PITTSFIELD — Tired of the 100-day review of Donald Trump's presidency? You should be, with one exception. The drama, ambition and accomplishment in the first 100 days lie not in Trump's record, but in the resistance to this president.
Ever since Franklin Roosevelt pushed through major legislation in his first 100 days in office, newly elected presidents have had their early records measured against the same 100-day standard. That may be unfair, as the country was in a very different place in 1933, well into its third year of economic crisis. Unemployment levels moved from 4 million people in 1930 to 15 million by the time Roosevelt took office. Thousands of banks had failed and industrial production had fallen by half. The crisis demanded action and fast. It was the nature of the crisis that dictated the unprecedented nature of FDR's first 100 days when he acted decisively and aggressively.
The only parallel to FDR's record in 2017 has been the unprecedented nature of the opposition to Trump. First, there are the protests. They started before Trump took the oath of office and then swelled in the first 24 hours of his presidency. There were demonstrations greeting newly inaugurated presidents, from the 5,000 women who marched before Woodrow Wilson's inauguration demanding the right to vote, to the anti-war protests at both Nixon inaugurals and the thousands who marched to express their opposition to the election of George W. Bush in 2001.What was different this time was the size of the demonstrations, not only in Washington DC, but around the nation. Everyone but Trump and his inner circle acknowledge that the women's march on the day after the inauguration surpassed the crowd attending his inauguration.
Another difference is that the protests continue, against Trump's efforts to ban Muslims from entry into the U.S., to build a wall on the southern border, to repeal health care, to refuse to release his taxes, to disregard the science of climate change.
Second, despite the control of both the executive and legislative branch by Trump's party, the opposition has been surprisingly successful thus far in derailing the pledges that the Republicans ran on, most notably the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Funding for the border wall is a non-starter, tax reform has been reduced to a public relations one-page set of principles, and there's no sign of a massive infrastructure program.
Courts come through
A third unprecedented focus of the opposition has been the speed with which courts have responded to requests to halt Trump's executive orders. Both of his orders to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. have been blocked, as has his administration's threat to withhold federal funding from cities refusing to deputize their local police forces as deportation officers. One organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has filed a lawsuit alleging Trump's conflicts of interests violate the Constitution and another, the American Civil Liberties Union, is preparing a second such suit.
Fourth, the reaction to Trump from beyond the borders has been an unprecedented rejection of what he is trying to impose here and abroad. Not only do people outside the U.S. in the millions continue to join protests, but voters in the Netherlands rejected the candidate who resembled Trump, and French voters will likely follow suit. Far from acting as a global superpower, the U.S. is on the receiving end of lectures from world leaders like Theresa May and Angela Merkel on Russia, Justin Trudeau on trade and Xi Jinping on North Korea, all perhaps viewing Trump's self-proclaimed penchant for unpredictability and flexibility as euphemisms for incompetence and lack of strategy.
Fifth, despite obstacles from the White House and certain Republicans, investigations within the Department of Justice and Congress were launched to look into the role played by the Russian government in helping Trump get elected. The implications for American democracy of any connection between Trump's campaign and the Russian government in that effort necessitates a patient and thorough investigation and compilation of the facts.
Finally, a new, invigorated civic and political activism has sprung up to unprecedented levels. Across the country, citizens are mobilizing to make their voices heard through town hall meetings where members of Congress are seeing attendance rise tenfold since Jan. 20. The volume of phone calls to Congress are setting records, reaching 1.5 million calls to the Senate alone. Ad hoc groups have formed to partner voting districts across the red-blue political divide, to address redistricting that favors Republican candidates, to refuse to shop at businesses owned by or supporting the president and his family, to join voter registration drives.
Here in the Berkshires, the Four Freedoms Coalition was born in the days following the election and has rallied a concerned populace to attend protests, to undergo training in political activism, and to stay connected on issues that matter in our communities.
When FDR set the standard for 100 days of accomplishment by an incoming president, he did so in the face of an acute crisis. The crisis facing the country now is not any external mess, but is all that the new president stands for. Addressing that crisis through a sustained opposition has been the real story of the first 100 days.
John Dickson is a local historian and a retired diplomat.