Since before Inauguration Day, President Donald Trump has moved quickly to act on his campaign promises.
Unfortunately, his actions do not yet – and may not ever – add up to a cohesive policy picture, partly because Trump seems to have conflated “draining the swamp” with ignoring the wisdom of experienced public servants and going out of his way to pick people who have little prior exposure to the subject matter central to their new jobs.
That is not a recipe for good leadership, and he is doing it all in such a rapid-fire fashion that Americans have few verifiable facts upon which to judge his performance. Part of the problem is that announcements by the new administration almost seem designed to be less than informative.
He alienated China while denying that his relationship with Russia was in any way problematic. He offended employees of our intelligence agency by hinting, broadly, that he knew more than they did. He launched a crackdown on voter fraud in a speech that was bombastic but, unfortunately, not wholly factual. He has reorganized the National Security Council to include fewer people with topic expertise and experience.
The president proclaimed plans to move forward on a hugely expensive wall on the southern border and left his spokespeople to stammer over how it might be funded, while he moved on to promises about expensive enforcement provisions.
He announced that he was closing U.S. borders to citizens of countries where extremism is common, with the notable exception of several nations where terrorists actually have originated. This was not a Muslim ban, he said, until his cyber security advisor, Rudy Giuliani, said he had been asked to help craft a defensible Muslim ban. Trump left Defense Secretary James Mattis, who had no input into the ban, to begin patching up newly tenuous foreign relations.
The president made promises about which features of the Affordable Care Act would remain in force – features congressional Republicans do not favor and doubt can be preserved.
He has left Congress watching from the sidelines. Key GOP leaders have very little information about what is going to come next, except that it is going to cost far more taxpayer money than they want to spend. These people, swamp denizens though they might be, were elected by the folks back home, who banked on their promises as well as Trump’s.
He has torpedoed trade pacts and restored the possibility of pipelines without in-depth research into the costs and benefits of either.
He has frozen hiring without understanding what federal workers do. He has ordered federal agencies to eliminate two regulations for every one they institute – a random number appended to a worthwhile goal that requires a much more discerning touch. He seems to believe that the threat of climate change can be dismissed by decree.
Is this a clever plan to keep moving so fast that Americans forget their objections to all previous changes as they confront a new one every few hours? Is it evidence of chaos?
Perhaps it is both, in some combination of proportions, but it is not a fair way to treat constituents, who are awaiting (and deserve) concrete facts about the first proposals they heard, rather than a continued bombardment of half-hatched plans.
It is time to slow down and start fleshing out a comprehensive plan that reassures Americans that their government still makes sense.