Just How Abnormal Is the Trump Presidency? Rating 20 Events

IMPORTANT

NORMAL AND IMPORTANT

ABNORMAL AND IMPORTANT

Usage of “alternative

facts” and “fake news”

Immigration ban

Immigration raids

and roundups

False claims about voter fraud

Gorsuch Supreme

Court nomination

Conflicts of interest

Tweeting about foreign affairs

Publicly criticizing federal judges

Choices of cabinet members

Bannon on the N.S.C.

Flynn and Russia

Abandoning the Trans-Pacific

Trade partnership (T.P.P.)

Characterization

of media as enemies

An executive order for a border wall with Mexico

Accepting call fromTaiwanese president

National security meeting in public at Mar-a-Lago

ABNORMAL

NORMAL

Informal discussions with foreign governments before inauguration with no briefing

Potentially alienating Australia

Kellyanne Conway’s promotion of Ivanka Trump’s brand in a Fox News interview

Firing the acting attorney general Sally Yates

NORMAL AND NOT IMPORTANT

ABNORMAL AND NOT IMPORTANT

NOT IMPORTANT

It’s understandable if President Trump’s first month in office has left your head spinning, given the pace of news, the middle-of-the-night Twitter posts and the vows to upend Washington.

To help us get our bearings, we asked experts across the ideological spectrum — people who have served in government or studied the way governments work — to rate 20 news events for importance and abnormality. More often than not, the administration’s actions have been both highly unusual and highly consequential, The Upshot’s 15 survey panelists said.

We asked our panelists: Was the event normal, like the veto of a bill in a prior administration? Or was it highly unusual in contemporary American democracy, like ordering newspapers to suspend publication of the Pentagon Papers? Also, was it unimportant, with limited or no consequences for federal policy, like the menu for a state dinner? Or was it important, creating lasting and significant changes in policy, like the establishment of Social Security?

On average, more than half the events were rated abnormal and important. The most extreme instances, they said, were the immigration ban; the use of falsehoods; and the president’s business conflicts of interest. The Supreme Court nomination and immigration raids were on average considered normal but important. The experts thought just two of the events would have limited or no policy consequences: the firing of the acting attorney general and Kellyanne Conway’s promotion of Ivanka Trump’s products.

Below are all 20 items, grouped by their quadrant on our reality-check matrix.

ABNORMAL AND IMPORTANT EVENTS

An executive order barring immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries as well as refugees from Syria

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage

Individual responses
Average of all responses
President Trump closed the nation’s bordersto people from seven nations, saying it was essential to prevent terrorism. The order was later blocked by a federal judge. Of the 20 news events our panel rated, this was considered the most important. Timur Kuran, professor of political science and economics at Duke, said the order “violated the U.S. Constitution, and it has raised the danger of global war based on religion.”Gerald Feierstein, a career foreign service officer who served in the State Department under President Obama and is a director at the Middle East Institute, said it was less alarming: “The issuance of the order was incompetent and the order itself is unhelpful, but the president does have wide latitude on immigration and national security programs.”

Falsehoods about topics like illegal voters and inauguration crowd size; using language like “alternative facts” and “fake news” to discuss indisputable events

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
President Trump has uttered falsehoods about some basic facts, like the number ofillegal voters in the 2016 election and thenumber of people who attended his inauguration. When asked about the correct numbers, Mr. Trump and some of his team have dismissed them as “fake news” or said there were “alternative facts.” “All politicians lie and stretch the truth, even the ones I revere, but this is extreme,” said Jennifer Hochschild, chair of the department of government at Harvard. “It depends on how many people believe him.” Anne-Marie Slaughter, chief executive of New America, a left-leaning think tank, and a former Obama State Department official, said: “This is truly dangerous. Authoritarian governments sow distrust and division as a way of discrediting anything that is negative or critical of them.”

Unfounded allegations of voter fraud in the general election

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
President Trump has repeatedly said that millions of people voted illegally, robbing him of the popular vote, an assertion that has been widely debunked. Ms. Hochschildsaid it was “bizarre, especially for the winner of the contest, and undermines a crucial faith of democratic polity.”

An array of possible conflicts of interest (incomplete divesting; having his children take over business operations; having a son-in-law in a senior role in the White House)

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
President Trump still owns his business, despite handing over its management to his adult sons, and appointed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as an adviser despite a federal anti-nepotism law. Ethics experts saythe arrangement leaves him open to conflicts of interest, including in dealings with foreign governments and United States government agencies. “This degrades our standing in the rest of the world as a corrupt government and also supports leaders in other countries who use their office for personal gain,” Ms. Slaughter said.

