Editorials

Can Trump now learn to govern?

President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville March 20.
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville March 20. Associated Press

Donald Trump’s first 100 days as president have been on-the-job training and a harsh reality check. As Trump told Reuters, he thought it would be easier.

So, even though Trump promised bold, specific changes by the traditional 100-day mark, it’s not surprising that instead he’s learning that keeping promises is harder than making them. He’s also changing many of the stands he took during the campaign.

Some of his changes are encouraging: He no longer says NATO is obsolete or that torture is useful. He’s making friends rather than picking fights with China. He reversed his freeze on federal hiring. Rather than dump NAFTA, he’s eager to negotiate changes in the trade treaty with Canada and Mexico, which is good because they are Kentucky’s top two export markets.

Some of the changes are not so good and could inflict great pain, economic and physical, on the 62 percent of Kentuckians who voted for him.

Trump promised health insurance for all after he replaced the Affordable Care Act. He vowed to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Now he’s supporting Republican plans that would cost 24 million Americans their health coverage, devastate Medicaid protections for low-income and disabled people, put insurance out of the reach of people with pre-existing medical conditions, make it harder to get treatment for drug addiction and cut taxes for the rich.

His tax plan would be another windfall for the richest Americans. Few Kentuckians belong to that group, but Trump and his family do, though we can’t know how much he might gain because, unlike prior presidents, he has not released his tax returns. The federal deficit and debt would balloon, though Trump says increased economic activity from better trade deals would offset the lost revenue.

Much of what Trump has been able to do is through actions rolling back Obama-era regulations. One of his orders allows debt collectors to again charge high fees on overdue student loans, a blow to young Kentuckians, who have the nation’s third highest student-loan default rate.

Trump ran against an economy that’s stacked against working people, then packed his Cabinet with Wall Street denizens, whom he once said had “bled our country dry.” They now seem bent on recreating the conditions that produced the 2008 crash.

Trump carried all of Kentucky except the two largest cities, but his budget plan falls hardest on rural areas, costing them public and private investment to diversify economically. Trump wants to gut job training, including for people harmed by the transition away from coal.

He wants to zero out the Appalachian Regional Commission, which brought highways and now broadband to rural Kentucky. Trump would stunt rural revitalization by slashing funding for the Department of Agriculture and Small Business Administration. He even wants to cut off the Abandoned Mine Lands money that Rep. Hal Rogers secured for states where mining communities are hurting the most.

Trump promised to bring back the coal industry 100 percent, something we’d bet no Kentuckian believes. But his order opening up more federal coal leases in the West can only make it harder for Appalachian coal to compete with cheaper Wyoming coal, while his actions will make it easier for coal companies and power plants to pollute the places where Kentuckians live.

Trump’s most notable win — Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation to the Supreme Court — really belongs to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who took the outrageous, but ultimately triumphant, stand that a president with almost a year left in office can not fill a Supreme Court vacancy. As a result, McConnell’s cherished principles — “Money is speech” and “Corporations are people” — remain safe to corrupt our democracy.

In the next 1,360 days, we’d like to see a president who moves out of campaign mode, sees the public interest and puts it first, and learns to govern. Polls say that Trump voters are satisfied with his first 100 days, but soon they will judge him on how their lives change — or don’t.

Hanging over Trump is the question of Russian interference in the election. Going forward, what’s most important about that is uncovering and educating the public about all the hidden ways that foreign and other powers are using the internet to manipulate opinion.

Trump could make our country more secure by becoming a champion for transparency, but to do that he would have to moderate his war with the media. A free press — just like an independent judiciary and Congress — is indispensable to a free and democratic society, even if they do make it harder to be president.

Trump ran as an economic populist then packed his cabinet with denizens of Wall Street.

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