The scorecard is bleak after Donald Trump’s first three months as president, with Democratic congressmen blasting his inept government and the latest Gallup poll reporting dwindling confidence in his personal qualities and political skills.
Democrats have an opportunity to fill that void in leadership, but only if they move beyond being just an opposition party. Democratic leaders must define specific programs to improve the economic security of working-class Americans, and then help chart a bipartisan path to their approval in Congress.
With the exception of nominating Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch — who was confirmed only after Senate Republicans changed the rules so a 60-vote majority no longer was needed — Trump has no significant accomplishments as he approaches the traditional 100-day measuring stick of a new presidential administration.
The Democratic congressmen who represent western Massachusetts, James McGovern, of Worcester, and Richard Neal, of Springfield, last week ticked off the shortcomings in Trump’s presidency during separate hour-long interviews at the Gazette. They included failing to define the United States’ role in Syria following the April 6 missile attack; indecision over moving ahead with tax reform after the failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act; lack of specific proposals to fulfill a pledge to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure; and flip-flopping on campaign positions, such as whether NATO is obsolete (as of April 12 it’s not).
Moreover, both congressmen said governing is impeded because dozens of mid-level positions, including assistant secretaries at regulatory agencies and liaisons at the White House, remain unfilled. “Nothing has come from the White House,” said McGovern. “One of the maddening things about the first 100 days is that there’s nobody to talk to.”
Both congressmen criticized Trump’s style as well as his lack of substance. “It’s hard to escape the chaotic atmosphere of Washington,” Neal said. “I’ve not seen any evidence of success. It’s almost a daily reset and rejection of what was said during the course of the campaign.”
McGovern added, “We have a president who behaves in a very erratic way. It’s difficult to know what he thinks or believes. He changes his mind every two minutes. … Erratic behavior is cause for alarm. I don’t think anything that’s happening is well thought out.”
The public also has an unfavorable view about Trump’s presidency. According to the latest Gallup poll released Monday, Americans’ opinions about Trump’s character and leadership fell between February and April in all six areas that were measured. Most significantly, while 62 percent of Americans in February described Trump as keeping his promises, that dropped to 45 percent in the latest poll of 1,019 adults taken between April 5 and 9.
With Trump’s presidency off to a rocky start, there is room for Democrats to help get government back on track by finding common ground on some legislation with more moderate Republicans in Congress — and in the case of improvements in roads, bridges, railways and other infrastructure, perhaps even with the president.
When asked last week about the role of the Democratic Party, Neal said it is “compelled not to be just the opposition, but to take some positions that demonstrate to the American people what we would do if we were in power in government.”
In McGovern’s view, “Our role needs to be one of resistance in the face of policies we have strong disagreements with. (But) resistance means more than opposing things — we have to be for some things.”
Specific programs they suggested include middle-class tax relief, including allowing tuition expenses to be written off; increased support for community colleges to boost training for technical jobs that are now unfilled; creating incentives to stabilize retirement savings plans, such as the possibility of tax credits for employers or a government match; and substantial improvements to the nation’s rail system as part of an infrastructure bill.
We expect the Democratic Party will continue to defend Obamacare from repeal and advocate to protect the environment against the effects of climate change. On those issues, there should be no compromise. We hope that McGovern and Neal will be among the Democratic leaders seeking bipartisan solutions on other issues, too.