Tweeting independently on national security and foreign affairs issues

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
President Trump posts often on Twitter, sometimes against the preferences and without the advice of aides, about policy ideas and reactions to things he sees on TV. “Trump’s off-the-cuff tweets have dramatically increased the amount of uncertainty in the world, especially when his appointees and staff contradict the positions he articulates in tweets,” said Erica Chenoweth, professor of international studies at the University of Denver. Tom Ginsburg, professor of comparative and international law at the University of Chicago, echoed some of the language in Mr. Trump’s tweets: “Bad! Sad!”

An executive order giving Stephen Bannon a full seat on the National Security Council and downgrading the roles of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
President Trump defied longstanding precedent by giving Mr. Bannon, a political adviser, status above his top military and intelligence advisers in areas of national security. “The president has the authority to appoint anyone he wants to the N.S.C.,” saidLee Edwards, a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a right-leaning think tank, and a historian of American conservatism. “Whether it was a wise decision or not will be proven in the months to come.”

Publicly criticizing federal judges

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
President Trump has publicly disparagedjudges whose rulings he does not like, using terms like “disgraceful,” “so political” and “so-called judge.” “Presidents have criticized judicial decisions,” said Ryan Crocker, executive professor at Texas A&M and a career United States ambassador. “This is abnormal because he is criticizing the judges themselves.”

Lies by the national security adviser, Michael Flynn, about discussing sanctions with a Russian official

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
Mr. Flynn discussed American sanctions against Russia and areas of possible cooperation with the Russian ambassador before the inauguration; misled Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations; and was asked by Mr. Trump to resign. “It is certainly not the first time that a president-elect’s adviser has had contact with a foreign government before inauguration, even though that is illegal, and lying by a senior administration official is sadly not abnormal,” Ms. Slaughter said. “The problem here is the deeper context of Russian interference in the election in a way that aids Trump.”

An executive order for a border wall with Mexico

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
Acting on a campaign promise, President Trump ordered the immediate construction of a border wall with Mexico. He said that he would make Mexico pay but that Congress would initially have to appropriate funds. “The abnormality and importance lie in the political signal it sends to a neighbor and ally,” Mr. Crocker said. Thomas Nichols, professor at the U.S. Naval War College, called it “a standard aspirational executive order, issued to make it seem like a fulfilled promise.”

Having a senior strategist call the press “the opposition” and tell the news media to “keep its mouth shut”

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
The strategist, Stephen Bannon, told a reporter, “The media here is the opposition party” and “should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.” Mr. Kuran said: “An adversarial press is central to the American political system. Intimidating the news media can put the country on a slippery slope to autocracy.” Mr. Feierstein said, “It’s only important to the extent that his comments reflect Trump’s position and they try to do something about it.”

Breaking tradition with decades of foreign policy by accepting a call from the president of Taiwan, though later telling the president of China he would honor the “One China” policy

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
The Taiwan call, made before the inauguration, raised questions about whether the administration would continue to honor the One China policy, but as president, Mr. Trump smoothed things over by saying he would. “The quick reversal looks feckless,” said Frances Lee, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland. “Mixed signals like this create potential for misunderstanding and will undermine trust in U.S. global leadership.”Vincent Hutchings, professor of political science at the University of Michigan, said the “long-term consequences are likely minimal.”

Coordinating the U.S. response to a North Korea missile test in a public, unsecured location at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
President Trump discussed a response to a North Korean missile test in plain view of club members at Mar-a-Lago. One club member took photos of the scene and posted them on Facebook. Our panel varied in its assessment of the issue’s overall consequence, but agreed that it was a strong departure from typical behavior. “It’s not a major issue – I doubt that there was any compromise of national security,” Mr. Feierstein said. “But the significance of the issue is the negative light it shines on Trump’s competence, integrity and judgment.” Mr. Edwards said, “The president delights in being unorthodox, which puts adversaries like North Korea at a disadvantage.”

Informal discussions with foreign governments before being inaugurated and without prior briefing

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
As President-elect, Mr. Trump made calls to foreign leaders in the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Taiwan and Pakistan, without the knowledge of or a briefing by the Obama administration, upsetting long-established norms of diplomacy. “Most presidents have them,” Mr. Crocker said. “Most presidents are briefed first.”

