welcoming decision.
However, it does not mean that the guard can be let down against the Trump presidency. The White House has not yet sorted out its internal decision-making mechanism and relationships with the outside world. As Trump marks 100 days in office, he needs to figure out how to shift from "America first" to "America in the World."
The author is a visiting fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.