The Trump presidency has just begun, and though plenty of people have been happy to offer predictions, nobody really knows how it will go. (If it's like pretty much every other presidency in my lifetime, the answer is "disappointingly.") But Trump's transition - his "pre-presidency" - is just about over now, so let's see how that's gone, and if that offers us any guidance on how things might go in the future.
And, actually, Trump has accomplished some stuff. So far, in his pre-presidency, Trump has:
(1) Killed off dynastic politics, at least for now. If Hillary had won, 4 of the last 5 presidents would have come from two families. Before the election got underway, when everybody thought it would wind up as Clinton v. Bush, some of my friends from less developed countries were making fun of the United States trading the top slot between two connected families, as something less than an example of developed democracy. And they were right. That's not healthy.
(2) Kept Hillary out of the White House. With the Clinton Global Initiative scam - shut down as soon as there was no influence left to peddle - she was amazingly crooked even by D.C. standards, and with her disastrous record in Libya and Syria, amazingly inept even by D.C. standards as well. Countless future debacles have been prevented by keeping her out. Plus, a Clinton presidency would have allowed the completion of the Obama administration's weaponization of the federal government (as with the multiyear IRS scandal) and possibly ensured one-party rule for decades. And at the very least, it would have allowed the sorry gang that Obama and Clinton brought in (go read the Podesta emails!) to bore in for four to eight more years. A Hillary presidency would have been terrible for the country, and it has been averted. (Likewise - see above - a Jeb presidency, which would have been less crooked, but probably no less inept, to judge from Jeb's hapless campaign).
Frankly, those two things alone were perfectly decent reasons for backing Trump, and he's already delivered on them. But what else has he done, for good and ill?
(3) Bringing jobs back. From the Carrier deal to the just announced decision by Wal-Mart to create 10,000 jobs in the United States, Trump has done what Obama said was impossible in terms of keeping jobs in the United States. Most of this, it's true, is symbolic. But as FDR knew, symbolism is important in maintaining morale during tough economic times. And Trump promises that he'll push changes that will encourage other companies to do the same for solid tax and investment reasons, not just because of presidential jawboning. These early examples make that more likely to happen.
(4) The appointments. The appointment of retired Marine general James Mattis as secretary of Defense all by itself represents a major step toward turning our military back into warriors, as opposed to the social justice warriors they were being turned into under the Obama administration. Mattis, of course, has gotten bipartisan support, but many other appointments also look good. I originally thought (and said) that Rex Tillerson was a bad pick for secretary of State, but hearing him talk since then I feel pretty good about it. Sessions wouldn't have been my first choice for attorney general (I don't like his record on the drug war or civil forfeiture), but otherwise he's a solid guy and even many of the Democrats attacking him now were happy to work with him over decades in the Senate.
The truth about Obama's approval rating: Paul Brandus
(5) The process. Right after the election, we heard that the Trump transition was chaotic, conflicted, a mess. Then the actual transition came and it was . . . pretty smooth. As Robert Charles wrote about the various cabinet nominees, "The nominees are not newbies. Nor are they misaligned with their assigned missions. They are seasoned professionals. And they are acting that way. They are proving candid and deep, sensible, at times even sage. They know the ropes, their fields, the challenges that lie ahead of them - and respect Congress. . . . Since the president-elect designated his future cabinet, nominees have conducted more than 300 meetings with Senators and staff, met with 87 of the 100 Senators, including 50 Republican Senators and 37 Democrats. "The press likes to portray Trump as an impulsive goofball. But that's not what we're seeing here.
(6) The press. As Politico's Jack Shafer pretty much admits, the White House Press Corps has been asleep for eight years, serving more as lapdog than watchdog under Obama. Now, just as I predicted, they're starting to cover the presidency critically again. That didn't happen under Obama, and it probably wouldn't have happened under Hillary. But under Trump, the press will be making investigative journalism great again!Whether Trump can match these accomplishments once he's actually in office, I don't know. It may be that he's peaked already. But he's already outperformed my (admittedly modest) expectations. I hope he'll keep doing that in the four (or eight) years to come.