The nail-biting narrative arc of the Trump presidency, as told through front-page headlines

Spilled ink.
Spilled ink.
Image: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton
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The New York Times published its collection of page-one headlines for the first 100 days of the Donald Trump, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush presidencies. They make instructive reading. Bush’s are a melange of domestic and foreign stories. Obama’s have slightly more narrative, since many are about his battle with the US’s financial meltdown. And Trump’s are a seat-of-the-pants psychodrama.

Day 1: “Trump, Sworn In, Issues a Call: ‘This American Carnage Stops.’” Day 2: “Defiant Voices Flood Nation’s Cities.” The headlines on days 5-10 are full of the travel ban, legal challenges, chaos at airports. On days 17-22 the White House tussles with the courts. On days 24-27 the Russia scandal breaks open. Day 28: “Trump Delivers Heated Defense of First Month.”

The chaos accelerates, as freewheeling policymaking meets angry resistance from all quarters. Day 39: “Trump Concedes Health Overhaul Is a Thorny Task.” Day 55: “Federal Judge Blocks New Ban.” Day 57: “Britain Furious as Trump Pushes Claim of Spying.” Day 65: “Trump Becomes Ensnared in Fiery G.O.P. Civil War.” Day 72: “Divide in G.O.P. Now Threatens Trump Tax Plan.” On days 75-85, the president who wanted to stop being the world’s policeman gets embroiled in Syria, North Korea, and Afghanistan. Day 95: “Trump Rejects 100-Day Test, Yet Seeks an ‘A’.”

Two things stand out. One is the febrile atmosphere of those early days, when Trump’s blitzkrieg of executive orders amplified liberals’ fears of an impending dictatorship. The other is how quickly the blitzkrieg ran into quicksand. Since then, the sense has been of a White House desperately trying to break out of the quicksand, no matter in which direction—to create, in one pundit’s words, “an illusion of progress.”

With the first 100 days behind him, Trump’s need for visible, quick successes may diminish. Many in his circle surely must know that to win in Washington you must persistently chip away at resistance, not change course each time you meet it. The question is, how many more days in office will it take for the president to learn that himself?

This was published as part of the weekend edition of the Quartz Daily Brief. Sign up for our newsletters, tailored for morning delivery in Asia, Europe and Africa, or the America.