Donald Trump: Year in Review (2017)

by Mark McDermott

President Trump stunned the world with his election victory one year ago – somehow, through noise-making and some legitimate ideas, Trump found votes in the crucial states. But where does the nation stand now on the key issues we face? As with Trump himself, these is good news and bad news.

Bad news first. Trump’s Twitter election campaigns was in some ways genius, keeping him in the news and relevant. But to do this he essentially provided his presidency with a ball and chain in the form of Congress. Most of his own party in Congress wants to stay away from him, naturally prompting insulting Twitter barrages. It has crippled some of the foundations of his campaign. 

The travel ban shows this perfectly. On paper, the revised travel ban is within the president’s powers – as the Supreme Court ruled – restricting travel of those from certain countries from entering the United States; under another president, this might have been accepted. The problem comes from Trump’s campaign speeches, where he called for ending the entry of Muslims. The campaign form of the idea is not legal, feasible, or acceptable, and thus when the actual and correct form of the order is signed, it faces serious opposition because it is framed in the context of the comments that attracted attention in the election.

Health care and tax reform have also not been passed, although the partisan wrangling in Congress would have occurred with or without Trump. Even so, the president has done a poor job of mediating between the two sides because he perceived as radioactive by the Democrats and a time bomb by the Republicans; he does little to alleviate their fears.

Roy Moore’s loss of a Republican Senate seat in Alabama shows conscientious voting, but also represents a major defeat for Trump and the Republican party. Not only will Trump now have to face the political consequences of endorsing such a flawed candidate as Moore, but the narrow Republican Senate majority is weakened further. This will only worsen the deadlock, and unless Republicans can somehow make a major breakthrough in 2018, the key issues facing America will not be effectively addressed by either party because of the presidential veto or congressional stalemate.

And then Russia. It is certainly disappointing that Trump didn’t vet his national security advisor more thoroughly, but in fairness, he fired him rather quickly. Needless to say, none of this looks good for the President. Even so, as the investigations continue, Trump hardly looks guiltier than he looked the day before. None of this negates the humiliation of having the head of state subject to strong internal inquiries and even the threat of foreign interference is disturbing. Even more disturbing, however, is the disregard of the media for any semblance of journalistic standards in verifying stories published, which undermines the foundations of democracy even more severely than some Russian advertisements.

All of these negatives must be viewed in context of the 2016 election. Where would we be if Hillary Clinton had been president? Health care and tax reform wouldn’t be moving too well with the partisan divide regardless – Congress, not Trump, is to blame for the stagnation of the most important issues. Ms. Clinton has controversies of her own with Russia and the Clinton Foundation that are coming to light. And Trump’s tenure has brought several improvements.

One of the greatest improvements is the American stance towards North Korea. President Obama was not forceful enough against the Kim regime to prevent its progression towards an ICBM capable of striking the United States, a capability Kim recently demonstrated. Trump, however, in addition to the strong military presence and clear presentation of U.S. strength, has gathered stronger support from China in sanctioning North Korea than ever before, the key element to achieve a peaceful solution.

Trump has also done much work for stability in the Middle East. Iraqi security forces are destroying the last vestiges of the Islamic State. Trump also greatly aided the stability of Syria through a missile strike on Syrian chemical weapons facilities in April after Assad once again used nerve gas on his own people. This clearly demonstrated the position of the U.S. against Assad’s war crimes, in stark contrast to the “red line” against chemical weapons that Obama humiliatingly failed to enforce against Assad. These actions, in spite of the difficulties caused by the president’s words, are reassuring to our allies and show renewed global strength.

The president’s plans to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem sparked significant uproar recently, but are only the first step in Trump’s efforts for peace in the Middle East. Palestinian protests are now beginning to subside, and the policy finds broad support in our ally, Israel. It is possible that Trump will use this Israeli support as a bargaining peace to gain concessions for the Palestinians in peace negotiations. The actual movement of the capital is still years in the future, so the Palestinians and global critics should wait to see how Trump plans to use this in his negotiations for a peace that has eluded previous administrations for decades.

Domestically, Trump handled three devastating category-four hurricanes striking within weeks of each other. The petty squabbling between the mayor of San Juan and the President was mainly media noise, and it is very difficult and time-consuming to bring billions of dollars of aid to an island, but once again Trump’s Twitter noise hides the facts. The affected areas are now rebuilding with substantial federal aid.

The economic future also looks bright, although how much of it can be attributed to any one person is debatable. The stock market is surging to new highs, and hundreds of thousands of jobs have been produced every month, with investors confident in the economic future under Trump as unemployment remains at 17-year lows, in stark contrast with the billing that his “finger on the nuclear button” would lead to global chaos. The deregulation Trump is pursuing to boost the economy is encouraging expansion, and in spite any other issues with the tax bill, the planned reduction of the corporate tax rate is long overdue to make the U.S. competitive internationally. 

Ultimately, Trump is upholding many of his campaign promises in a tumultuous first year in office. He promised a travel ban, and delivered it. He promised an aggressive foreign policy, and has delivered no less. He promised to move the Israeli capital, and is planning to do so. He promised to shake up the Washington order, and has shattered it, especially within his own party. 

What is the net effect of this? It is difficult to tell, and there are no clear historical parallels. In the media, the presidency appears to be floundering under the weight of its own political baggage; but so did his campaign. The economy is surging, and any so-called “loss of credibility” abroad is primarily in the liberal nations of Europe which remain dependent the United States regardless, especially with the rising Russian threat. Instead, alliances with Israel and South Korea are strengthening, and even China seems to be warming up to U.S. interests around North Korea. 

The overall picture from Trump’s actions would seem to place the U.S. in a slightly better place than it would have been with Ms. Clinton, especially as the failure to resolve the primary domestic concerns – heath care and tax reform – are Congress’s responsibility. Trump’s gains abroad are diminished by his Twitter noise, Russian uncertainty, and the political damage of the Moore scandal, but foreign policy gains such as Chinese cooperation and increasing stability in the Middle East outweigh the damage by a good measure. 

The lesson is this: in a republic, we could have nominated almost anyone to be president, and we choose two people with a lot of negative, even criminal baggage on both sides. Trump is doing what he was elected to do, because Clinton was too weak a candidate to overcome him in the framework of the electoral college. Those mistakes are past, and now cannot be changed. Let’s deal with what we have in the present, and try to change some of the issues that matter most for America – health care and the economy. And Mr. President, for your presidency and for your country: logout of Twitter.

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