It feels like it's been a thousand years, but somehow, Donald Trump is only about two-thirds of the way through his first hundred days in office. You'll hear a lot about those first hundred days as they come to a close. It's a symbolic thing that began after the 1932 election when FDR went and rebuilt what American government does, and nobody has ever replicated it, but it's polite to act like somebody will again.
It's not a useless metric though. The first hundred days set the tone of a presidency and tell us what breed of leadership we'll be getting. It's just not a Magic 8 Ball. We don't know who's going to drop bombs on who, we don't know what states will go underwater or burn down, and we don't know who's about to get fired or resign in disgust.
Trump ran as an agent of change, which in practical terms meant, "Hey, we had a smart guy last time, let's try a huge dumb guy," and his agenda on the campaign trail was ambitious in a way that only a huge dumb guy can be ambitious: He said he'd take a tire iron to anything you could possibly call government. So his first hundred days deserve heightened scrutiny. Where's Trump at in his master plan of rule by acetylene torch? Is he keeping to his word?
Let's recap. First, that Republican incantation, repealing and replacing Obamacare, the one that Trump made a core campaign promise. The Republicans came up with an alternative health care plan — throwing rocks at poor people — but then they couldn't agree whether they were throwing too many or not enough rocks, so it died without ceremony, with Republican majorities in the House and the Senate, a defeat for Trump on the order of losing a drinking contest to a missionary.
And what of the foundations of the executive branch? Who has he surrounded himself with and tasked with willing his government into reality? Well, right now it’s a menagerie of misfits who are singularly and almost magically terrible at their jobs. They're so terrible we know all their names, which is virtually unheard-of in politics. We know his secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, because she’s the one who said some schools need guns to shoot bears. We know his secretary of energy, Rick Perry, because he’s the one who didn't know what a secretary of energy is. We know his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, because he's a career racist trapped in an alternate universe where it's 1958 and the reefer madness is leading our teens inexorably toward Satan. We know his national security advisor — hold on, we know his first national security advisor, because he got fired after 30 seconds.
And what’s Trump doing about national security? So far, he’s continuing to say he’ll build a wall on the border with Mexico, and Mexico will pay for it. But this, we know, will not happen. If this cartoon monument to jingoism gets built at all, some of it will have to be in Mexico so we don’t have to surrender any of the Rio Grande, and Americans will pay for it, and it will cost between 10 and 20 billion dollars.
His most disturbing move to authoritarianism, a travel ban on Muslims, was blocked by courts twice for being too transparently bigoted.
And he allowed the killing of a couple hundred civilians in Yemen and Mosul.
And his White House is leaking like a Civil War tourniquet.
And Trump himself? He's exhibited such failure to control his image that we know he spends his nights alone, stalking the halls of the White House and mainlining Fox News like a retiree who forgot to learn a hobby before picking up his first pension check. And he spends his days making television appearances that aren't even lucid enough to examine as windows into a potential personality disorder. They're junk entertainment. The most powerful man in the world saying whatever comes to his mind, devoid of anything resembling a rhetorical through line. But maybe he's just frustrated because he's being investigated by the FBI.
Now, superficially, that may look like a lot of "failure" for his first couple months in office. But maybe it's not. Let me volunteer an alternative approach to these facts. Maybe Donald Trump isn't failing at all, but succeeding, and wildly.
Maybe he's playing the long game so he can maintain the element of surprise over Washington. In this scenario, he's performing brilliantly — dare I say elegantly? — at looking like a sputtering, angry old man who didn't ever plan to be president and was using his campaign as a backdoor promotional mechanism for the launch of a somehow-harder-right alternative to Fox News.
It's a genius move, you see, to spend his first hundred days stumbling ass-backward into the gaping maw of fascism instead of implementing even a single morally defensible conservative platform, such as tax cuts. This will embolden Democrats and Republicans alike to prevent him from executing his agenda. By failing at most of the big things he's tried to do so far when there was nothing standing in his way, then lashing out like a cornered animal as his approval ratings founder, Trump is clearly operating on a higher plane than those morally bankrupt Washington elites. This much-perceived failure must have scope and strategy behind it, because presidents aren't supposed to fuck up this bad this fast.
See, superficially, it looks like he's too much of an asshole to actually work with people and accomplish his goals. It looks like civilians are actually getting involved with politics, and protesting and calling their representatives and grinding down Trump's ego. It looks like we have a White House tasked principally with clanging pots and pans around like petulant children even though Republicans are in power and they won and they are not victims.
It looks like Trump's whole Cabinet is a train forever derailing off the edge of a cliff and exploding in a gorge. But that's just Trump using the persuasion skills he learned in the business world to trick us all into believing he's on track to become the worst president in American history.
Think about it. The lousy hotels, the fraudulent college, the god-awful clothing line, the soul-killing casinos, the incomprehensible nihilist speeches: It was all an illusion so he can surprise us by suddenly being able to hold a thought for more than 5 seconds, and get down to the hard work of proving to the House and Senate that his ghoulish parodies of hastily cobbled-together ideas are worth putting into law. Then he'll really start fighting for the American people, right when we least expect it. He's such a magician he almost makes you think a resistance movement might have the sustainability to fight him tooth and nail, and make him tread water until he's out of office. That doesn’t sound like much to strive for, but it beats the hell out of drowning.