Let's begin by dismissing Donald Trump's claim that the tradition of tallying a new president's successes and failures after 100 days in office is a "ridiculous standard." Letting alone that he himself vigorously bought into the idea while campaigning, and that he spent last week desperately signing executive orders, making last-minute promises about tax reform and trade, and tweeting self-aggrandizing messages as the "ridiculous" deadline approached on Saturday, the first 100 days are, contrary to the President's claim, a useful metric.
Among the reasons for that is that they represent the best opportunity an incoming president will have to implement new policies and deliver new legislation, thanks to the inevitable momentum generated by an election victory. Given that Mr. Trump's Republican Party controls both houses of Congress, everything has been in place for him to get things done.
So how did Mr. Trump do in his first hundred days, and what have we learned of him? That he is off to the worst start of any president in modern U.S. history – even Ronald Reagan accomplished more in 100 days, and he took a bullet in the chest on day 69. And that he is so temperamentally ill-suited to the job and to the office he holds that he risks becoming a historical after-thought of the same calibre as some mad medieval monarch.
What was the name of that president who wanted to wall Mexico off from the U.S. again? Donald something?
In legislative terms, there is probably a valid scientific argument to make that there is too little data against which one can apply the 100-day metric to Mr. Trump. The man barely tries. Oh, he makes a great flourish on social media of promising to repeal and replace Obamacare, but he puts in none of the effort required to understand the issue, to craft a proper bill or to seek the consensus needed to get that bill through Congress. He didn't so much fail to keep that signature campaign promise as he just never bothered to take it seriously. You can't really "fail" to make an omelette if you don't even take the eggs out of the fridge.
His tax policy, too, is an exercise in nothingness. Hoping to appear busy last week, Mr. Trump's cabinet produced a bullet-point wish list of proposed reforms – reforms whose most obvious feature is that, if adopted, they would instantly make Mr. Trump even richer. Putting out what amounts to a press release is not the same thing as governing.
And as for the wall he says he will build along the U.S.- Mexico border, legislating a vainglorious rhetorical device into existence is going to be a lot more difficult than tweeting it.
Mr. Trump last week countered his critics' accusations that he has accomplished little by saying he has signed more bills into law than any president since Harry Truman. But signing into law a bill passed by Congress involves no presidential initiative; it's just part of the role as head of government. The Governor-General and the Queen do it all the time without boasting.
The strongest evidence that Mr. Trump can produce in defence of his record is the 30 executive orders he has signed in 100 days. But even there, it's a dubious achievement. Many of the orders are aspirational, like the one last week that created a joint committee to examine ways of helping American farmers. Tell a farmer that the President has set up a committee on her behalf, and she will likely use the nearest pile of cow manure as a visual metaphor for her thoughts on the matter.
Others have been controversial, such as Mr. Trump's two attempts to temporarily stop immigration from seven countries whose populations are majority Muslim. The courts struck down both, as they did an executive order withholding federal funding for so-called "sanctuary cities" that won't co-operate in the President's persecution of illegal immigrants.
Mr. Trump has quickly discovered the limits on the unilateral authority he can impose on America, but he keeps at it because executive orders make for good photo ops and create the illusion of busy-ness. It's just too bad that they represent the highest level of difficulty he is capable of handling competently.
Mr. Trump admitted Friday than the job of president is harder than he thought it would be. There are many ways to interpret that, but one is that he thought that, in jumping from a pampered private life to the most public office in the world, he could continue to lie without consequence and use his authority and money to shape his world, unhindered by checks and balances.
His misunderstanding of the workings of the constitutional democracy he now leads ranks as the most significant failing of his first 100 days. He has never shown any evidence of being able or willing to learn from his mistakes, so there is no reason to expect that the remaining 1,360 days of his mandate will be any less chaotic or unproductive than the first 100. The world is just going to have to learn to deal with it.