100 Days In: 10 Times Trump Didn’t Get His Way

After 100 days, if things aren’t as different or as altered as you expected them to be under President Donald Trump, it’s not for lack of trying on his part. You only need to look at his 100-day action plan, which he unveiled in October, to see what Trump himself had expected to accomplish during his first months as president. For a reality check, read NPR’s annotated version to see how much the president has actually achieved.

As I thought about what my expectations were for Trump’s presidency back in January, I realized the darker scenarios I envisioned were not exaggerated fabrications of my imagination, but real possibilities based on reports about what Trump was planning to do. Thankfully, many of his plans were stymied as he was stood up to by the courts, the press, his advisors, and the voters. That is to say, if Trump’s America is not as alarming as I expected, it’s not because Trump’s a more democratic and careful leader than I gave him credit for, but because American institutions have, so far, stood up to his worst impulses.

So, here are 10 things that Trump has attempted during his first 100 days, which if he succeeded, the country might look and feel a lot different. 

10 Times Trump Was Stopped (in no particular order):

Michael Flynn — The country dodged a bullet when Flynn, Trump’s national security advisor, resigned on Feb. 13. Flynn is being investigated by the FBI for his connections and communications with the Russian government while part of the Trump campaign and during the transition. Since leaving government he’s registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department for lobbying work he did for Turkey throughout last year, and he’s requested immunity from prosecution in exchange for testifying. It’s since come out that he failed to disclose a $45,000 payment from the state-sponsored Russian television network RT on a 2016 security clearance application, which could lead to felony charges and jail time.

While he had a long career as a well-respected military intelligence officer, Flynn’s behavior since he joined the Trump campaign (yelling “Lock her up!” at the Republican National Convention) left former military and Pentagon colleagues shocked about how he appeared to be changing. While serving in the White House, Flynn seemed eager to lead the US into war with Iran and ready to promote an Islamophobic national security policy.

His replacement as National Security Advisor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, brings none of the controversy — either in style or substance — that Flynn embraced. For one, he doesn’t think using the term “radical Islamic extremism,” is a panacea for today’s terrorism problems. McMaster has also tried to make some personnel changes at the National Security Council, getting rid of some of Flynn’s people and creating his own team of more experienced policy advisors. Although, he hasn’t always been successful. That we now have a well-respected expert in McMaster advising Trump on national security and foreign policy instead of someone with a record as worrisome as Flynn’s is a huge win for the American public. 

The Inauguration that Wasn’t — Trump’s inauguration — with his “American carnage” speech, the fight over crowd size, and the unusual entertainment — was a bit dystopian, but it could have been worse. First, the Trump team played with the idea of adding tanks and missile launchers to his Inauguration Day parade, but the idea fizzled partially due to pushback from the Pentagon, which worried it would resemble the military parades of countries like North Korea, and that the heavy military equipment could damage D.C. roads. Trump also weighed giving Fox News the exclusive rights to televise the event, but Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN Worldwide, told him that was crazy.

Muslim ban — Trump’s campaign website still has the Dec. 2015 press release, which states, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” His first travel ban executive order, signed in January, was a step toward achieving this vision, but 24 hours after it was signed, a federal judge in Brooklyn blocked its enactment, staying deportations. She wasn’t alone in her decision: a federal appeals court eventually ruled against it too. So, the Trump administration went back to the drawing board and published a revised version of the order, which was also quickly blocked by the courts. This legal battle is not yet over, and may wind up at the Supreme Court, but so far, Trump’s case for banning immigration to the US from six Muslim-majority countries is not convincing the country’s judges that it’s necessary, and more importantly, that it’s legal.

Meanwhile, just this week, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled against Trump’s executive order aimed at punishing Sanctuary Cities through denying them federal funds. Had Trump’s executive orders not run into these legal challenges, it’s safe to say that many would feel that the US had become an even less welcoming, more paranoid, and less safe place than it is today.

Torture — Trump really wanted to bring back torture and he was not shy about it. A draft executive order was prepared that would “clear the way for the C.I.A. to reopen overseas ‘black site’ prisons,” where prohibited interrogation techniques could potentially be revived. Only problem was: his pick to lead the Defense Department, retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, told him early on it was a bad idea and Trump decided to defer to him. After it was leaked, the draft executive order was never finalized.

Repealing Obamacare — Undoing former President Barack Obama’s landmark legislation was a central campaign promise for Trump. But despite controlling the House, Senate and the presidency, the Republican Party has been unable to do so, thanks largely to policy disagreements between different factions of the GOP. Angry voters who didn’t want their health insurance taken away didn’t help either. With the arbitrary 100-day deadline fast approaching, congressional Republicans and the Trump administration are taking one more stab at it, but it will be an uphill, and potentially politically damaging, battle again.

