JOHN TULLOH. Trump’s first 100 days – so what?

Apr 27, 2017

   The media have been besides themselves in anticipation of Donald Trump’s first 100 days in the White House this weekend. It’s as if this is some magic marker by which to judge his next 1359 days in the Oval Office. It is meaningless.  

The first 100 days of a new leader in power or after a major disaster or the introduction of a major change to our lives has always been a useful excuse for the media to review what’s happened so far. But this year, such is the the ravenous demand for something new or different every minute of the day, many newspapers and columnists have already had their say about the Trump presidency as if they cannot contain themselves with their judgment. We have entered an era of instant verdicts on everything. Forget about a moment or two for thought or reflection. Media time now waits for none of that. Thanks to social media, it is the same with the masses. Just shoot from the hip.

Perhaps some of this is understandable when the Trump presidency has become a kind of political freak show like nothing we have seen before in arousing voyeuristic interest in what absurdity, gimcrack claim or idle threat he is going to perpetrate next, although he is showing restraint lately.

The media reported the Trump campaign last year as if it were some kind of travelling carnival. Roll up, roll up. You won’t believe the nonsensical claims you’re about to hear. But they did. CNN and the other 24-hour news channels couldn’t get enough of it. It was a ratings and revenue El Dorado. Their output infected the rest of the world. It was if P.T.Barnum had taken over the news industry. Impressionable voters were led to believe Trump was the modern day King Midas, such was the delirium at his rallies and the radical changes he solemnly promised.

The great shame was that amid all the media excitement there was little pause for cautioning their audiences that one person in the White House cannot single-handedly achieve much of the wild promises Trump was making. In many cases, Congress will always have the last word as the president can issue only executive orders, but cannot enact laws, repeal legislation or approve spending. His only authority is that he can veto congressional decisions. But we heard very little of this. His provocative claims became news which blossomed into entertainment for which there is a wider audience and thus more revenue.

Like a political novice, Trump is now finding out for himself the way Washington works, starting with his loss of face on Obamacare, that NATO was more important than he thought and now his conclusion that the Chinese president and his country were not such bad chaps after all. Then there were the laws of the land which came as an unwelcome obstacle to him when he tried to discriminate on migration.

Who knows, perhaps the separation of federal powers never occurred to Trump, a man accustomed bulldozing his way through obstacles in business life. Or perhaps he thought like his impressionable supporters – and the media – that somehow it didn’t matter. As the expression goes, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Whatever, it remained in the financial interests of the mainstream American media to maintain full throttle on the Trump phenomena when it became not so much a reality show, but an unreality one. Cable news continued to thrive, while digital subscriptions to the New York Times and Washington Post have soared. As we have discovered, the fallout has washed up on our shores like a news tidal wave as if all Trump’s policies will have an impact on Australia.

By now, most people are familiar with the hollowness and disingenuous of Trump’s electoral bluster. But to give the man his due he cannot even start to fulfill his main policy – to make America great again – in 100 days. His real judgment day will be whether he has been able to revive those industries and jobs like he said he would and create new opportunities in the style of a 21st century New Deal. That will take a long time. What’s more, he will need a sympathetic Congress and brave corporate investors to achieve that no matter what he says that he is going to do.

So let’s not get worked up over those first 100 days. They are meaningless in the context of such an marathon assignment. The two-year mark will be a critical time for a progress report. But for the US media – therefore us as well – the Trump presidency has become a tv serial which could be just as easily called Days of our Lives like the long-running real tv serial. We will have to get used to it until, like with many tv shows, viewers lose interest and switch to something else.

FOOTNOTE. One wonders what Theodore H. White, the acclaimed American journalist and historian who wrote the seminal Making of the President books about the campaigns between 1960 and 1980 would have made of the television circuses they have become today. Back then he had to follow some of the campaigning and sift through a manageable amount of speeches, statements, interviews, gossip, opinions and history to reflect on how the victor made it all the way to the White House. But today the poor man would be buried in an eternity of tv air time, millions of words and the opinions of vast communities of anonymous social media addicts. By the time he’d finished, his words would have been irrelevant in today’s information express. Sad, as Trump himself might have twittered.

John Tulloh had a 40-year career in foreign news.  

See also: A hundred Days of Trump.

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