Donald Trump has now been president of The United States for one year. Few presidents have been as controversial or as hated as he. For large segments of the media, academia, the federal bureaucracy, the Democratic Party and others he can do nothing right.
If he is in favor of something it is by definition bad; if he opposes something it is automatically good. The country has not been so polarized since the clash of anti-slavery versus pro-slavery sentiment in the 1850s. We know how that ended up.
Political civility and respectful political dialogue have given way to confrontation and reciprocal hatred. The demonization of “the Donald” has overshadowed everything else. Continuous revelations of serious misdeeds on the part of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are passed over as unimportant, exaggerated or false, whereas the so far completely uncorroborated “collusion” of Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 with the Russians is repeated over and over again as if it has been proved.
It is high time to step back, take a long breath and try to make a sober and reasoned assessment of the Trump administration’s record so far.
There is no doubt that the president’s demeanor is often vulgar and always highly confrontational; there is no doubt either that Trump has demonstrated on a number of occasions his lack of political experience, which has resulted in a great deal of confusion and sometimes even chaos in the White House and beyond. But the fact is that unpleasant people can do good things, whereas pleasant people can adopt and carry out disastrous policies. But in policy formulation and action, as is the case in all administrations, there is good news and there is bad news.
In the case of the Trump administration, there is a sizable amount of good news, given the attitude on the part of his many enemies (I use the term “enemies” on purpose, not “opponents,” because they make no secret of their absolute contempt and even hatred for the president). He has proved himself much more flexible than he is usually given credit for, and many of his appointments have been working out well.
In foreign policy, faced with the threat of North Korea, which he inherited from three previous administrations that resolutely ignored it, and the disastrous Iranian nuclear ‘deal,’ Trump has shown himself, despite bursts of violent rhetoric, to be cautious but firm
In foreign policy, faced with the threat of North Korea, which he inherited from three previous administrations that resolutely ignored it, and the disastrous Iranian nuclear “deal,” Trump has shown himself, despite bursts of violent rhetoric, to be cautious but firm.
Any student of human conflict can tell you that a reputation for rashness and unpredictability can in fact be a very useful negotiating tool. As to Russia and China, after a short love affair with Vladimir Putin, Trump in the annual National Security Strategy report and in his State of the Union address has singled out those two countries as the major threats to world peace, even more so than Iran or North Korea.
All these relationships are excruciatingly complex and difficult, but by and large, the Trump administration has been dealing with them in ways that few but hard-over ideologues could argue with (unfortunately there are many such, as noted above). With the notable and unfortunate exception of abandoning the Iraqi Kurds after their ill-conceived independence referendum, Trump has reversed the Obama policy of rewarding enemies and penalizing friends, and that is all to the good.
A notable example of that is his relations with Israel, where he has taken a pro-Israel stance in stark contrast with Obama’s open dislike. He has reversed the Obama stance of refusing to identify terrorist groups as “Islamic” and has made it clear that he stands with some of the Persian Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and Egypt in their confrontation with the Shia bloc forming from Iran to Lebanon, through Iraq and Syria. Of course there is much to be done on all these matters, including how to deal with an increasingly hostile Turkey.
On trade policy, despite some minor protectionist measures, renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement and withdrawing from the trans-Pacific negotiations, his actions have so far been far from anything like the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of the 1930s, which greatly lengthened and deepened the Great Depression. All in all, not a bad record on the international front.
With reference to domestic policy, those of his immigration measures not annulled by the courts have been relatively mild and easily explained by national-security considerations, and his tax reform and regulatory pullback have had a remarkable effect on renewed growth, particularly of manufacturing, including increasing employment and wages and the repatriation by corporations of production facilities and billions of dollars of reserve funds which had been held outside the US because of high US corporate tax rates.
In short, the “Great Recession” is finally and truly over, after an agonizingly slow recovery.
It is in the fiscal area that Trump has failed utterly so far. The not-yet-passed budget does nothing to reduce the annual deficit and the increase in the national debt. Indeed, if passed as written, it will add more than a trillion dollars to the debt.
Such a debt burden will render unlikely any important infrastructure maintenance program or increase in the defense budget, and if not reversed immediately will reach a point where the only alternatives are default, rescheduling or hyper-inflating the debt away. All those alternatives are disastrous.
After entering the 21st century, two spendthrift eight-year governments in a row and the Trump additions will sooner rather than later turn what was in 2000 the richest and most powerful country in the history of the world into a pathetic tottering giant.