April 30, 2017

The First 100-Days Farce: Much Ado About Nothing

by Hal Gershowitz

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Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsWell, maybe something, but not much.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt made much of his first 100 days in office, and the press and subsequent presidents have been fixated on that initial period as though it were more significant than the second or third 100 days, or the fourteen 100-day cycles that would, ultimately, comprise a president’s first term.

It all started with FDR.  The country was in desperate straits and FDR knew that a barrage of federal initiatives would give hope to a desperate nation. And it did.  We won’t try to analyze all that FDR pushed through during those first 100 days.  Suffice to say, FDR’s legislative agenda produced a mixed bag of results, which, all things considered, served to instill faith in federal action by a nation that had lost faith.

Congress, during FDR’s first 100 days sent to his desk legislation that created the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Emergency Relief Act, the National Industrial Recovery Act, the Emergency Railroad Transportation Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Emergency Farm Mortgage Act, Tennessee Valley Authority Act, the Farm Credit Act, the Emergency Banking Act, the Government Economy Act, the Abandonment of the Gold Standard, The Securities Act, the Abrogation of Gold Payment Act, the Home Owners Loan Act and, of course, the Glass Steagall Banking Act.

Nearly everyone, today, assumes FDR’s first 100 days were a smashing success.  Few things done in such haste, however, are smashing successes. FDR succeeded in stabilizing the nation’s plunging confidence, instituted reforms that were necessary, and demonstrated that government could play a constructive role in improving, over time, the services available to the people. Think Tennessee Valley Authority, the Securities Act and other initiatives. Other legislation probably did more harm than good. For example, the heart of the New Deal was the National Industrial Recovery Act, which restricted output and stabilized (fixed) prices for virtually every business. It imposed medieval guild-type restrictions on prices and output. Under the NIRA it was a crime to increase production or reduce prices.

According to James Powell’s “FDR’s Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression,” a forty-nine-year-old immigrant dry cleaner was jailed for charging 35 cents instead of 40 cents to press a pair of pants. While the NIRA was struck down by the Supreme Court in May 1935, many excessive New Deal restrictions on business are still with us today.  When all was said and done, FDR’s record-breaking first 100 days clearly did not shorten, let alone end, the Great Depression. America’s ramp up to the Second World War did far more to jolt the country out of the 1930’s economic doldrums than anything from FDR’s first 100 days.

Nonetheless, the press has remained fixated on President Trump’s proverbial first 100 days. Of course, Candidate Trump’s excessive bragging about all that he would accomplish during his first 100 days as President created, among many in the press,  anticipation of a schadenfreude happening of tsunamic proportions.

So were Trump’s first one hundred days the failure virtually all of cable news (except Fox) and most talking heads and editorial writers have declared them to be?  No, they really were not. Nor were they the greatest first 100 days in the history of American presidencies that President Trump has declared them to be. Trump signed 29 new laws compared to Obama’s 14, Bush’s seven or Clinton’s 22. The new laws he signed were second in length to those Obama signed, but longer than either those signed by Presidents Bush or Clinton. All of which is rather irrelevant. Generally, most legislation signed during the first 100 days of a new President’s administration had been drafted before the new President was even inaugurated. A President doesn’t get to sign a law until Congress passes it.

While we can argue, and will, the propriety of many executive orders that presidents sign, Trump during his first 100 days issued thirty executive orders compared to Obama’s 19, Bush’s 11 and Clinton’s 13.  It is true, however, that most of Trump’s executive orders simply reversed Obama’s executive orders.  That doesn’t make them any less important (depending on one’s political point of view). Obama certainly issued executive orders late in his presidency knowing full well they would be reversed if a member of the opposition party were to be elected.

Our view is that presidential executive orders are an indication of how muscular presidents have been in exercising their executive powers. As President Obama threatened (and delivered) when he couldn’t get the Republican-controlled congress to send him the legislation he wanted, “I have a pen.” George Washington, still our favorite president, issued only eight executive orders during his entire two-term presidency, while FDR signed close to 3,800  during his time in the White House, including Executive Order 9066 that authorized the incarceration of nearly 120,000 innocent Americans of Japanese ancestry.

While Trump has had rough sledding with his cabinet nominations, largely the result of Schumer slow-walking the nominations whenever he could, Trump succeeded in pushing through 21 of 22 cabinet nominees during his first 100 days compared to Obama’s 20, Bush’s 17 and Clinton’s 18.

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed along party lines after Senate Majority Leader McConnell invoked the so-called nuclear option allowing a simple majority to confirm the nominee. Senator Schumer’s protestations were both ludicrous and laughable given his own record of opining that President Bush shouldn’t nominate a supreme court justice at the end of his last term in office.  (Former Vice President Biden had also opined that it would be wrong for President Bush to nominate a justice to the Supreme Court in the event a vacancy occurred during his last year in office).

Finally, we note that Trump has stayed in the United States working during his first 100 days in office, albeit not all of them in Washington, while President Obama made his famous world tour sojourning to nine foreign countries during his first 100 days.

All in all, Trump’s first 100 days have not been “historic” as he has described them, nor have they been “an incredible journey” for the nation.  But he has certainly had a credible first 100 days—especially given the abject hostility of the opposition and most of the press to his presidency.

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3 responses to “The First 100-Days Farce: Much Ado About Nothing”

  1. Ted Goldman says:

    Please include me on your e-mail list to receive
    Excellent, dispassionate analysis of Trump’s first 100 days in office.
    Thank you.


  2. Steve Marcus says:

    With control of the House and the Senate Humpty Dumpty could have accomplished more during the first 100 days. This “President” can’t open his mouth without a BLATANT lie falling out. It was that way all through the campaign and now its even worse. Like President Jackson on the civil war (even though he was dead 14 years prior), or Obama’s having wire tapped him before the election (even though every person in a position to know the truth-including prominent Republicans- says it didn’t happen). I always wondered how to tell when he was lying. But now I know….I just watch to see if his lips are moving. And he’s insulted when people call him on it.

    And, while not in the lie department how about his assertion that he’d be “proud” to meet with the president of North Korea because of his great accomplishment of consolidating his leadership position in spite of his tender years—-never mind that he accomplished it by killing his uncle and his half brother, among others.

  3. Hal says:

    We’ll count Mr. Marcus as a “disagree.”

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