Sunday, May 28, 2017

The 100 Days Report Card

Grading is an expression of your values. Every one of the dozen or so student teachers I've worked with has received this nugget of wisdom in answer to questions such as: "How many points should this question be worth?", and "Should this be a test or quiz?", and "What time is lunch again?". In this post, we will apply some values-based grading to Trump's first 100 days in office.

The president suddenly decided on day 96 or so that 100 days is not a very good measure of anything. That's fine. All marking periods are arbitrary demarcations, and are therefore poor indicators of overall learning. However, research shows that a student's early grades can be a pretty good predictor of how things will go for the rest of the course. Similarly, the 100 days benchmark also seems to be sort of a thing, so now would appear to be a worthwhile time to take stock, as previously promised: here. By the way, if you find it a little strange that I'm turning in these grades a bit late, you obviously don't work as the office secretary at my school.

Keep in mind, progress in 100 days is a measure that Trump himself invited, back when he assumed things would be going well by then. Using Trump's own promises as a benchmark also seems reasonable, given that it is difficult to choose what to measure for this. That is, it may not be possible to fairly score "success" in goals that more than half of voters voted against. Doing things this way, Trump's first grade report is for a term he chose, based on a syllabus he designed. Given that this is a dream scenario that savvy Slackers should enthusiastically embrace (see also: here), I'm sure he'll do well.

Subject: Border Wall, Paid for by Mexico
Grade: F
Comments: It's possible, though increasingly unlikely, he could still get this done within his presidency. However, it certainly didn't happen this marking period--in fact, the Congress overtly forbid spending on this. Throughout, it's been interesting to watch his surrogates try to float the idea that the wall is more a metaphor for improved boarder security: increased personnel, tweaks to existing infrastructure, and technological improvements, only to have Trump himself come out and say in no uncertain terms that it's a literal wall, and somehow beautiful.  It's a style of messaging that is happening quite a lot in this administration (see also: here).

Subject: Budget
Grade: F+
Comments: This one's an F as well. Trump laid out lots of budgetary goals--which should be viewed as expressions of his values--all of which were rejected in the bipartisan omnibus spending agreement (we can only hope this happens again in the fall). The fact that the agreement itself happened on day 101 is, I think, unlikely to be coincidence. My guess is that the timing of the announcement may have been part of the negotiations, and actually from a request on the Republicans' side, based on the fact that the timing kept another major loss out of the president's 100 days grading period.
Either way, his priorities--cutting endowments for arts and humanities, cutting education, and screwing the poor--were largely ignored. The fact that some additional military spending was thrown in bumped his grade to an F+, but military spending is kind of a given in budgets, and no one really thought they'd hold it to zero. The fact that there were not corresponding increases in discretionary spending is being considered a Republican victory (note: an expression of their values), but it certainly doesn't look like Trump gets any credit here. He tried to spin it otherwise, but Slackers know that's a well-worn report card trick as well.

Subject: Drain the Swamp
Grade: F A
Comments: Two words: Goldman. Sachs.
Okay, more words: Trump never really specified what he meant by "the swamp," but most people assumed that it was the old revolving door of bottom-feeders spending enough time in government to change the rules in their favor, returning to the private sector to reap the profits, and then returning to government to coax through more favoritism. Or maybe it meant longtime bureaucrats and technocrats colluding with sleazy legislators who know how to rig the system. Or maybe it meant...
No, it just meant Democrats.
This grade was originally entered as failing, but on further reflection, he did drain the swamp; then he refilled it with his own slimy beasts. He didn't mention that during the campaign--maybe we failed to ask sufficiently--but according to our curriculum, he did what he said he would do. I predict that there will be additional drainage from this administration coming soon. Prevailing wisdom is that he's getting rid of anyone who seems like they're part of investigation into Russia's meddling. I'm sure it's partly that, but I think any administration official who seems like they're providing council should keep an eye open for oncoming buses. For example, it looked like Rod Rosenstein was having a moment in the spotlight, until Trump noticed that he was having a moment in the spotlight and put an end to it. 
Update: Then our friend Rod appointed a special prosecutor, so it's hard to keep up with how that's going. Better turn these grades in soon or stuff will just keep happening. 

Subject: Fixing China
Grade:W (Withdrawn)
Comments: Turns out China stopped currency manipulation years ago. Oops.

Subject: Better Russian Relations
Grade: C-
Comments: Looks like the love affair with Russia is largely over, but the cooling relations don't seem to have immediately resulted in a deluge of kompromat. Yet.
For this administration, that gets grade-inflated to a C-. Keep an eye on this subject in subsequent grading periods.

Subject: Not Playing Golf
Grade: D-
Comments: You think there shouldn't be a grade for this, but Trump actually made numerous promises not to play golf, usually tied to criticism of Obama. Trump's golf habit, combined with his three White Houses, required $61,000,000 in the budget deal just to reimburse local law enforcement near his properties for his frequent visits. That doesn't include his and hers planes, Secret Service golf cart rentals, and the cost of keeping the press from seeing any of it.
If you're looking for grade inflation here, forget it. Trump has spent more than 30% of his days in office at a Trump property--that includes weekdays. Given that he's spent something like half of weekend days during this time not playing golf, a passing grade here is already a gift.

Subject: Repeal and Replace
Grade: F D
Comments: This was adjusted after the fact, due to some late work submitted the week after the grading period ended. Yes, the House passed a bill, and yes it does more-or-less repeal and replace Obamacare. It's a horrible bill, though, and the grade reflects this. Republicans knew it was a horrible bill, which is why they didn't wait for CBO scoring, or the many months of debate that Obamacare got, or, it would seem, bothering to read the actual bill.
The Speaker of the House doesn't read my blog. I can tell. I'm not permitted to fail him because I dislike the actual bill, but even the Republican-led Senate has rejected it and started from scratch, so it's all sort of a sham at this point.

Subject: A Trillion Dollars for Infrastructure
Grade: W
Comments: This is the real Repeal and Replace of the nascent administration. Turns out, what he actually meant was not so much infrastructure, as tax incentives to create infrastructure. Trump repealed his promise to spend money on real stuff, and replaced it with the old chestnut of "give wealthy people money and they'll spend it on the common good." If this goes through his way, make sure to charge up your EzPass and make plans to go places with a high profit:cost ratio. Don't plan to use mass transit to get there either. Apparently, riding trains is too fuzzy-headed liberal, even if it can be made profitable. You could read actual professional writing on this topic: here.

Subject: Undoing Obama's Presidency
Grade: A
Comments: This subject is proof that the fact that just 'cause you're doing something isn't in and of itself a good thing. Trump's fetish with undoing Obama's impact on the nation has been so single-minded that he doesn't seem to care whether there was merit to the the thing in the first place. Thus we've seen that Trump hates water (despite assurances to the contrary), enjoys climate change, thinks the mentally ill should have guns, doesn't mind screwing student loan holders, thinks BP should have an easier time drilling, doesn't like whistle-blowers,  is suspicious of financial reform, and doesn't like National Parks and Monuments,

Trump's grades so far amount to a desperate situation, but not an irreparable one. There's something of a Scorpion and the Frog aspect to all of this, in that people like me can't help but want to shoot venom into the very vessel on which we all teeter. I was never going to be a fan of this president, but if he started to act in the interests of the people who actually voted for him, we could start to see some passing grades. I don't know that I'm mature enough to wish Trump well, but I do like roads and stuff, I would like to see actual improvements to Obamacare, and I would enjoy not seeing another world war. Improving these grades may be Trump's responsibility, but it's not just his problem.

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