One Hundred Days of Disquietude

President Donald Trump’s chaotic and ineffective first 100 days in office seem to have vindicated even his harshest critics. US policymaking has been rendered inscrutable and unpredictable to almost everyone – including, perhaps, to the president himself.

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The convention of assessing a national leader’s first 100 days is said to date back to Napoleon, by way of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Whereas Napoleon’s 100 days before Waterloo were a profile in hubris, and FDR’s first 100 days a portrait in hope, Donald Trump’s presidency has been so wayward and uncanny that no single word seems to come close to capturing its essence.

Still, two main schools of thought about Trump’s presidency have emerged. One school sees a callow narcissist who, after suffering a string of embarrassing defeats during his first weeks in office, is reluctantly accepting on-the-job training and adopting more mainstream positions. According to this view, White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon, the administration’s “alt-right” avatar, will continue to be marginalized by figures such as National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Trump’s embrace of NATO (which he had called “obsolete” during the campaign) is similarly reassuring, as is the influence of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner (despite Kushner’s inexperience, almost complete public silence, and lack of any definitive achievements as the Trump family consigliere).

Adherents of the second school hold that Trump’s infant presidency is in fact infantile – or what IE Business School’s Lucy Marcus calls “governance by id.” They point to Trump’s apparent inability to control his repeated Twitter tantrums, which continue to unnerve foreign leaders and global markets, and to his profound ignorance of basic facts. His lies, fantasies, and volte-faces, they argue, have left US policymaking utterly unpredictable to almost everyone, including many members of the administration – perhaps even to the president himself.

Project Syndicate commentators – some of whom have served in previous US administrations, or have dealt with previous US presidents – have been acutely aware of the risks that have emerged during Trump’s first 100 days, as well as those that haven’t. When considered as a whole, their views provide an essential portrait not just of America since Inauguration Day, but of a world profoundly unsettled by Trump.