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The first 100 days presidential review mania – a media creation of no consequence

Chandra K. Mittal, Ph.D

Chandra K. Mittal, Ph.D

by Chandra K. Mittal, Ph.D.
Last week, till President Donald Trump reached his first 100 Days mark since taking over as the 45th US President, the American media was having a frenzy about his job performance at this “magical” time-point to predict the future trajectory of his term which will, incidentally, complete only in January 2021. Sounds ridiculous? Absolutely, because it is. But no matter how ridiculous, nutty or illogical the idea of evaluating a US President’s performance for the First 100 Days may be, the tradition continues with full fervor sucking enormous amount of media time and energy without much consequence or relevance except television ratings of the networks.

The practice of 100 Days Presidential performance evaluation is not a Congressional or Constitutional mandate. It is just a media creation that came into existence purely by default in 1933, when media used it to gaze and highlight the progress Franklin D Roosevelt had made within his first 100 days of taking over the US Presidency from Herbert Hoover under most dire economic circumstance. The country was in the middle of the Great Depression with wide spread poverty and high unemployment. FDR quickly acted to reverse the situation by various legislative and executive measures, and was credited for bring the country out of the economic morass in a short span of 100 Days. This built public confidence in FDR.
But today nation does not face anything like what it did in the 1930s. Still some 84 years later, the tradition continues despite its irrelevance and poor predictive value. This was best illustrated by Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. In case of Carter, 1st 100 days showed great progress but then his term was marred with low economic growth, high interest rates and Iran hostage crisis denying him the 2nd term. Converse was true with President Kennedy, Reagan and Clinton, both of whom experienced shaky 1st 100 days but later created sustained economic growth, making them both the two-term popular Presidents.
Similarly, President John F. Kennedy saw the humiliation of Bay of Pigs in 1961 during his first 100 days in office but later became a successful President with economic boom. This reflects the intellectual bankruptcy of the idea of evaluating a US President in the 1st 100 days.

In 2017, however, the 100 Days performance mania assumed special significance because besides media, President Donald Trump also participated in this frenzy when he made tall claims during the election campaign and placed extraordinary emphasis on achieving certain national goals within 100 days if he were elected. This obviously gave extra fodder to the media, which felt compelled to scrutinize his performance much to his dislike. Media wants to literally hold him accountable for his political rhetoric. So, Donald Trump essentially become victim of his own deeds. Unfortunately, this is not totally justified on the part of media since many of his election promises require Congressional approval, an inherently slow process, before these can be delivered.

The institution of press and media is the creation of the United States Constitution under the provisions of the First Amendment Rights of free speech. It is a vital component of an open democratic society. Media works best and is most credible when it is objective, truthful and politically independent, not aligned to any political viewpoint. Unfortunately, however, today’s political polarization has seeped into the media polluting sanctity of this sacred institution. In many instances, it is biased and partisan. This is sad for US democracy.

On the other side ideally, the President while being accessible to the media, should not entangle with it in any personalized or argumentative posture as it demeans the office. But that is not the case with President Donald Trump who, since the campaign stage, has openly continued to publicly admonish the media with insults and denigration, creating an adversarial relationship with it. He has a personal disdain for the media. So, now every time the President makes a policy move, the media overanalyzes it to criticize him. It is not willing to cut him any slack or show understanding because he has no experience of an elected political office. In short, Donald Trump has had no honeymoon with the press.

As irrelevant and impertinent as it is, ideally first 100 days’ mark into the Presidency should not be of much concern to the President. As Karl Rove, Senior Adviser to President Gorge W. Bush recently stated on a television program, they (i.e. President Bush) did not care or pay attention to the 100 Day mark in their term. In contrast, however, not to be undone by the media or be left behind in the public campaign to exhibit his achievements, President Trump was busy building up his resume with his Executive Orders, future action plans, Supreme Court appoint, etc. to trumpet his 100 days’ success to reassure his political base.

Nobody has the crystal ball to predict the future including the present one based on first 100 days. Only thing that can be learned from this duration is the style, attitude and aptitude of the President towards the office. In case of President Trump, it shows he is transitioning from a business executive to public servant in the highest office in the land with goals that are distinct and different from the business world. In this role he could be better served if he did not personalize the office and treated it purely like an public institution with many stake holders including the media. In the end, the national and global circumstances shape the Presidency and not what a President did or did not do in the first 100 days of his term.

Dr. Chandra Mittal is Professor at Houston Community College and Co-Founder of Indo-American Association (IAA). Contact: drckmittal@yahoo.com: Twitter: @drchandramittal

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