Hey, Rural America: Let's Talk About Trump's First 100 Days, Part 2
So, to pick up where we left off in part one, let’s look at the many promises of President Donald Trump. I’m not going to detail every single thing he said he was going to do; frankly, that’s the work of a short political science treatise. But, I will look at a couple of his actions which relate to rural areas, as well as his attempts to get any of his major legislative initiatives through Congress.
To start, as far as rural areas go, he has done precisely one thing as relates to agriculture: on April 24 he signed an executive order establishing a review panel and giving it a deadline to come back to him with ideas as to how to fix laws and regulations which might be onerous for farmers. Of course, that deadline is pretty far out: 180 days out, to be exact. So Donny will have been in office for 276 days before this panel gets back to him, and then it will be God knows how long before something (...anything?) is done in response to those recommendations. Given the state of his executive branch, God only knows what those recommendations will look like. As for the possibility of getting a law passed which might help us (assuming it does anything to help us, which is a big assumption), if you’ve been following the news lately, you might have noticed something: Trump hasn’t signed a single piece of major legislation. It is true that he has signed more bills into law since Harry Truman so far, but none of those laws required any sort of major effort to get votes together; those bills, like the appointment of Neil Gorsuch, are simply the result of the GOP controlling both houses of Congress and the White House. Basically, the laws he has signed are low-hanging fruit, the presidential equivalent of participation trophies.
The one major initiative he has pushed for, the American Healthcare Act (AHCA), failed hilariously and miserably, at least at first because he couldn’t get his own people in line. Trump knew the AHCA wouldn't pass and to save himself from embarrassment, he withdrew it before it even went to a vote. (Ah, the Freedom Caucus. It seems they truly are inveterate pains in the ass to everyone.) More recently, a second version of AHCA passed in the House, to much fanfare from the White House and House Republicans (including a ridiculously premature celebration in the Rose Garden), but there are a couple problems with that.
Most immediately, it is a terrible bill, objectively speaking. The details are complex, and other outlets have covered this in detail if you’re curious, but the long-and-short of it is stark. On the one hand, the House version of AHCA includes $1 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans over a decade, and opens the door for even more significant tax cuts in the future, under the guise of “tax reform.” On the other, well, a lot of people are going to be thoroughly screwed: according to the Congressional Budget Office, the number of folk without insurance will increase by 86%, as a result of Medicaid cuts and millions of people deciding to drop their insurance once the individual mandate is removed, thereby increasing insurance costs for those left with insurance. Of course, this contrasts completely with Trump’s pledge that everyone would have insurance, again showing that you cannot trust this man to keep his word.
And that’s not even getting into how the GOP chose to deal with preexisting conditions. Essentially, protections are in-place under AHCA, but states can choose to opt out, which many red states will choose to do; because covering fewer people with preexisting conditions would mean lower insurance costs overall, the GOP argument is that costs will go down. And there is something to that, but it still means a great many people with debilitating condition will be unable to get insurance yet again. The actual list of preexisting conditions under AHCA is lengthy because it removes ACA protections and adds some new preexisting conditions to the list. I’m not going to list every single one, but some stand-outs include things like, oh being overweight, for instance.
Even more reprehensibly, rape and domestic violence were considered preexisting conditions under certain health plans prior to ACA, and will be again under AHCA. (To be fair, some states have outlawed such awful bullshit, but even opening the door to that at all is unconscionable.) All told, 26% of Americans have preexisting conditions, and if they live in a state which choose to opt out, they’re pretty boned, just like they were before the ACA. For these reasons, some Senate Republicans are already trashing the bill, and might not even go forward with the House bill. And for good reason: this thing seems toxic, and they don’t want to lose their seats. So, despite the Presidents protests to the contrary, this was not a victory: it might just be the hill that Republicans die on come 2018.
Speaking of terrible ideas, let’s look at something else that hasn’t gone well for Trump: his first attempt to carry out another one of his primary campaign promises—the construction of a massively expensive border wall of dubious security value—resulted in him losing his nerve and backing down. Trump insisted that initial funding for it be put in a spending authorization bill, meaning that, in his mind, he’d either get his funding or the government would shutdown. Of course, this negotiation tactic had a major flaw: the Republicans would be held responsible for the shutdown.
Even Trump realized how bad it would look if the government shut down when the Republicans control all of Congress and the White House, so he backed down. The spending bill passed, sans border wall funding, and Trump’s reputation for adroit negotiation was yet again called into question by his impulsive, bullheaded nature and his inability to understand politics or the constitutionally-backed balance of power. (Which is possibly why he criticized the Constitution last week; for Constitutional conservatives reading this, I gotta know why that didn't drive you up the wall.) This episode in fact illustrates that Trump might not even have a considerable role in Congressional negotiations going forward, simply because he cannot provide leadership. Basically, even if he comes up with solid ideas to help rural areas, his inability to whip votes among his own party, his tendency to stake out maximalist positions and leave himself on weak negotiating ground, and his fundamental misunderstanding of how Washington works all indicate that he won’t be able to do much for us in the first place.
