Here's Why A President's First 100 Days Are Viewed As Being So Crucial

by Seth Millstein
George Frey/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Trump is coming up on his first 100 days in office as president, and as dictated by tradition, everyone will spend a few days talking about how successful his administration has been in that time. Aside from a failed attempt at health care reform and an FBI investigation into his alleged ties to Russia, Trump has little to show for his first 100 days in office. However, it's worth taking a step back for a moment and asking: Why are the first 100 days of a presidency so important, anyway?

Honestly, they aren't that important. In my opinion, the first 100 days don't matter. It's an arbitrary benchmark that exists primarily to give political journalists and historians something to write about. A policy enacted late in a presidency — such as President Obama's landmark nuclear deal with Iran — is no less important than one enacted during the first 100 days.

That said, there is a reason, albeit not a very good one, why the first 100 days has emerged as a symbolic frame for assessing presidencies. That reason is Franklin D. Roosevelt, America's 32nd president. Roosevelt's impact on American government was nothing short of monumental, but although he was elected to the presidency no fewer than four times, he enacted a good chunk of his most significant policies during his first three months in office.

The Emergency Banking Act, the end of prohibition, the Federal Securities Act, and the Tennessee Valley Authority were all enacted in Roosevelt's first 100 days — as was the majority of his New Deal program, which fundamentally reshaped the role of the American government in public life. All in all, Roosevelt's administration passed 15 bills through Congress during his first 100 days — a legislative blitz "unlike anything known to American history," according to historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

In April, Trump falsely stated that “no administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days" than his. In reality, however, Trump has passed no major legislation at all in his first 100 days. He has suffered multiple defeats in court, lost his National Security Advisor less than a month into the job, and is currently under investigation by the FBI. Trump has certainly affected policy change — most notably by ramping up deportations, scaling back environmental regulations, and dropping federal protections for trans students in public schools. But to say that no president before him has accomplished as much as he has thus far is delusional.

The larger point, though, is that America shouldn't focus too obsessively on the first 100 days, because Trump still has plenty more time to get things done as president. Whether he possesses the competence to do so is an open question, but he certainly has the time.