Trump’s legacy as President will be debated for years to come. Soon, we will get a better view of his policies and the impact they can still have on the United States. I’ve held before that I think Trump will rank near the bottom five as the history is written. But in 2021, with Trump still the candidate to beat for the GOP, or rumors of his becoming Speaker of the House, we can still debate his policies only five months after his presidency: So is it more MAGA or more Insurrection?
I have quite a few friends who supported Trump, so I asked them to send me what they thought were his accomplishments and then I’d analyze it to see if there is any merit to their list. These are friends who I know think deeply about issues and people with who I have had real conversations about Trump, not just banter on social media. Real conversations!
Luckily, it’s always cordial and we’re still friends. The theme of these conversations is Clarity Over Agreement. A Pragerism I still cling to.
Let me begin by stating that I don’t think any President was 100% bad, or 100% good. So I’ll clear the air here on what I think Trump did do right:
- I don’t like how the Gorsuch nomination came to be, but I don’t mind him per se
- He maintained a focus and spending on anti-Human Trafficking efforts.
- I didn’t mind his visiting North Korea, though it didn’t amount to much
- He signed the First Step Act: a bipartisan effort for criminal justice reform
Yes, it’s not much. They’re also low-hanging fruit. Other than North Korea, any President would have done #2 and #4, any Republican more competent than Trump could have done #1. So good for Trump, but it’s minor. Finally, it is too early to know the impact of his policies.
I’ll start with the positive, things I would have also supported on the face of it:
Opportunity Zones are “economically distressed communities, nominated by America’s governors, and certified by the Treasury Department. Under certain conditions, new investments in Opportunity Zones may be eligible for preferential tax treatment.”
So, poor areas are given a burst of government funds, to help improve their economic condition. How can anyone oppose this?
Though Trump once proclaimed that we would not be a socialist country, I’m glad he could look the other way on this “semi-socialist” policy. And if you like Trump for this, then just know that Opportunity Zones go back to Clinton (maybe further):
- Clinton Empowerment Zones. Opinion piece comparing Trump and Clinton.
- Bush’s New Opportunity Zones
- Obama’s Promise Zones
- Biden Opportunity Zones
These zones have been around for 30 years. What I’d like to see is a summary of cities during the Clinton/Bush era to see if and when these policies succeed or not. New Opportunity Zones under Trump are too soon to judge, even Obama’s may still be too soon to judge.
Many people were happy to see Trump push NATO to spend its own money on Defense than relying on the United States. Again, another good policy, one supported and called for by Bush and Obama. So Trump wasn’t unique in this, but to his credit, NATO did promise to pay more. Too bad he pissed off all of these allies at one time or another.
Again, modern Presidents have wanted a form of energy independence. Trump didn’t invent the idea. But there are two types of this: 1) a nation producing more than it consumes; 2) we don’t import from other countries, like Saudi Arabia.
Under Trump, 2019 and 2020 were the first two years where the US produced more than it consumed. I don’t know if he had a policy for this or if it’s a carryover from Obama’s policies, shale production, and COVID for the consumption end (true for 2020, I’m sure, but what about 2019?). I’d have to look more into that.
Energy independence is great and I’m glad Trump wanted this as all the other Presidents have since the 1970s. But Trump’s philosophy was “drill, baby, drill.” Which is fine if you want to stick to 19th-century energy policies. He also wanted to roll back the higher fuel economy standards Obama implemented as part of the auto bailout.
Next are some “achievements” my friends gave me that I don’t agree with at all. Some of these might just be a matter of opinion, but in others, the facts just don’t side with Trump. I’m not sure how his supporters can ignore that.
First, I don’t hold a President responsible for the health of the economy unless there was specific legislation aimed to improve it. The economy of The United States is too complicated for it to be impacted by the President. And even when they do impact the economy, it’s often not felt until years later. So maybe in the long, long term, Trump will have helped. But by the 2020 election, he did not.
Let’s be honest, Trump was handed an improving and strong economy (I’m not saying great), and left us with one in shambles.
Trump adopted an economy on the upswing. Obama created the longest period of economic growth and job creation in American history. Most economists recognize that a President’s first term is still impacted by the last President. So Trump’s first year was partly Obama’s. Plus, Trump didn’t pass any legislation that would have improved what Obama created. His tax cuts didn’t improve the economy either and would prove devastating when COVID came along. Trump was able to maintain what Obama created, until 2020 when the economy plummeted due to his mishandling of the pandemic.
