Sam: 100 days have come and gone for the Trump administration. What are your: impressions of the new administration?
The administration has started to get its sea legs under it, but it took a while longer than the last two administrations needed. President Bill Clinton's first year in office was decidedly rocky, although likely less so than this year, at least as reported by the press. The Trump administration initially leaned on very few people and not very much policy expertise or apparatus. As the administration has evolved, it has brought in more expertise, particularly military expertise. The result of this professionalization, at least relative to the first weeks in office, has made certain foreign policy messages and stances more consistent and conventional. Congress's leadership has also pulled the administration toward a somewhat more conventional set of policy preferences (consider how health care reform, the administration's stances on trade, and Washington's approach to China look compared to the campaign trail rhetoric). That all being said, this administration still leans on relatively few people and is apparently fractious internally. Relations with the press have been sour, which is partly the fault of both sides, but the administration has trouble keeping a consistent focus on issues for long enough to follow through on policy change. That being said, we are just over 100 days in, so while Donald Trump set a high bar for himself on the campaign trail, President Trump can realistically only do so much in his first 100 days. The time could have been used more efficiently, however, if the Trump administration brought in more expertise earlier on. I'll note that I personally expected Vice President Mike Pence to have more sway and to clear a path for more senior policy expertise in the White House and successful collaboration with Congress; that expectation does not seem to have panned out so far, but again, it is early. The administration has appeared thus far to lean heavily on some key people, particularly certain members of Mr. Trump's inner circle and family, but Vice President Pence does not seem to have had his turn yet.
Sam: greatest accomplishment of the new administration
Bob: In terms of policy momentum, I think the administration's greatest accomplishment was the set of airstrikes on Syria. Although I certainly have qualms with the timing, how the strikes were carried out, the reporting of its affects, and the level of international cooperation, it drew the clearest contrast with the Obama administration, which did not act enough or early enough to mitigate the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Syria, in a manner that forwarded a new, potentially productive policy. However, the airstrikes had muddled purpose and effect, do not appear to be a part of a broader strategy, and likely would have been more effective in 2013, or 2011, than in 2017. Every policy choice has trade-offs, and the Syrian airstrikes were far from perfect, but they were (at least ostensibly) a stand for humanitarian concerns against a brutal regime on the part of the United States.
Sam: biggest defeat?
Bob: The initial failure to pass the American Health Care Act in the U.S. House of Representatives was a blunder. It called into question whether the Trump administration could effectively set policy goals for its own majority government. It showed the administration's lack of a consistent message on the bill left gaps for unhappy members of Congress to exploit for a rationale to not vote for the bill. Optically, that has been the biggest defeat thus far. However, I believe the biggest defeat from this period of the administration in the long-run may be the initial hiring and subsequent firing of former General Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor. The blatant neglect in the vetting process and the subsequent recognition of the mistake has spawned more questions than answers, and those questions will likely continue to dog the administration for some time, particularly with regard to Russia and continuing investigations into what else the administration might have missed in the vetting processes employed for appointees. This may hamper their ability to achieve policy goals through Congress; arguably, it already has.
Sam: Your opinion on Trump's handeling of North Korea, and how (or perhaps if) you see it being resolved?
Bob: The Trump administration is actively prioritizing and changing the dynamics relative to North Korea. North Korea also seems to be increasing the intensity of its own actions. The recent elections in South Korea suggest, however, that Seoul and Washington are unlikely to be in lock-step in their policies toward North Korea. The Trump administration appears to be more willing to use military force to resolve the North Korea situation. This posturing gamble is especially risky in the extremely volatile Korean peninsula. North Korea's government and President Trump both use their unpredictability to their advantage, but military conflict not only puts lives at risk from North Korean long-range missiles carrying nuclear warheads. A significant portion of Seoul's metropolitan area is within range of North Korea's conventional artillery. If North Korea's response to U.S. saber-rattling or actual military strikes is to resume the war full-scale, the North Korean military can do substantial damage without leaving their borders or using nuclear weapons. The Trump administration's attempts to use China as a partner to resolve the situation peacefully could be a better strategy, and the willingness to engage in direct talks might also produce positive outcomes. However, beyond escalation of rhetoric surrounding military strikes, there does not yet appear to be a coherent or consistent North Korea policy from Washington. It's difficult to predict a resolution at this point.
Sam: Your opinion on the reaction to gas being used by Assad?
Bob: Washington's timing could have been better, but President Assad's brutal regime received a very small flavor of what some elements of it deserve in those airstrikes. The war in Syria has been going on since 2011, has likely killed about half a million and displaced many millions, and is one of the great humanitarian catastrophes of our time. The United States has never had a perfect plan for Syrian intervention or endgame, and the situation has been complex from the start. However, delayed action has only cost lives and become more complex. There are select cases where military action likely prevents further deaths in the future. War is the worst byproduct of humans failing to understand one another, and an ideal world does not have war. That's a long-term goal. However, military action earlier on the part of the United States and others may have prevent more death, and reduced the complexity of the situation, than it caused. The Trump administration's actions are late, likely ill-timed, were not executed perfectly, and were certainly touted by the administration in an odd manner, particularly regarding the significance of the strikes. We have yet to see if the airstrikes will result in fewer death or more in the future; we will likely never know.
Sam: Your opinion on what will happen if TrumpCare passes in the senate, how it will effect Americans, and the house and senate races in the future?
Bob: The version that passes the Senate will likely look substantially different. The biggest question is around Medicaid. The reformation of Medicaid from an entitlement program (if you qualify, you receive the insurance) to a per-capita cap (the State's receive a block grant that rises at a certain inflation rate based on the number of Medicaid recipients from a fixed point in time) is what lead to the first iteration of the American Health Care Act leading to more uninsured people (24 million) than a straight repeal of the original Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (23 million) would have. Medicaid is a very complex program, but it is basically health insurance for low-income people and certain vulnerable populations. The $839 billion reduction in funding (between 2020 and 2026) to this program proposed in the legislation would likely have a massive impact on the number of low-income people insured and State budgets, which must provide matching dollars to pay for Medicaid, but would likely have to generate significantly more revenue to continue services as they currently are. The American Health Care Act targets lowering insurance premiums, but may not do that effectively based on its current framework. For some, particularly older and poorer people, insurance would likely become more expensive, as subsidies to help pay for insurance would no longer be base don income for most people. Predicting the 2018 midterms is difficult when so much of the political landscape changes from week-to-week, but for a national U.S. House map that was redistricted largely in favor of Republican officeholders after the 2010 elections, Democrats are finding a surprising number of seats that they may viably contest. While the likelihood of success for Democrats in 2018 does change based on the optics and content of any health care overhaul authored by the Republican-controlled Congress, winning key House seats may depend more on the Democrats recruiting good candidates and raising sufficient money to contest elections nationwide.
Bob Shire is the longtime Political Correspondent and Expert at immix. He lives in a cabin in the woods of rural USA. And he may or may not have climbed every mountain in the US.
J. Sam Williams is the Editor in Chief of immix. He's been published at the Sportster, The Sporting Bay, Sidelines, Lunch Ticket, The Principia Pilot and immix. He got his BA in Sociology from Principia College, and his MFA from Antioch University of Los Angeles.