Has the first 100 days of the presidency made Donald Trump nuts? I don’t ask that question as a doctor. I don’t do medical diagnoses. I ask it as a newspaper reader. You read all of Trump’s 100-day interviews and they are just bizarre.
Out of nowhere Trump tells us he would be “honored” to negotiate directly with the leader of North Korea, after weeks of threatening war. Out of nowhere he says he would consider a gasoline tax to pay for infrastructure. Out of nowhere he says he is considering breaking up the nation’s biggest banks. He also insists that his Obamacare replacement legislation contains protections for people with pre-existing conditions that it doesn’t.
There’s barely a dictator in the world for whom he doesn’t have praise. And he repeats a known falsehood — that Barack Obama wiretapped him — and tells reporters they should go find the truth, when, as president, he could get the truth from the FBI with one phone call, and when pressed whether he stands by that allegation, answers, “I don’t stand by anything.”
Is this a political strategy unfolding or a psychiatric condition unfolding? I don’t know — but it tells me that absolutely anything is possible in the next 100 days — both good and bad. Trump is clearly capable of shifting gears and striking any deal with any party on any issue.
Trump was always going to be an unpredictable work in progress because he did no homework before coming to office — which is why he now tells us that he’s finding so many problems more difficult than he anticipated — and because he didn’t know most of his Cabinet members. They’re sort of a pickup basketball team, bound not by a shared vision, but by a shared willingness to overlook Trump’s core ignorance, instability and indecency and serve in key jobs as much to restrain him as to be guided by him.
In his first 100 days, allies and adversaries saved Trump and the country from some of his most extreme, ill-considered campaign promises. His foreign policy team stopped him from tearing up the Iran nuclear deal and moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
North Korea’s missile-loving dictator saved him from declaring China a currency manipulator and starting a trade war with Beijing, because Trump discovered he needed China to restrain North Korea and avoid a war.
Boeing and General Electric restrained Trump from getting rid of the Export-Import Bank, which would have left U.S. exporters at a big disadvantage. The federal courts prevented him from imposing his Muslim ban. Border-state Republicans blocked his Mexico wall and other Republicans are blocking his draconian replacement of Obamacare. U.S. farmers, whose exports to Mexico have soared since NAFTA was signed, dissuaded him from walking out of that trade deal.
As for the next 100 days, who will protect us? Myself, I am not counting on the Democratic Party. It’s too weak. On the issues I care about most, I’m actually counting on California. I believe California’s market size, aspirational goals and ability to legislate make it the most powerful opposition party to Trump in America today.
How so? Trump wants to scrap Obama-era standards requiring passenger cars to average about 51 mpg by 2025; today it’s just under 37 mpg. But as the Los Angeles Times recently noted, under the Clean Air Act, California “can impose emissions standards stronger than those set by the federal government, and a dozen other states have embraced the California rules.”
More than one-third of the vehicles sold in the United States are subject to the rules California sets. Trump can deregulate U.S. automakers to make more gas guzzlers all he wants, but they can’t if they want to sell cars in California. Trump can sue, but that will take years.
Ditto California companies: Apple is now powering 96 percent of its operations around the world with renewable energy — 100 percent in 24 countries — including the U.S. and China. Trump’s pro-coal — make-America-cough-again — campaign will never get Apple back on coal.
Also, notes Energy Innovation founder Hal Harvey: “California has a renewable portfolio standard requiring that 50 percent of all electricity come from wind, solar and other renewables by 2030. Another 15 percent already comes from existing nuclear and hydro — so our grid will be 65 percent decarbonized in 13 years.”
As Kevin de León, leader of the California state Senate, told me: California has far more clean energy jobs than there are coal jobs in all of America, and California’s now nation-leading growth rate in jobs gives the lie to everything Trump says: You can have gradually rising clean energy standards, innovation, job creation and GDP growth — all at the same time.
California is also leading the resistance to Trump’s draconian immigration policies, with a web of initiatives embracing tighter border controls while also creating health care, education and work opportunities for unauthorized immigrants who have been living here responsibly and productively.
“We have made it very clear — we will protect our economic prosperity and our values from Trump,” said de León, whose Legislature recently hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to defend it against Trump suits. Holder is California’s (and my) secretary of defense.
Thomas Friedman writes for The New York Times.