Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Opinion

Column: Trump's can't-do record

Well, heck, who said Donald Trump wasn't going to accomplish anything in his first 100 days? All of a sudden there's a one-page tax plan and a raft of deal-making, while the Senate was bused over to the White House grounds for a briefing on North Korea.

Maybe the president believes that when you can make an entire chamber of Congress ride around like so many tour groups, the world will understand that you're a can-do kind of guy.

Trump wasn't actually in public for any of this. Outside of congratulating the National Teachers of the Year, the man himself was in sight only for events in which he announced that a Cabinet member had been directed to look into something.

On Day 97, Trump first appeared before the cameras to tell us the secretary of the interior was going to review previous presidents' habit of saving federal lands from development. Federal land, Trump reminded the audience, "belongs to all of us." He then called for turning it over to the states.

His recent predecessors have tried to defend places like a gorgeous section of Utah called Grand Staircase-Escalante by declaring them national monuments. You can do that because of a law called the Antiquities Act that goes back to Theodore Roosevelt. Republicans love to brag about Theodore Roosevelt, except when he was protecting the wilderness.

People, I want a show of hands: How many of you would like to see coal mining at the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument? I thought so.

Trump, who took only one question, seemed extremely proud of himself when he announced this new study-the-issue initiative. Other politicians, he confided, were always telling him: "You're doing the right thing. I don't know if I would have had the courage to do some of these things."

Second show of hands: How many of you think politicians are actually telling the president that if they were in his shoes they'd be too chicken to favor the energy industry over environmental protection programs? I know they can be craven, but really.

Everybody knows that Trump wants a can-do record when he hits Day 100 on Saturday. To get there, he appeared to be adopting the garb of Somewhat Normal Republican (SNORE). The House leaders were working out an agreement with conservatives on health care, tossing people with pre-existing ailments over the rail. The administration seemed ready to make a deal with Democrats to keep the government running. And his new tax plan is almost identical to the approach his recent Republican predecessors have taken, which is basically to cut the heck out of revenue and to hell with the deficit.

"The tax plan will pay for itself with economic growth," said Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin.

The idea that huge tax cuts will gin up the economy so much that everything will balance out is a beloved fairy tale. It can be found in the same book as "The Beauty Starves the Beast," which tells the saga of a handsome prince who cut down a thicket of taxes and was saved from a witch's curse when Congress arrived with matching cuts in spending.

The president was not around for the news conference in which his plan was revealed, in the form of a super-short press release. (The description of how the administration wants to help families with child care costs was, in total, "providing tax relief.")

For a man who loves drama, Trump's domestic role lately has been super undramatic. While the senators were getting off their buses, Trump went before the cameras to announce that he had directed the secretary of education to investigate whether there were too many federal regulations of public schools.

We can already guess where this one is going, so there wasn't a lot of suspense — the high point of the event was his introduction of the new governor of Alabama, who had arrived at her office through the time-honored method of waiting for her superior to get driven out of office in a sex scandal.

It's a bit ironic that Trump makes such a show of directing his Cabinet members to do things when the administration hasn't gotten around to nominating their top staff. Do you think Mnuchin would have had a longer tax description to hand out if he had an assistant secretary for tax policy?

This is going on all over the government. But then who needs an ambassador in Afghanistan or South Korea?

The Democrats, meanwhile, are gearing up for battle on the tax cuts — once they figure out exactly what they are. The super-easy response is just to say that before Trump asks Congress to do anything, he should show us his taxes. This came up at the press conference, and Mnuchin's response was approximately the same as if someone suggested his boss might want to disembowel puppies.

"The president has released plenty of information and I think has given more financial disclosure than anybody else," he said quickly and with deep inaccuracy.

SNORE.

© 2017 New York Times

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