During the period between Donald Trump's election win and his inauguration, the world's sweet optimists urged skeptical Americans to "give Donald Trump a chance."
Yes, they granted, he wasn't exactly well versed on global affairs, stumbling over questions about the nuclear triad, whether Russia under Vladimir Putin had actually invaded Ukraine and what that Consti-whatever-it's-called thing was good for, anyway.
And yes, they conceded, he did subscribe to a number of conspiracy theories, including that of Barack Obama's supposed Kenyan origins (But Hillary started it!), the thoroughly debunked connection between vaccines and autism and Ted Cruz's father's supposed connection to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Attention all hackers: You are hacking everything else so please hack Obama's college records (destroyed?) and check "place of birth"— @realDonaldTrump
And yes, they acknowledged, he did campaign on a bunch of ludicrous promises, including building a wall along the Mexican border, banning Muslims from entering the United States and scrapping a pair of international trade deals.
But candidate Donald Trump would surely be different from President Donald Trump. The former was erratic and unrefined — necessarily so, arguably, to endear himself to his base — but the latter would appreciate the gravitas of his role and pivot to become the type of president who doesn't, for example, go on midnight Twitter tirades, or discuss North Korean missile tests in a crowded Mar-a-Lago dining room, or purge his administration of vocal dissenters.
Taking Trump seriously
Ahead of the election, Selena Zito argued in The Atlantic that the press's mistake was taking Trump literally, not seriously; that is, we assumed that because Trump's promises were far-fetched, so was his shot at the presidency. It's a fair assessment. But with the hindsight afforded by the past 20-something days, it appears the greater mistake was failing to take Trump both seriously and literally.
We don't need 100 days to assess this presidency. In fewer than 30, Trump has become everything the doomsdayers said he would be. Indeed, even before he became president he was wreaking havoc on global affairs, snubbing China by accepting a call from the Taiwanese president. He later insulted close ally Australia by reportedly berating Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refugee resettlement deal. Trump's White House abandoned longstanding American policy on Israel by dropping its commitment to a two-state solution, and galvanized jihadi recruiters in the Middle East with his hastily enacted travel ban.
- Everything you need to know about the Trump travel ban
Trump brought his favourite conspiracy theories into the White House, according to notable anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who said Trump asked him to chair a committee tasked with evaluating vaccine safety. He also started a Byzantine national conversation about voter fraud after alleging, without proof, that "millions" voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election.
The conspiracy theories actually started within the first 24 hours, after frustrated middle-child Sean Spicer insisted the press was downplaying the size of Trump's inauguration crowd. (It is indeed possible the crowd was larger than initially reported, but that aerial photos were obscured by Washington chemtrails.)
And yes, Trump is actually moving ahead with his plan for a wall along the Mexican border (except American consumers, not Mexicans, might be the ones to pay for it), his Muslim ban (futilely, except the White House isn't calling it a Muslim ban or a travel ban but a "temporary pause … to better review the existing refugee and visa-vetting system") and his promise to rip up trade deals (except Canada will be mostly spared, Trump said, in keeping with his practice of being conciliatory toward the very last person he saw face to face). Trump is doing exactly what he said he would do, with the exception of improving the way the American government operates.
Less than a month into its new administration, the White House finds itself practically at war with the judiciary and the intelligence community. The president's national security adviser — who we now know was believed to be potentially susceptible to Russian blackmail for weeks — just resigned in shame, and more and more revelations about Russian influence among Trump staff and advisers are coming to light. There's been a mass exodus at the State Department, enduring confusion at the border, an adviser in trouble for airing a de facto commercial for Trump's daughter, Ivanka, and a president who can't resist tweeting about Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It was to be expected that filling the White House with political novices and their favourite anarchist bloggers could produce this sort of calamity. The mistake was thinking — or hoping — that Team Trump would transform when it entered the Oval Office. To his credit, Trump was pretty explicit when he said: "This is what I'm going to do." The rest of us should have taken that literally, and seriously.
A previous version of this story said that U.S. President Donald Trump appointed Robert Kennedy Jr. to head a commission investigating vaccine safety. In fact, that appointment has not been confirmed.Feb 16, 2017 11:53 AM ET