Donald Trump‘s presidency has hit the 100 day mark, and as a milestone in failure, it’s hard to beat. Even though Republicans now control Congress and the White House, Trump has little to show legislatively for his honeymoon period. If anything, most of energy has gone into tweets that manage at once to grab attention and underscore how loony he is.
It’s easy to comfort yourself with the idea that Trump is a just a bloviating incompetent, in large part because it’s true. Because Trump has shifted the goal posts for normalcy so down the field and out of the stadium altogether, we’re relieved that he seems so inept at the job.
That’s okay as far as it goes. But it falls into the trap of keeping the focus on Trump. And when you shift your gaze to the people who are actually running government agency, there’s far more reason to be worried. In fact, if you took Trump out of the equation, there’s very little about the Trump Administration that a President Ted Cruz would have done differently.
Start with Jeff Sessions. Thirty years ago, Sessions was deemed too racist to be a federal judge. Now he oversees all of the nation’s laws. Sessions is doing his best to erode LGBTQ protections. There are high-profile acts, like withdrawing the government from the suit challenging North Carolina’s bathroom law or rescinding protections for gay students.
There are plenty of other examples from other parts of Trump’s administration. For one thing, he’s given a whole bunch of homophobes, like Rick Perry and Ben Carson, power to impose their stamp on government agencies. There are also the appointments of lower-level folks, like James Renne, who led a purge of gay employees in the George H.W. Bush administration.
Many of the biggest battle are still to come. The religious right has not relinquished its hope of enshrining a religious liberty exemption in law, and Republicans in Congress are pushing Trump to carve out a right to discriminate. Trump punted on this once before, but in selecting Neil Gorsuch, Trump chose a Supreme Court nominee who can do the job for him.
Trump has a feeble grasp at best on policy. He can’t bother his pretty orange head about the details of governing. But he’s surrounded himself with plenty of people who are more than willing to use the levers of power to implement their world view. No wonder the religious right is celebrating.
So as we cross the 100-day barrier, don’t look at what Trump has failed to do. Keep an eye on his henchmen who are carrying out their own right-wing agenda. In their quiet way, they’re achieving the kind of change that the commander-in-chief is finding so elusive.
President Cruz would have been proud.