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Latin for "I witness."

Arbitror turns a critical lens onto the world’s leading governments with the mission of keeping those governments accountable to their citizens and promoting sound policy worldwide

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Hey, Rural America: Let's Talk About Trump's First 100 Days

Hey, Rural America: Let's Talk About Trump's First 100 Days

While it might not feel like it for some of us, as of this writing Trump has been in office for a little over 100 days. (No, I swear, it hasn’t been 10,000 years. Check your calendars.) Trump has insisted that measuring a president by their accomplishments in the first 100 days is a ridiculous standard… but he has also spent the last week in full-court-press mode, attempting to show that he has accomplished a great deal. As with anything involving this man, he is prone to making laughably ahistorical statements, such as the claim that these have been the most successful 100 days of any president [1]. The irony of that aside, how has he done really? There are dozens of articles on this question being published right now (you can check out Arbitror's other piece on it), so eh, why not, I’ll do one, too. Before we get into this, however, I want to make a brief note of my motives and biases here.

As I said in my last article,  I grew up in a rural area, though for the last six years I’ve left home on a regular basis for one damn college program [2] or another. But no matter where I’ve lived or am living, my heart has and still resides in that little valley nestled between the Cascades and the Coast Range, and I desperately want to get back there. I adore my home, and at the end of the day the thing I care the most about is what’s best for it. I genuinely believe that Trump is fucking bad for rural areas. I care passionately about what’s best for country folk, because my family and friends are country folk, and because I’m one of y’all too. (We can argue about that characterization later, yeah?) Trump might have said some things you liked—I might quibble over whether or not that’s sensible, but I accept it as a reality. I want to engage y’all in a conversation, not argue about political rhetoric. I know that most of the articles out there aren’t directed at you and, frankly, that’s some bullshit. This is an unpopular opinion in certain quarters, but the truth is Trump won largely because no one was talking with y’all; that’s unfair, and that’s, again, some bullshit. In this article I want to even that up a little bit.

I genuinely believe that Trump is fucking bad for rural areas.

So, let’s take a look at these last 100 or so days. For those of you who have already decided Trump isn’t any good, use these arguments with your friends and family who still support him; we cannot allow ourselves to be used as PR props by someone who doesn’t care about us (and I firmly believe he doesn’t). And for those of you who are still behind this man, I applaud your willingness to be open to anti-Trump opinions, and as you read this I want you to seriously ask yourself: is he someone who is going to be good for yourself and your family?

Trump has largely governed as he campaigned, so it makes sense to start with his campaign when looking at his presidency. Characteristically for a narcissist, Trump ran on Trump [3]. He sold himself as the man who could fix America, and, to repeat a loathsome phrase, “make America great again.” His argument, and that of those who support him, goes something like this: he was a great businessman (he’s wasn’t), a great dealmaker (he also wasn’t and still isn’t), and an outsider (he is, but that’s because he has no friends), and he is someone ideally-suited to the task of “draining the swamp.” This is anti-elite sentiment is one of the central pillars [4] of pro-Trump sentiment, and it is something I understand and agree with; I won’t get too into the weeds on that point, because my editors probably won’t like it if I go off on a rant about neo-liberal economics and the folly of the Washington Consensus. The point is that I get it. But there are some important caveats to that principle, the greatest being that it is important to ensure our government, you know, functions. In the same way that a Washington bureaucrat couldn’t hack it in most any job requiring even basic mechanical aptitude, most of us couldn’t figure out how to effectively run a government institution without some training and experience.

There is one very good thing about a government bureaucracy, believe it or not: in spite of changes to who is in charge of the government, the levers of government power will still function. Think of the government as a car, the bureaucracy as a car engine, politicians as drivers, and the American people as passengers. Then imagine that we’re all on a never-ending roadtrip together; the politicians drive the car, the passengers direct the driver, and every once in a while they pick some new folk for the driver’s seat. The drivers maintain the car, and as long as the parts in the engine doesn’t change too much, the car will still run no matter who is driving the thing. You might argue that the government is involved in too much stuff, and that’s a valid perspective; every new administration reshuffles bureaucracies a bit, in the same way a new driver will fiddle with the seat and adjust the mirrors. But that isn’t what Trump has done since coming into Washington: he’s just decided to leave the executive branch largely unstaffed, and therefore unable to function properly. To use the car analogy again: Trump is on the freeway, going about 45 in the left lane, his fuel light is on, he’s lost his passenger-side mirror, the driver's side door is just gone and there’s definitely steam coming out from under the hood. That’s not a new policy direction, which is the prerogative of a new administration; that’s asking for disaster.

