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Keep calm and carry on

Michael Barone on

Keep calm and carry on. Those words, though not appearing as extensively on posters in wartime Britain as often supposed, are good advice for Americans now appalled by the presidency of Donald Trump.

It is widely proclaimed that he is a president unlike any other, a threat to the institutions of republican government and democratic processes, an ignoramus whose impulsiveness may lead to nuclear war.

It's true that every president since 1945 has had access to the nuclear trigger. And Trump's insult-laden style and constant tweeting are repugnant and, if sometimes momentarily effective in framing issues, often self-defeating, in both the short run and the long run.

But Trump's actions, in contrast with many of his words, strike me as comparable to those of other presidents. One could argue that an office designed for someone as sternly self-disciplined as George Washington is overly powerful and prominent, but no one seriously contemplates restructuring the Constitution.

On a multitude of issues, the Trump administration has operated like others replacing a president of the opposite party. His judicial nominations, starting with Justice Neil Gorsuch, have been just what one would expect from a Republican president.

His appointees have reversed predecessors' regulations -- e.g., Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on college kangaroo courts handling sexual assaults and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on regulations aimed at shutting down coal mining.

The Trump team is operating in a target-rich environment because of Barack Obama's legally dubious "pen and phone" actions, such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and spending unappropriated funds on Obamacare's cost-saving reduction payments. The Congressional Review Act, a Newt Gingrich innovation that lay dormant for 20 years, has enabled narrow Republican congressional majorities to overturn more regulations than Democrats ever anticipated.

On legislation generally, Trump's record more resembles the hapless first two years of Bill Clinton's administration than it does the more productive initial bienniums of George W. Bush and Obama. Presidential ignorance and disengagement contributed to the Republican failure on health care and may do so on taxes.

On two major issues -- trade and immigration -- on which Trump has taken positions at odds with the past 10 presidents, course corrections were arguably overdue.

Trump favors bilateral trade agreements with single partners over multilateral agreements, which have been foundering. The Doha Round, initiated in 2001, has failed; the Trans-Pacific Partnership was not completed in time for ratification before it was opposed by both major parties' 2016 presidential nominees.

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