Jim Jenkins

A term, and a president, both unfinished

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 19: President Donald Trump speaks to world leaders at the 72nd United Nations (UN) General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York on September 19, 2017 in New York City. This is Trump's first appearance at the General Assembly where he addressed threats from Iran and North Korea among other global concerns.
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 19: President Donald Trump speaks to world leaders at the 72nd United Nations (UN) General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York on September 19, 2017 in New York City. This is Trump's first appearance at the General Assembly where he addressed threats from Iran and North Korea among other global concerns. Getty Images

You have to wonder if there were few friends for young Donald J. Trump in Queens, New York, when he began his growing-up 71 years ago. For it is our friends who take us to “finishing school,” who show us, when we act up, when we “cross the line,” that we can’t do that and expect no consequences in the form of a bloody nose or some scuffed chinos.

It is one of the experiences that sort of rounds off a person.

Young Trump is now older Trump, and president of the United States to boot, so the fact that he has no ability to moderate his behavior or parse his words, recognizes no lines not to cross ... well, for all the enemies Trump perceives he has, he doesn’t see the worst one, the one in the mirror.

Latest (and sigh, only the latest) case in point: his apparent re-tweeting of a video in which he is shown swinging a golf club and the golf ball strikes Hillary Clinton in the back and she falls.

As usual, Trump’s champions on the far – well, the far of whatever direction Trump’s supporters come from – laugh with approval, but most others on all sides of the political mainstream will cringe at the sight, “photoshopped” though it may be, of the president engaged in sophomoric behavior. What’s next? Pies in the face for Chuck Shumer and Nancy Pelosi? Whoopee cushions at Cabinet meetings?

The president’s latest has the one true characteristic of all bad jokes: It’s not funny.

But here’s the really important part of reports on Trump’s silliness, in this and other episodes. One news report noted that the president was still up to his usual tricks “eight months into his presidency.” Think about that. Trump’s tenure is closing in rapidly on a year, a quarter of his term. And he has virtually nothing to show for it beyond a wholesale repealing of Obama-era regulations.

There was his border wall no-go and his hammering of the evils of “Obamacare,” but Trump has no accomplishments at a time when other presidents with both houses of Congress in their party would have rushed through their campaign agendas. Instead, Mexico’s not paying for the wall, and there’s no replacement for the evil “Obamacare” and not much enthusiasm for any plan Republicans have put forward.

Eight months. No, better: Eight months?

Franklin Roosevelt reorganized an entire economy, and gave a country in emotional peril reason to hope. Ronald Reagan, despite being shot early in his presidency, made the significant appointment of Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court and pushed some tax cuts that remain questionable in terms of their effect on the economy, but he also had to handle some tough foreign affairs issues. Dwight Eisenhower agreed to an armistice to end the Korean War and maintained the New Deal ideas of Roosevelt, including Social Security. Also in his first term, the general began the interstate highway system.

Sure, sometimes as with Roosevelt, presidents get things done because a nation is in crisis and there’s no time to dawdle. But most presidents come to office with some idea of what they want to accomplish. It’s rather like Gov. Jim Hunt, the four-term wonder of North Carolina, used to say: You’ve got to first know what you want to do, and then you have to figure out how to do, and then do it.

Trump had no agenda, because he figured not to win the office. He knew how to wear his MAGA hat and flail at Hillary Clinton and talk about the “disaster” of Obamacare and promise his border wall and that health care was going to be “great” and “beautiful,” but he’d really given no thought to what he wanted to do – because he didn’t know. The race was the thing for him, which is why he keeps reliving the election and tuning up his fans in campaign-like rallies. And, it’s why he likes to riff on his enemies in the early morning.

But the race is over. He broke the tape. Now what? The president needs to be answering the question, not asking it.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com

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