As Joe Biden begins his presidency, some people are circulating a 10-point memo outlining Donald Trump’s “achievements.” I have copied the points and followed each with my counter-view.
“Trump brokered four Middle East peace accords, something that 71 years of political intervention and endless war failed to produce.”
Another view: Israel and three Arab countries, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, agreed to open embassies in one another’s capitals. These are not peace accords. Japan and Russia agreed to open embassies in 1956 but they are still negotiating about what an accord to end WWII should cover.
The “71 years” of no accomplishment is also a stretch, as Egypt established relations in 1979 and Jordan in 1993. As for the “fourth accord,” a Trump White House press release mentions Kosovo and Serbia but neither is situated in the Middle East.
The UAE and Bahrain were motivated by the growing Iranian threat, while Morocco was enticed by Pompeo’s willingness to recognize Moroccan territorial claims in western Sahara and hence break ranks with the UK and EU. This is going to be a big headache for the US going forward.
“Trump is the first president since Eisenhower who has not engaged us in a foreign war.”
Another view: This claim begs the question of what is meant by “has not engaged us in a foreign war.” Both Bushes did open up new fronts and one could argue that Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon broadened existing war conditions. But Ford, Carter and Reagan did none of that while Clinton and Obama inherited existing battle fronts – as did Trump.
There is no “first” here for Trump’s overseas theaters, but the deployment of 25,000 national guards in the nation’s capital is a sad first for the domestic transfer of power.
“Trump has had the greatest impact on the economy, bringing jobs and lowering unemployment among the Black and Latino populations to a greater extent than any other president.”
Another view: What is meant by “the greatest impact on the economy” is a matter of opinion. That could be said about FDR’s Social Security or Johnson’s Medicare or Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Trump likes to say that the unemployment rate of 3.5% on the eve of the pandemic was lower than under any other president. However, (A) the US did not record unemployment rates until FDR’s days, (B) it was 3.4% in April 1969 and (C) Clinton recorded 3.8% even while he turned the federal deficit into a surplus.
The whole idea of macroeconomic policy management is: When unemployment is low, raise taxes to reduce deficits and attain surpluses so that when times turn bad the government can engage in deficit spending to help the people. But what did Trump do? He cut taxes as unemployment dropped and when the pandemic hit, US deficits were the worst since WWII.
“Trump exposed the deep, widespread and longstanding corruption in the FBI, CIA, NSA and the Republican and Democratic parties.”
Another view: We still do not know why Trump sided with Putin in Helsinki and threw the CIA, NSA and FBI under the bus. But that was the beginning of US allies holding back certain intelligence from the US. So what was this “deep, widespread and long-standing corruption” in the Republican Party?
“Trump turned NATO around and had them start paying their dues.”
Another view: The NATO treaty says an attack on one is an attack on all. The only time that clause was ever activated was after 9/11 and that is why the Afghan war is a NATO-supported war. Soldiers from European NATO allies are fighting there.
Whether Trump knew that or not, he said, “NATO is obsolete,” which pleased Putin no end. What do you mean by turning around NATO?
Also, membership in NATO does not entail dues. There is only a guideline that members try to keep their national defense budgets to at least 2% of GDP. That money does not accrue to any NATO bank account; that money is spent by each member as it wishes.
“Trump neutralized North Korea and stopped them from sending missiles toward Japan and threatening the West Coast.”
Another view: After the 2018 Singapore summit, Trump said that a “lovely letter from Kim Jong Un” was enough of a guarantee that NK would no longer threaten US and its allies, but cut short his second summit with Kim in Hanoi in 2019 when the “lovely letter” turned out to be no such guarantee.
North Korea is now developing smaller warheads, longer range ICBMs as well as SLBMs and nuclear submarines. Imagine North Korean nuclear subs off the West Coast with SLBMs. Kim says that is exactly what North Korea is now developing.
“Trump turned our relationship with China around, brought hundreds of businesses back to the US and revived the economy.”
Another view: “Turned our relationship with China around” needs to be defined, unless it means he worsened it without any meaningful enhancement of US national interests. A large part of the US manufacturing assets in China did not come back to the US; more commonly they migrated to Southeast Asia.
The US trade deficit with China was $387 billion during the first nine months of 2016 before Trump entered the White House; during the first nine months of 2020 that had increased by 26% to $489.5 billion. After all of the tariffs that he imposed, which were paid for mostly by US consumers, Trump succeeded in worsening the trade balance.
“Trump lowered your taxes, increased the standard deduction on your IRS return from $12,500 to $24,400 for married couples and caused the stock market to rise to record levels, positively impacting the retirement accounts of tens of millions of citizens.”
Another view: As for Trump having “caused the stock market to rise to record levels,” most professional fund managers will question that there is a causal relationship between Trump’s policies and the price-earnings ratios of listed stocks.
About 52% of American households own stocks either directly or indirectly through their retirement funds. But how meaningful is that when unemployment is still higher now than when he came into office. Both Bush (W) and Trump left office with lower employment than when they came into office; both Clinton and Obama left office with higher employment numbers then when they entered.
“Trump fast-tracked the development of multiple Covid vaccines, which are now available or will be soon. And yet we still don’t have vaccines for SARS, Bird Flu, Ebola or a host of diseases that arose during the previous administration.”
Another view: The H5N1 virus that causes the avian flu has killed a total of 455 people since 2003. The Ebola virus has killed about 29,000 since 2014. The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 has now killed over 2,000,000 in the past 12 months. That is why pharmaceutical companies around the world have concentrated on the Covid-19-causing virus; this has nothing to do with Trump’s policies.
Also the Pfizer-BioNTech team of drug companies were NOT involved with Project Warp Speed. That first vaccine had nothing to do with Trump.
“Trump rebuilt our military, which the Obama administration crippled, and fired 214 key generals and admirals in his first year of office.”
Another view: US defense expenditures during Trump’s first three years have increased from 2017 to 2018 to 2019, but each of these expenditures is still LESS than the Corresponding expenditure under Obama during his first four years: 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
But we should be focusing on a more important point. Why are we spending so much? The US military spending at $732 billion in 2019 is larger than the combined total of the next top ten countries: China $261 billion, India $71.1 billion, Russia $65.1 billion, Saudi Arabia $61.9 billion, France $50.1 billion, Germany $49.3 billion, UK $48.7 billion, Japan $47.6 billion, South Korea $43.9 billion and Brazil $26.9 billion. It is time we reduce defense expenditures.
Trump’s ten-point memo on his achievements is, then, a sad summary of his four years. It is based on flimsy logic, baseless claims and contestable analysis. It reveals how much the Trump administration assumed that its followers were uninformed or misinformed. The man will go down as the worst president in our history.
Former longtime Tokyo-based Merrill Lynch analyst Matt Aizawa currently watches world news and markets, and continues to crunch numbers, beside a lake north of the city.