Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty

Looking past governance, Team Trump places a high value on theatrics

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked a couple of weeks ago about Donald Trump’s 100th day in office, and what the president will have to show for his efforts. “I think what you’ve seen out of this White House,” Spicer replied, “is a very robust agenda of activity.”

I found myself thinking about that phrase quite a bit. The president’s press secretary didn’t focus much on actual substantive gains, but rather, the robust amount of “activity” in and around the White House. Trump and his team may not have accomplishments to speak of, but we’re apparently supposed to marvel at how busy they appear doing … stuff.

Yesterday offered an amazing peek into the Trump administration’s approach to pseudo governance.

* Tax reform: The White House unveiled a one-page tax “plan” that didn’t actually say much of anything. It looked like a table of contents without any contents. Team Trump assured the public that officials are “working on” producing “lots” of details that aren’t yet ready. Why not wait and unveil a proper plan once it’s complete? Because that’s not theatrical – and with the 100-day standard approaching, we apparently need to be reminded of the president’s “robust agenda of activity.”

The Rachel Maddow Show, 4/26/17, 9:21 PM ET

White House hypes 'OK' North Korea briefing for senators

Rachel Maddow looks at escalating tensions between the United States and North Korea and the peculiar, special all-senators briefing by the White House that left attendees underwhelmed.
Rachel Maddow looks at escalating tensions between the United States and North Korea and the peculiar, special all-senators briefing by the White House that left attendees underwhelmed.
* North Korea: Trump asked all 100 members of the U.S. Senate to attend a special briefing on North Korea yesterday, held at the White House, which apparently didn’t really include much of anything in the way of new information. Why couldn’t administration officials simply drive a mile and a half to Capitol Hill and brief senators in rooms that are already designated for this purpose? Because that’s not exciting – and Team Trump wanted to put on a little show.

* Education executive order: The president made quite a fuss about signing a new education order on federal education policy. During a briefing with reporters, however, an administration official conceded that Trump’s new directive gives the Department of Education powers it already has.

Yesterday, in other words, was intended to appear exciting. Look, the president is threatening the 9th Circuit! Look, he’s talking about tearing up NAFTA! Trump is focused on education, taxes, national security, and health care – all at the same time!

Sure, the picky observers among us might dare to note that Trump isn’t doing anything of real significance, and he’s actually struggling badly to reach his policy goals, but the White House apparently hopes we’re too distracted by the theatrics to notice.

Never mind the incompetent failures, marvel at the “robust agenda of activity.”

We’re watching the world’s most powerful television production, led by a reality-show personality Americans elected to the world’s most powerful job. It’s why Trump signs executive orders in leather-bound binders that don’t do much of anything. It’s why he hires so many talking heads he saw on TV to work in his administration. It’s why the president makes personnel decisions in part based on whether he believes they “look the part.”

And it’s why he seems preoccupied to the point of obsession with “central casting.”

Trump isn’t a president; he’s an executive producer of a farcical TV show with bad ratings.