The Wall — “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” This was practically a mantra for Trump on the campaign trail. But 100 days in, Mexico has made it clear that it’s not paying for Trump’s wall, and neither is Congress. To avoid a government shutdown, Trump had to drop his demand that funding for his wall be included in the short-term spending bill being debated by Congress this week. While Trump and his advisors say the wall will eventually be built, and that Mexico will somehow be convinced to pay for it, the truth is: voters don’t really want it, and even lawmakers from the border region where the wall would be built weren’t supportive of Trump’s funding request.

European Trumps are failing — Trump is part of a new wave of populist leaders who are gaining in popularity not just in the West, but around the world. No doubt, Trump’s embrace of autocratic leaders marks a dangerous and depressing departure for the US, and promises to diminish American power, which has always been amplified by America’s promotion of democratic values. But Trump’s support (plus meddling by the Russians) is not always proving decisive in European elections, and for this we can be very grateful. The likely defeat of people like Marine Le Pen in France and the March election loss for Geert Wilders in the Netherlands mean things are not as bad as they could be.

International Institutions — Trump has flipped on NATO, deciding it’s not so obsolete after all (and he’s admitted that he didn’t fully understand the organization or what it did before he became president). And he’s also seemingly changing his views on the UN. Before, he thought it was “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.” But this week, Trump told a working lunch of UN Security Council ambassadors that he thinks it “has tremendous potential.” This could just be talk, and Trump’s intent for the US to retreat from its leadership role at the UN could still be realized. But a draft executive order that would drastically reduce US funding to the UN and other international organizations has never materialized. Neither has a separate draft order that was leaked to The New York Times titled, “Moratorium on New Multilateral Treaties,” which asked for which negotiations or treaties the US should leave.

Political opponents are not in jail — This is when you realize how low the bar has been set for Trump, but I think we can all be grateful that Trump hasn’t “Locked her up.” Trump repeatedly said on the campaign trail that Hillary Clinton “has to go to jail” because of the scandal over her email server. After he won the election, he told 60 Minutes that he wasn’t sure yet whether he was going to ask for a special prosecutor to investigate her, but that he didn’t want to hurt the Clintons. “They’re good people,” he said. Trump has since accused Obama of committing a felony by illegally wiretapping Trump Tower, a charge that no one in the government — from the FBI to members of Congress — has seen evidence to support. Trump also told the New York Times that he thinks Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice also committed a crime for her role in the made-up wiretapping scheme, an accusation for which there is no proof either. Trump’s baseless accusations are misleading the American public, especially Trump’s base, but they have not led to political witch-hunts backed by the resources of the US government. So … phew.

Robust press — Trump has labeled the media the “enemy of the people,” and constantly tweets about “Fake News,” whenever he doesn’t like a story about him or his administration. Of course, Trump threatens press freedoms and he’s successfully convinced his voters not to trust negative stories about him — whether they’re about infighting in his administration or the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into allegations his campaign colluded with the Russian government during the election. But Trump hasn’t been able to stop journalists from doing their jobs, even if he’s making them work a bit harder to sift through the administration’s lies. And he’s also been good for the media business. Shares of New York Times Co. have been up 30 percent since Trump was elected. And even Trump admits — through his repeated conversations and interviews with the paper — that you still need to talk to the “Failing New York Times” if you’re president. In January, the White House toyed with moving the press corps out of the White House to a nearby building and to hold briefings somewhere other than the West Wing. Not only was this shot down, but White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s daily press briefings draw big tv audiences and the journalists who hammer him with questions are better known now than they were pre-Trump. It is fair to say, American journalism is alive and as well today as it was before Trump became president (which is to say, it still suffers major problems).

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Things are not as bad as they could be under Trump, but this should by no means inspire complacency, because things are also worse than they seem. We are getting used to a new normal, and the “unthinkable is now unremarkable.” Trump has managed to quickly and easily erode all sorts of norms and standards for government ethics and presidential conduct. His administration has announced its intent to roll back government regulations across the board, from banking rules that protect consumers to environmental standards put in place to make sure the air we breathe and the water we drink is safe. The government is understaffed and his foreign policy is unpredictable and at times reckless. When it comes to corruption and conflicts of interest, Trump has stunned his worst critics: not divesting from his business and spending almost every weekend at Mar-a-Lago, all while his sons, whom he speaks to frequently, expand the Trump brand across the world. And even if he’s lost Flynn, he’s still got Stephen Bannon, Stephen Miller, Jeff Sessions and Sebastian Gorka whispering in his ear. The list could go on and on. The thing to remember is: Trump is going to keep trying to test the legal, ethical, and democratic limits of his presidency, and it’s up to American institutions — the press, the courts, civil servants, Congress, and voters — to push back and defend the Constitution and American values when Trump and his staff set out to trample them.

Image: Drew Angerer/Getty 

About the Author(s)

Kate Brannen

Editorial Director of Just Security; nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council; previously senior reporter covering the Pentagon for Foreign Policy Follow her on Twitter (@K8brannen).