Are we really living in Trump’s America?
For the past few months, whenever someone on the left says something particularly insane, conservatives immediately snark back, “This is why Trump won.” To a certain extent, they’re right: The palpable anger on the radicalized left that helped govern America into political polarization drove the Trump movement. Trump sits in the White House as a result.
But there’s a more important question that must be asked as we approach day 100 of the Trump administration: Has Trump actually changed anything in America?
The 100-day mark means little in reality. As Trump points out, it’s an arbitrary deadline; there have been presidents who did little in their first 100 days and ended up with a solid legacy (Bill Clinton) and those who did an enormous amount and ended up imploding (Lyndon B. Johnson). But here’s what the first 100 days actually do: They set the table.
President Ronald Reagan set the table for his administration by pushing for lower taxes over the protestations of the Democrats and militantly standing against Soviet aggression. President Clinton’s failures in his first 100 days set the stage for his move to the center — by his second term, he declared that the “era of big government is over.”
President Barack Obama came into office promising change. That change did not come chiefly in the realm of policy — his only lasting policy change appears to be Obamacare, which is currently bankrupting itself across the country — but in the political heart of the country. Before 2009, Americans yearned for unity. It’s why Obama was elected. We were tired of the polarization of the Bush years; we were sick of the feeling that half the country wanted the other half gone. Obama pledged to change that.
That pledge came on the back of big-government promises. America could be united, Obama seemed to suggest, if only we believed in him personally. That’s what Obama achieved in his first 100 days: He changed the nature of the political debate by suggesting that big government could earn your trust, that he would demonstrate the dedication necessary to turn government into an avatar of this newfound “unity.”
Then he utilized government power to push for hardcore leftism, which polarized the country.
Obama’s 100-day vision failed. But Trump has yet to replace it with anything new. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” sloganeering hasn’t promised a new unity of purpose. It has actually exacerbated a reverse polarization. His policies aren’t discussed in terms of helping all Americans; they embody a political sectarianism pioneered by Obama and hijacked by Trump. Trump’s first 100 days haven’t moved the American story in any marked way at all, actually — we’re precisely where we were 101 days ago. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t had policy victories (most obvious is the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch). But it does mean that there is no vision upon which he calls Americans to the table. There are just things he wants and things he doesn’t, and Americans he likes and Americans he doesn’t.
If past trends hold, that means his administration will continue to be a haphazard agglomeration of random partisan prescriptions without any basis in a thoroughgoing vision of Americanism. We’re all here, and he’s the president, and that’s that. But while such lack of vision can work in an oppositional setting, as a rejection of the status quo, it can’t move America forward in any real way.
That’s why Trump must decide what he wants America to be, not just what he wants Americans to think of him. He must provide a vision. If he doesn’t, he’ll be seen as merely a placeholder, a reactionary president living in an America of Barack Obama’s making.
Ben Shapiro, 33, is a graduate of UCLA and Harvard Law School, host of “The Ben Shapiro Show” and editor-in-chief of DailyWire.com.