Donald Trump, a fan of spectacles and spotlights, has a habit of signing executive orders that don’t actually do anything. The president likes to appear before cameras and give the appearance of work, but in nearly every instance, Trump’s “accomplishments” are little more than political theater.
Yesterday, however, offered a rather extreme example of the phenomenon. The president announced his support for privatizing America’s system of air-traffic control, and as the New York Times reported, the decision was accompanied by a rather ridiculous White House display.
At an East Room event that was choreographed like the elaborate ceremonies for enacting major legislation, Mr. Trump signed a memo and letter to Congress outlining his principles for overhauling the nation’s air traffic control system. He handed out pens to lawmakers who had been invited to attend, and reveled in several rounds of applause.
But Mr. Trump’s announcement did not have any binding effect….
It had all the trappings of a major bill-signing ceremony – Trump even surrounded himself with Republican members of Congress, who were only too pleased to accept ceremonial pens – except the president didn’t sign any legislation. There wasn’t even an executive order. Time magazine reported that a White House aide told reporters Trump had signed a “a decision memo and letter transmitting legislative principles to Congress.”
A “decision memo” doesn’t really exist in any formal sense; it’s just a document in which the president announced he’s decided to support an idea. The “letter transmitting legislative principles,” in this case, was Trump’s way of asking Congress to do something.
In other words, Trump World put on a show yesterday – part of a public-relations kickoff of the White House’s purported interest in infrastructure – which signified practically nothing.
The debate over whether to privatize air-traffic control will, apparently, now begin in earnest in Congress, where quite a few prominent Republicans have already joined Democrats in voicing skepticism about fixing a problem that doesn’t really exist.
The president vowed to unveil this plan in May, but his aides are now telling reporters an official blueprint is still months away. We do, however, have a sense of what the Trump administration has in mind: the president’s vision involves “sharply curtailing the federal government’s funding of the nation’s infrastructure and calling upon states, cities and corporations to shoulder most of the cost of rebuilding roads, bridges, railways and waterways.”
As a candidate, Trump voiced support for a $1 trillion infrastructure overhaul, and criticized Hillary Clinton’s plan for not spending nearly enough money on this national priority. The White House has now signaled that the $1 trillion plan will never exist, and Team Trump actually intends to scale back federal efforts to improve the nation’s infrastructure.
Indeed, the Trump administration’s recently unveiled federal budget plan eyes cuts to infrastructure spending, which is the opposite of what the Republican president vowed to do if elected.
Congressional Democrats, who saw this as one of the key issues on which there could be bipartisan cooperation, are now effectively giving up, recognizing that everything Trump said he believed about infrastructure was, for all intents and purposes, a lie.
Phony signing ceremonies may make Trump feel better, but if he’s counting on having a real signing ceremony on an infrastructure package, the president should probably start lowering his expectations.