Trump’s first 100 days in 100 words or less: Assessments from NYU Law faculty

It is traditional to take stock of a new president’s accomplishments and approach to governance as he reaches 100 days in office, and for President Donald Trump that day will be April 29. (A White House website touts Trump’s achievements during this period, though in a tweet, Trump called the benchmark “ridiculous.”) Collected below are assessments of the new administration’s first 100 days—in 100 words or less—from NYU Law faculty members with expertise in a wide range of legal and public policy topics.

Jerome Cohen (Foreign policy – China/North Korea):

“Regarding Asia, Trump’s first 100 days began in early December before assuming office, and he created a lot of unnecessary uncertainty among our allies there as well as in China and North Korea. Fortunately, he has finally appointed some experienced adults to top security jobs, although they are hamstrung by the appalling delay in appointing their major deputies. Regarding policy, Trump has failed to emphasize the importance of international human rights. Of course, if his blustery bluffs concerning North Korea misfire, he will exterminate the human right to life of millions in South Korea, including many Americans.”

Richard Epstein (Governance style/consistency):

“Trump’s first 100 days are marked by initial confusion, inexplicable reversals, and excessive uncertainty. I applaud his deregulatory stance at home, but fear it is jeopardized by the by slow rate of key appointments.  I deplore his initial jingoism on refugees and immigration, which, while softened, leaves much to be done. On trade, he has been backsliding to protectionism with 'hire and buy' American, and tying up budget negotiations with his ill-conceived Mexico wall. I cautiously welcome his more muscular foreign policy, with NATO, the Middle East and China. But the great unknown is Trump—his judgment, persistence, and intentions.”

Eleanor Fox '61 (Antitrust):

“In antitrust the performance of the new administration is too early to assess, but there is not an auspicious beginning. CEOs seeking antitrust approval of multi-billion dollar mergers meet with Donald Trump with promises of jobs and investment in America.  What is the quid pro quo? And what are the implications of Trump’s America First? The antitrust community is devoted to the rule of law, which means that all mergers get assessed according to their merits.  Antitrust is blind to job promises and nationality. There is some anxiety in the antitrust community that President Trump may undermine the rule of law.”

Stephen Gillers '68 (Ethics):

“Even before his inauguration, Donald Trump began defining ethics downward, a trajectory that persists. He treats conflicts as raising only technical legal questions requiring technical legal solutions. Other officeholders, including future presidents, may now emulate this bad example. Much press commentary has accepted Trump’s framing of the issue when more should be demanded than conduct for which lawyers can argue plausible, though disputed, defenses. Greater disclosure would encourage public confidence that decisions are made only in the national interest, not the financial interest of the Trump family. But we cannot expect it. Secrecy thwarts Trump’s critics. Information would empower them.”

Robert Howse (International trade and economic policy):

“For trade, and international economic policy generally, the beginning of the administration was a period of alarm and confusion for America's partners. While some of the polemics and mixed messages continue, things have calmed down—somewhat. China will not be declared a currency manipulator. Trade agreements will be reworked not ripped up. Even Trump's 'Buy American' orders seem tailored to remain roughly within existing bounds. At the same time, the recent invocation of a process that could lead to national security-based steel import curbs is troubling, as is saber-rattling against Canada in the NAFTA context.”

Samuel Issacharoff (Law of Democracy/legislation): 

“Since FDR, presidents have used the first 100 days as a metric of their transformative popularity. During his, FDR pushed through 76 pieces of legislation, beginning the New Deal recasting of the administrative state. That number steadily fell as legislative ascendency yielded increasingly to unilateral executive assertions of power. George W. Bush and Barack Obama mustered only 7 and 11 pieces of legislation respectively. The number of non-trivial laws signed by Trump to date is near zero, reflecting an autocratically-inclined urge to pronounce by decree rather than govern through the hard work of making laws and implementing them.”

Nancy Morawetz '81 (Immigration):

“In 100 days, Trump has put fear into the hearts of immigrant families and their children, who never know when parents might face arrest when they drop their children at school or attend their jobs. He has threatened not just the undocumented, but also lawful permanent residents and citizen family members. He has sent a message that America does not welcome foreign students, scholars, workers and refugees. He has created a culture that encourages lawlessness by immigration agents and has announced plans that would deny basic due process to immigrants. The costs of these policies will be longstanding and tragic.”