NORMAL AND IMPORTANT EVENTS

Immigration raids and roundups by Immigration and Customs Enforcement

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
Agents arrested more than 600 people in one week, causing confusion about the administration’s deportation plans. (Later, two draft memos showed plans to greatly increase deportations and significantly change the way agencies enforce immigration laws.) “Insofar as laws on the books are being enforced, the raids fall within the bounds of normal policy,” Mr. Kuran said. “How the U.S. handles matters of immigration will have a huge impact on its peace and prosperity.”

Nominating Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
Mr. Gorsuch is a conservative judge seen to be an ideological heir to Antonin Scalia. The nomination came after Senate Republicansrefused to hold hearings or vote on President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. Of all the issues we asked our panel about, this was considered the most normal. “A normal pick with deeply consequential impact, as all Scotus nominations are, but especially so in a divided court after the Garland block,” Mr. Nichols said.

Choices of cabinet members

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
President Trump’s cabinet picks, who havefaced unprecedented opposition in Congress, have limited government experience andextraordinary wealth. “The Trump cabinet is turning out to be composed of experienced, knowledgeable people who reflect the philosophy of the president and the 61-million-plus people who voted for Trump,”Mr. Edwards said.

Abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
President Trump ended the multinational trade deal brokered by President Obama, reversing a decades-long bipartisan free trade policy. “It is typical for a president to quickly distinguish himself from his predecessor, and the T.P.P. — widely unpopular among Trump’s base — was low-hanging fruit in this regard,” Ms. Chenoweth said.

ABNORMAL AND UNIMPORTANT EVENTS

Potentially alienating Australia, one of the U.S.’s strongest allies

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
President Trump abruptly hung up on the prime minister of Australia over a disagreement about the number of refugees that the United States would accept from Australia. “Amateur hour, but mostly unimportant,” Mr. Hutchings said.

Kellyanne Conway’s promotion of Ivanka Trump’s brand in a Fox News interview

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
Ms. Conway said, “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” which the government’s chief ethics watchdog said was “a clear violation” of rules against endorsing products and using public office for private gain. “Completely unprofessional, but pales in importance to some of these others,” said Larry Diamond, senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford.

NORMAL AND UNIMPORTANT EVENTS

Firing the acting attorney general Sally Yates

IMPORTANTNOT IMPORTANTABNORMALNORMALAverageAverage
President Trump fired Ms. Yates after she ordered Justice Department lawyers not to defend his travel ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries. With a few exceptions, our panel concluded that this was mostly inconsequential; no issue rated less important, on average. “No surprise: Democrats would do the same,” Mr. Ginsburg said.

If you’d like to try this survey, we’ve made a public version using a Google form. We’ll publish readers’ average ratings, keeping each contribution anonymous.

How We Made Our Matrix

We built the list of events based on news coverage of the first month of the Trump administration in The Times and elsewhere. We created our expert panel based on recommendations from four political scientists, as well as on research of people who had experience serving in past administrations, and we aimed for diversity of thought and background. We know our panel is small and does not reflect every point of view, but we feel it represents a useful guide to developments by people with deep experience studying or serving in government.

Panel of Experts

ERICA CHENOWETH

Professor at the school of international studies at the University of Denver

RYAN CROCKER

executive professor at Texas A&M and a career United States ambassador

LARRY DIAMOND

Senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University

LEE EDWARDS

Distinguished fellow in conservative thought at the Heritage Foundation

GERALD M. FEIERSTEIN

Director of the Center for Gulf Affairs at the Middle East Institute and a career foreign service office

TOM GINSBURG

Professor of international law, University of Chicago

JENNIFER HOCHSCHILD

Professor of government and African American studies at Harvard University

MALA HTUN

Professor of political science at University of New Mexico

VINCENT HUTCHINGS

Professor of political science at the University of Michigan

TIMUR KURAN

Professor of economics, political science and Islamic studies at Duke University

FRANCES LEE

Professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland

THOMAS M. NICHOLS

Professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College

SAIKRISHNA PRAKASH

Professor of law and Miller Center fellow at the University of Virginia

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER

Chief executive of New America and former director of policy planning at the State Department from 2009 to 2011

VESLA WEAVER

Professor of political science at Yale University

For our survey, we asked the experts to rate each event on a scale of 1 to 5 according to how normal or abnormal they thought it was, and on a scale of 1 to 5 according to how unimportant or important they thought it was. We gave them examples of each to standardize their answers, and invited them to explain why they evaluated the event the way they did. The survey was conducted in February.

Special thanks to the political scientists at Bright Line Watch for their help on the list of experts and the survey design.

Published by

gabugo

Author, Pastor, Development and Valuation Surveyor, CEO LandAssets Consult Ltd., Publisher, The Property Gazette.

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