The standard list for Trump supporters, and the facts:
- Critics complained that Obama was the first President not to have a 3% GDP growth as President. It’s easy to manipulate GDP numbers, but you can look at this chart from Statista showing that Obama had reached 3.1% once and Trump only 3.0% once. And then the Trump plummet from COVID. In fact, Clinton, Bush, and Obama all had better GDP numbers.
- Black Unemployment: Trump loved this statistic. But again, look at what Trump adopted. When Obama was President, adopting an economic crisis, the Black Unemployment from 16.9% to 7.9%. Trump adopted a 9% drop. He carried the football from 7.9% to 5.5%, a 2.4% drop. It’s like one running back takes the ball 95 yards down the field, then a different one scores the touchdown, and you forget about the former. More importantly, other than Opportunity Zone (mentioned above), you can’t point to a policy targeting black unemployment. I’m willing to bet $100, that anyone who was President would have seen a drop to 5.5% or more. So I’m not impressed. Yes, any new President would have bragged about it, but it wasn’t a real achievement. If you want to praise Trump for this, please praise Obama for what he did.
- And of course, in overall jobs, Obama’s last three years were better than Trump's first three years. So Trump loses this, including the disaster of 2020.
There isn’t much Trump can point to that wasn’t something that would have happened anyway. Had he treated COVID seriously, created and sold MAGA face masks, his last year might not have been so bad. The pandemic would have hurt our economy, no doubt. But I do blame Trump’s ignorance for making things worse than they needed to be.
I loved The Wall. Great album. Trump’s wall? Hardly. I know this is a matter of opinion, so I’m not looking for agreement, but I don’t see the need for a wall in the first place. Do we have one with Canada? Why did Trump only seem to have problems with immigrants when it came to those with brown skin or being from “shithole countries?”
We do need immigration reform. But the reform needs to be comprehensive and take into consideration immigrants who live in bordering countries or across the ocean. We need a 21st Century Statue of Liberty that treats all immigrants and refugees with dignity.
The mainstay of Republican belief. I’ll just say, his views on abortion weren’t different than any other Republican, so you don't need a wreck like Trump in office to get this checked off your list.
Furthermore, I’d rather see real pro-life policies that Republicans won’t address, such as, free birth control, a 21st-century sex-ed curriculum in our schools, and other measures reducing unwanted pregnancies. I’ve always felt this and don’t understand why Republicans don’t want to lower unplanned pregnancies.
Miscellaneous Foreign Policy
The rest of the foreign policy list range from brokering a treaty between Israel and the UAE, moving the embassy to Jerusalem, pushing back against China, and ending the treaty with Iran and the Paris Climate Agreement. In general, I’d rather be in a treaty to have a seat at the table, rather than outside the conversation.
Again, many of these are too soon to tell, but so far, experts aren’t convinced many of these were good ideas, like pulling out of the Iran treaty.
For me, the overall track record for Trump isn’t enough to overcome NATO funding and the Israel/UAE treaty. I know things like moving the embassy to Jerusalem are very important for some, but not for me. It’s a very minor issue.
As ForeignPolicy.com states about Trump, “America’s adversaries are more dangerous than they were in 2016, the United States is weaker, sicker, and more divided, relations with many U.S. allies are worse, and any aspirations to moral leadership that Americans might have harbored have been badly tarnished.”
Critical Race Theory
My Republican friends are not fans of Critical Race Theory. When the term re-emerged after George Floyd, there was a backlash from Trump and his supporters to what was seen as destroying history and promoting victimization. That’s the GOP view. For example, Trump prohibited anti-racists teaching in government agencies. Since then, many states have misunderstood Critical Race Theory and are now banning the teaching of what is called Hard History.
No one I know wants students to be taught to feel like an oppressor or a victim. That’s just the strawman GOP legislators and talkshow hosts post up for opposing an honest take on US History.
Maybe there are other “accomplishments” that can make me think differently about Trump. I’m not here to detail all the things I disliked. I wanted to point out that many of the arguments others have for Trump, I’m not buying. He either coasted on other people’s accomplishments, did what any other President would have done, or would have pushed the US back to a time we shouldn’t be proud of or maintain. I know he’s a symbol for many, but to me, he doesn’t represent progress, he represents a nostalgia for America that wasn’t always great. He’s not worth the risk he poses. But I appreciate my friends who do think about these issues and I hope they keep challenging me.