To compensate for his relative lack of success with legislation, Trump has resorted to a regular flurry of executive orders which, ironically, is something he criticized Obama for on many occasions. In point of fact, Trump signed more executive orders in his first 100 days than any president since Truman, and was only beat out by Roosevelt (who signed 99 executive orders in his first 100 days). The thing about executive orders, though, is that, as their name implies, their enforcement originates within the executive branch, and his executive branch is basically empty; consequently, the majority of his executive orders are nothing more than empty gestures; good for a picture, bad for actually doing anything of substance. Like the aforementioned executive order on agricultural regulation, these many, many executive orders are really just Trump saying “I’m gonna do this thing, and it’s gonna be great.” Essentially, those executive orders are vague, empty promises.
On another front, Trump’s general lack of clear direction has caused understandable jitters among many farmers, especially in regards to NAFTA. While anything involving international trade is complicated as all hell, were the U.S. to pull-out of NAFTA (as Trump first threatened to do, and then decided against, though his decision-making never seems very stable) the end result would be economic chaos, undoubtedly. While competing with cheap Mexican crops has certainly sucked, NAFTA has also allowed farmers across the country to export billions in crops. The full consequences are hard to know—as with most things, there would be winners and losers—but we’ve had NAFTA for twenty years now, and markets have become accustomed to its impact, more or less. Leaving now would certainly mean short-term economic pain, and there is no guarantee that conditions for US farmers (and I mean actual farmers, not massive agri-corps), would improve. If I know one thing about farming it is that uncertainty is the farmer’s natural enemy; it’s bad enough that your crop might get wiped out by a few bad weeks’ of weather, or one really, really bad day of weather, so why introduce another element of chaos into the mix?
At this point, I’m sure some of you are saying something about either “miners” or maybe “pipelines.” Well, in brief, Trump’s efforts to put miners back to work have done little to nothing to restore the overall national economy because miners are a tiny slice of total employment, and because automation is what’s killing those jobs anyway, so there’s little he can do about it. (If you don’t believe me, listen to Robert Murray, founder and CEO of the largest privately-owned coal company in the US: “He can’t bring them back.”) Coal mining is such a potent symbol of economic distress because when a coal mine goes down, it takes neighboring communities with it. Really, this goes for all older forms of energy: investors are leaving behind fossil fuels in favor of cleaner alternatives, which are less troublesome from an international regulatory perspective (because we’re finally, as a planet, starting to realize we shouldn’t dick around when it comes to climate change) and offer far more opportunities for innovation.
While the closure of coal mines and the like leave behind the haunting images of shuttered towns, a dying middle America, it is a matter of optics more than anything. (Perhaps, instead of clinging to outdated forms of energy, we could reinvest in those miners via job training in clean energy? Just a thought.) Of course, threats to rescind subsidies necessary for these new industries to thrive will damage our ability to compete; the U.K. is slated to fall behind in this respect, due to lack of government investment, while China is set to surge ahead. I can’t say for sure that every aspect of Trump’s plans on these matters are doomed to failure—I’m an insufferable know-it-all, not a psychic. But I can say, at the very least, that putting coal miners back to work in their old industry won’t be the most beneficial thing in the world for us, or for them.
I could go on for a bit, but I’m sure you’re sick of reading this by now. Look, I’m sure many of you have given Trump a lot of credit for trying, for bucking the establishment, for sticking it to the Man. But is that really all what you want from a president? A lot of trying, without much to show for it, on matters which won’t help, and will probably hurt, you and your families? For that matter, can you honestly say he’s even been working that hard? During the previous administration, Trump had a penchant for criticizing Obama’s golf habits (sending out 26 different tweets on the issue) but now that Donny is in the Oval Office himself he has gone golfing 16 times—more than Obama, and in fact more than the previous three Presidents combined in their first 100 days.
He has refused to work for the American people, both in the cities and along the coasts and in the country and in the American interior. If there is one thing I know country folk appreciate and value it is hard work—a venerable, meritocratic mindset rooted in long traditions of working with your hands to get what you need to feed your family. That is, I suspect, what many of you think of when you hear the phrase “make America great again,” and in that respect I understand the appeal of the phrase. That is a principle I hold dear as well, especially after spending so many years of my life writing essentially valueless academic essays—it has never been clearer to me that the dignity inherent in making something real and tangible cannot be overstated. But Trump is not the man to give that dignity back to us. He hasn’t the intelligence, or the work ethic, or the essential decency, to do so. We deserve better from our president. We deserve to be more than a pandered-to and easily-forgotten box for him to tick come election season. And unless we stand up to him, and whoever else comes down the pike next, that’s all we’re going to be.
As it stands right now, those of us in the rural areas of America who still support Trump are propping up someone whose main selling point is that he has… said things some of y’all like, I guess? Granted, when given the choice between someone saying things you like and someone saying a bunch of shit you don’t, I get why you’d go with the former. But talk is just talk at the end of the day, folks. Why would you continue to support someone who has hardly done any work? Someone who has basically dicked around for the past three months, and then had the audacity to complain that the job is harder than he thought it would be? Someone more concerned with appearing strong and effective than actually being either of those things? Ultimately, shouldn’t you demand a politician who works as hard as you do? Trump was never a great businessman, and frankly he was never a great person. So far, his time in the White House is showing him to be a terrible president, too, but that point can be debated. What can’t be debated is that he just isn’t doing his job. And if anything ought to get y’all up in arms it is that simple fact.
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: Day 36" originally taken by Shealah Craighead for the White House. Photo in the public domain.