Trump Has Now Been in Office for 10,000 Hours—Does That Make Him an Expert President?

If the writer Malcolm Gladwell is to be believed, it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to become a master at it. A musical instrument. A sport. The presidency?

Gladwell made the claim, called the “10,000-hour rule,” in his best-selling book Outliers: The Story of Success, asserting that it was the “magic number” of hours required to become an expert in the particular field one dedicates practice to.

At about 4 a.m. on Tuesday, it will be 10,000 hours since Donald Trump was inaugurated as president—almost exactly midday on January 20, 2017.

You may be thinking that a lot of those hours were spent sleeping. Does that really count?

Well, President Trump claims to sleep only four hours a night. And even then, he’s permanently on call. Being president is a 24-hour job. You need to be ready to jump out of bed with a clear head and tackle whatever crisis is your alarm clock.

So, 10,000 hours in, has Trump mastered the presidency?

Like a child awkwardly picking up a violin for the first time, the initial days and weeks of practice were at times painful. Not only for Trump but also those watching. And listening.

America’s oldest-ever president stumbled into chaos and crisis. There was the infamous, embarrassing and distinctly unpresidential row over his administration's false boasting about the size of the crowd at his inauguration.

A flagship Trump policy—scrapping the Obamacare health reforms—was blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate. The travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries was thrown out by the courts as unconstitutional.

His critics accused him of spending far too much time at, as he called it, the “Winter White House,” his golf resort Mar-a-Lago in Florida. Not to mention giving his family and friends dubious positions of influence in the White House. The Trumps seemed to be treating the presidency as little more than a business opportunity, albeit a pretty good one.

Worst of all were the beginnings of the Russia scandal that still haunts his presidency. The FBI confirmed it was investigating links between Russian intelligence and the Trump campaign.

His eventual sacking of FBI director James Comey, who was leading the Russia investigation, was more like the move of a tinpot dictator than a leader of one of the world’s oldest democracies. It was a rookie error.

Amazingly, there was much more turbulence between all that.

But there were also occasional displays of competence. Trump moved quickly to appoint a Supreme Court judge, Neil Gorsuch, a social conservative, pleasing his supporters.

He also took decisive action in Syria when a crisis emerged. He authorized a missile strike on the Syrian airbase from which a chemical attack on civilians was launched.

Those moments were rare, however. His administration was not “running like a fine-tuned machine,” as he claimed. And his consistently terrible polling—the worst of any president in the modern era—suggested that not many Americans agreed with him.

Since then, the Russia scandal has only grown worse; Trump’s erratic and unbecoming Twitter outbursts continue at a steady raging flow; relentless accusations of racism and misogyny smother him; his much-vaunted border wall with Mexico is still little more than a pipe dream; and a porn star called Stormy Daniels was paid hush money to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Trump.

He lost a great number of officials in and advisers to his administration, among them chief strategist Steve Bannon, comms director Sean Spicer and, most recently, economic adviser Gary Cohn.

Trump also got into a war of words with North Korea and exchanged threats of nuclear annihilation, a high-risk game of brinksmanship that had the rest of the world watching nervously, waiting for the worst to happen.

Now it looks like he’s about to start a trade war with the rest of the world over steel, making Wall Street jittery.

The president did manage to push through a swathe of tax cuts, at a cost of $1 trillion, though his opponents pointed out that the richest in society were the greatest beneficiaries of the cuts.

Still, his tax plan passed Congress with relative ease—progress on his previous attempts to pass major legislation, and perhaps a sign that he was finally getting to grips with the presidency.

As for North Korea, Trump has reason to feel a little smug. It’s early days, but the Kim regime suggested in a meeting with South Korean envoys that it would potentially denuclearize—Trump’s red line for talks.

Now it looks like Kim Jong Un and Trump will meet in May. If—and it’s a big if— North Korea is serious about denuclearizing, Trump’s hardball stance will potentially be vindicated, depending on what he’s willing to give away to secure that goal.

By doing what no other president would do, he may be about to do what no other president could do: get North Korea to fully abandon its nuclear program. The Kim regime, however, may be playing Trump like a piano. This is a real test of presidential mastery for Trump. We’ll soon see if he passes.

At the start, he had pitched himself to American voters as a different kind of president. His whole campaign centred on him being a political outsider and not part of the machine. Or a monster from the swamp, as he might have put it. He was just a your average, humble billionaire with commonsense ideas.

Perhaps Trump is simply reshaping the office of president.

Old norms and expectations of what a president is and does are disintegrating with each passing day as, for good or ill, an unpredictable Trump breaks taboos. The office of president is bending to him, not the other way around.

Maybe that in itself is a sort of mastery. Though probably not the sort Gladwell had in mind.