Tomorrow, April 29, will mark President Donald Trump's 100th day in office. His administration has been the disaster we had expected. The sheer incompetence of the administration, which has failed to even fill hundreds of key positions, is rivaled only by the continued concerns about Trump's reliance on Steve Bannon and his nativist, dystopian ideology in the shaping of the president's agenda. A close third is the perpetuation of the "alternative facts"-approach to public responsibilities, in which propaganda is the norm and the press is seen as an enemy.
Congressional Republicans wonder how long they have to accomplish their objectives before the investigations into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia blow up, rendering serious legislative action unlikely.
Trump's Cabinet and key advisers are still learning how to interact with their leader. Like George III's advisers, who had to cope with the king's bouts of insanity, Trump's team cannot rely on the usual methods of informing the president or persuading him, mindful that no amount of evidence will be as important as his emotional disposition. Trump warms to conspiracy theories and gets his news from cable TV.
Democrats lack the votes to stall anything that Congressional Republicans and the president can agree upon, and they have a host of targets for their political jibes. Still, they fear that dozens of government programs, designed to address and ameliorate real human problems, may succumb to budget cuts or ideological attacks from the new administration.
All Americans have to wonder just how dangerous Trump is. Last Sunday night, Benoît Hamon, the socialist candidate for French president, in his concession speech, urged his supporters to back centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron in the runoff election against the nationalist Marine Le Pen. Hamon noted that it is one thing to disagree with another candidate over a particular issue, but something altogether different to confront a candidate who is a threat to the republic. Trump, like Le Pen, remains a threat to so much that actually makes America great.
For Roman Catholics committed to the church's social doctrine, there are five particular issues that are especially worrisome. In each case, it is not only the church's teaching that is under assault, but the lives of real people whose dignity that teaching is crafted to defend.
Immigration is the most obvious and immediate threat posed by the new administration. Fear has taken root in the Latino community as Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids have ramped up their efforts to snatch undocumented immigrants from their families and communities. That fear is not irrational. Trump may not be delivering on key promises he made, but he knows he can always and easily appeal to his base by playing to the nativism at the heart of his divisive politics. It has been revolting to see how key administration figures, repeatedly, only mention immigrants in the context of crime.
As a candidate, Trump echoed the GOP mantra, pledging that he would "repeal and replace Obamacare." He said it would be easy, that he would even try and do it on his first day in office. Once ensconced in the Oval Office, he shared with the nation that, "No one knew how complicated health acre could be," which makes one wonder who had been advising him on health care and what they had been telling him. The proposal to redeem that campaign promise failed last month when there were not enough votes to pass it, but Republicans are still at it, making the proposal ever more draconian in order to satisfy the members of the Freedom Caucus, the far right wing of the GOP. Their proposals not only threaten Catholic ministries in health care, they threaten the people those ministries serve, especially the poor.
The environment has become a central focus of Catholic social doctrine in recent years, with Pope Benedict XVI speaking about it frequently and Pope Francis dedicating his first encyclical, Laudato Si', to care for creation. A president has wide discretionary powers in this area, and Trump has already started rolling back regulations designed to help curb greenhouse gas emissions and clean water and air protections. As in the health care proposals, it is the poor who will suffer most, although the issue of climate change is one of two issues with the potential to, literally, decimate the entire planet. For four years, we can expect no leadership in combating this threat to the planet, and we can only hope that the damage done can be repaired.
If climate change is one problem that threatens life as we know it, nuclear war is the other. I don't know about anybody else, but I have not really slept well since Trump decided he would match the saber rattling of Kim Jong Un with his own brand of rhetorical bluster. Lower level war-making efforts are less worrisome to the planet but plenty worrisome in their own right. It is hard to see how a president who was so pleased with himself for ordering an attack on a Syrian airfield, which was operational the next day, can really craft the kind of long-term policies and exercise the discipline such policies demand, in order to facilitate some measure of stability in the Middle East. Trump and Le Pen are ISIS's best recruiters.
Finally, there are budgetary and tax issues. Again, the problem here is not merely that Trump is pursuing classic trickle-down economics that contradict church teaching, it is that this approach will only widen the inequality in a society that already has too much of it. His threats to defund foreign aid would spread the libertarian economic agenda beyond our borders. When Trump does oppose libertarian economics, as he does on trade, it seems to stem from a kind of peevishness, not from any commitment to a more just ordering of economic relations. And, as in assessing the impact of his health care proposals and his environmental rollbacks, it will be the very people who put Trump in the White House, white, working class Americans, who will bear the brunt of his economic agenda.
Grim, grim, grim. But, being a hopeful sort: All this mess, the incompetence, the ideology, the hatefulness, the peevishness, cannot endure forever. And, standing behind all the headlines of the day, there are investigations into Trump's ties to Russia, the results of which could be politically crippling. I do not think it is mere fantasy to believe that it is entirely possible that the dysfunction will continue, the lack of results will become more apparent, his base will get frustrated, and that the FBI could administer the coup de grace by year's end. In that case, everything that Trump has touched will be turned rancid. He will announce his commitment to sunshine, and the next day there will be protests on behalf of rain and thunder. The Trump presidency can't end well. The only question is how many of the things Catholic social doctrine cares about, and how many of the people that doctrine cherishes, will be diminished and harmed in the meantime. A mean time it is, but Americans made this choice. "Whom God loveth, he chasteneth," says the psalmist. God bless America, that we may learn the lesson we have inflicted upon ourselves.
[Michael Sean Winters is NCR Washington columnist and a visiting fellow at The Catholic University of America's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.]