Burt Neuborne (The Supreme Court):

“President Trump's only real success during his chaotic first 100 days was the Senate's narrow confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch to fill the Scalia vacancy on the Supreme Court. But even that so-called 'success' came at a heavy price. In order to assure the confirmation votes, the president was forced to nominate a fiercely independent, deeply intellectual candidate, who is firmly committed to judicial independence. As so many presidents before him have learned, an independent, intellectually able Supreme Court justice with life tenure operating in the cone of history is capable of biting the presidential hand that fed him.”

Richard Pildes (Law of Democracy/political parties):

“I’m still watching to see whether President Trump’s unique, populist electoral coalition—protective of entitlements, anti-globalist, supportive of massive economic stimulus through infrastructure spending—manages to reconfigure and redefine the Republican Party. And if that does happen, how the Democratic Party redefines its identity and appeal in response. President Trump is, potentially, the most disruptive force to the way the two major parties have defined themselves, and to the dimensions along which they have polarized, over the last 40 or so years.”

Daniel Shaviro (Tax):

“Since I don't sympathize with the Trump administration's legislative aims, I have been heartened by evidence of its ineptitude in this realm—which I would attribute, not just to the lack of patience and knowledge at the top, but also to its light staffing and lack of respect for expertise. The fruits of this were evident in the healthcare fiasco, and we may end up seeing a repeat in the pursuit of 'tax reform,' where once again the stumbles may be enhanced by Speaker Ryan's apparent cognitive rigidity and lack of finesse.” 

Richard Revesz (Environment):

“President Trump announced with much fanfare his executive order designed to dismantle several critical efforts to protect the public from climate change. But for the most significant measures—such as scrapping EPA restrictions on the carbon dioxide emissions of power plants—the Trump announcement is just the first move of a long chess match that will take many years to be completed, as efforts to repeal the regulation wind their way through the administrative process and the courts. As a result, the fate of such measures is likely to ultimately be decided by the winner of the 2020 presidential election.”

Margaret Satterthwaite '99 (Human rights):

“President Trump has taken numerous steps with devastating human rights impact. He loosened rules protecting civilians in conflict. He barred funding from the UN Population Fund and health organizations that provide—or simply discuss—abortion. Having promised to enact a 'Muslim Ban,' the president tried to indefinitely ban Syrians, temporarily bar refugees, and suspend entry by anyone from a swath Muslim-majority countries. When this attempt was blocked, he largely doubled down. Together, these actions will result in both suffering and death: of civilians, of women in childbirth, and—if Trump’s order is reinstated—of refugees denied safe haven.”

Jason Schultz (Technology law and policy/transparency):

“In 100 days, Trump has failed to hire a single scientific or technical expert to his staff, has failed to defend our privacy online, has cut core funding for scientific research, and has taken the White House from one of the most transparent in history to one of the most secretive. These are disturbing trends that represent an extremely short-sighted vision of what it means to be president.”

Christopher Jon Sprigman (Intellectual property):

“The current administration has said nothing related to patent, copyright or trademark law. As with many other areas of public policy, Trump appears to have no fixed ideas regarding our intellectual property laws beyond his grumblings about the Chinese stealing our inventions. This leaves those of us who work in the area desperately (and probably futilely) searching for clues. He’s a protectionist, so maybe he wants stronger US patents to lock out foreign competition? He’s a former reality TV star who’s his own brand, so maybe he will bolster copyright and trademark protection? More likely he simply doesn’t care.”

Kim Taylor-Thompson (Criminal justice):

“In Trump’s first 100 days, he has tried to turn back the clock in criminal justice. His selection of Attorney General Sessions signaled his embrace of the fiction that last century's failed approaches will solve today's complex justice problems. Sessions began his tenure by beating a hasty retreat from the critical police oversight role that the Obama Justice Department skillfully used to promote systemic change through consent decrees. Instead, Trump and Sessions have looked to recast the relentless pattern of racialized violent police encounters as the acts of a few 'rogue' officers. These are disturbing first steps.”

Posted April 24, 2017