Again, many of you are probably thinking “Well sure, but what’s wrong with that? Government is bad!” And I’m not going to debate that point; I have complicated thoughts about the place and value of government, but that’s not the important thing here. What is important? That there is a difference between deliberately choosing to shrink government and simply running it poorly. A new administration might take the car into a body shop and choose to take the doors off and replace them with webbing (reducing government employment), or might upgrade the engine (growing the military) while neglecting to maintain the interior (cutting social spending). Those are intentional actions, with trade-offs to weigh carefully. Normal administrations engage in the governmental equivalent of going to a mechanic, getting a quote, and getting the work done; I might think the decision to go with flame decals is ill-advised, but hey, as long as the car is running, I’m fine. The Trump administration, on the other hand, refusing to do anything to fix the rig we’re all in, and keeps intermittently swerving into the other lane. That I am not okay with, and you shouldn’t be either, regardless of how large or small you think government ought to be. This isn’t an intentional policy: it is rank incompetence.

Unlike other administrations, Trump isn’t weighing anything about how to fine-tune the government; from all appearances he’s failing to fill out the government because he… doesn’t care? Can’t be bothered? Honestly, I don’t know. (I’m sure some of you are thinking “Oh, God, Mr. Know-It-All doesn’t know something?” In case you were wondering, yes, I will occasionally admit ignorance, so take that for what it’s worth.) The best explanation I’ve heard is that a lot of folk just didn’t want anything to do with the Trump administration. This, in fact, has plagued Trump since the very beginning. There is a reason why someone as shady as Paul Manafort served as his campaign chairman, or someone like Corey Lewandowski, who was charged with battery during the election, was Trump’s campaign manager at one point: no one else wanted the gig, so much so that, for his campaign staff, he didn’t so much scrape the bottom of the barrel as much as he got a pocket knife and chiseled away down there.

When it came time to hire people for cabinet positions a lot of the barrel-shavings he got the first time around had already left, and some of the (supposedly) vetted barrel-shavings that remained turned out to be involved in some very illegal shit. (*cough* Michael Flynn. *cough*) That’s why we have the cabinet we do, God help us all. Personally, I believe the other reason is far simpler: he just can’t be bothered. Trump has an infamously short attention span, and he keeps setting dumpster fires which his administration has to set out. His braggadocios style might be appealing, but it is interfering with his ability to govern this country.

So, I’m sure what you’re thinking now is something like “Okay, you talk too much. And what’s your point?” Well, I’ll have you know… yeah, I do talk too much. (I’m working on it, trust me; I’ve ruined a lot of first and second, and third dates this way.) But besides that, this matters because you rely on government services, somehow, someway. And, for the third time this article, yeah, I know: small government is a legitimate policy position. But we’re not talking about policy positions, we’re talking about our crappy Uncle Donny taking the wheel and putting us all in danger because he has no idea what he’s doing. If a new administration wants to shrink government, one can at least hope they’ll do it sensibly, or at the very, very least intentionally. But what we’re faced with now is a particularly vicious sort of limbo: three months in, and Trump’s policies (and thoughts) remain unclear and inconsistent, and the bureaucracy (our government’s damn engine, I’ll remind you) looks like swiss cheese. But what does it mean for us?

The long and short of it is simple: whatever you think he might be able to do for you and your family, he’s not going to be able to do it. But this piece has already gone on too long, and my editors are probably already getting antsy. In my next piece, I’ll go into detail as to why, in addition to the disastrous state of the executive branch, Trump will more than likely be unable to deliver on whatever promises you believe he has made.

 

[1] In other words: “The first 100 days don’t matter, but my first 100 days have been the best ever, for the record”—alrighty, Donny, we get it, you’re grumpy and defensive because no one likes you.

[2] But not for much longer! For those of you who know me I’ll be drinking down at Tiny’s pretty much every Friday night starting in July. If this article annoys you, come by; I’ll get the first round and we’ll hash this out. And if you like the article, well, come by and you can buy the first round.

[3] And, reportedly, very little sleep and a lot of fast food.

[4] The others being, you know, racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc. And look, if that’s what you’re about, I’m happy to talk with you about it (I mean, not happy, but I’ll do it), but I ain’t gonna write an article about it. Come find me at Tiny’s (but you’re buying the first round).

 

The views expressed in this article represent the views of the author only and do not reflect the views of other Arbitror contributors or of Arbitror as a whole.

 

Photo: "President Trump's First 100 Days: 14" originally taken by Shealah Craighead for the White House. Photo in the public domain. 

Hey, Rural America: Let's Talk About Trump's First 100 Days, Part 2

Hey, Rural America: Let's Talk About Trump's First 100 Days, Part 2

The First One Hundred Days: A Failure in Leadership, but a Boon for Trump

The First One Hundred Days: A Failure in Leadership, but a Boon for Trump