Donald Trump has now been the president of the United States for one year. That accomplishment decided one bet I made in the weeks leading up to his inauguration. (I won it.) And while few would claim he has had an error-free year, it is also true that he hasn’t started any new wars or been officially charged with any criminal conduct. And he almost managed the keep the government operating for the entirety of that year, so there’s that.
All kidding aside (if kidding is even appropriate for this president), Mr. Trump’s first year has been nothing if not dramatic. From the early-morning tweets to the stream of invectives, lies, and insults, Trump has been a domineering personality. He has also been transformational in many respects. And he has maintained approximately the same level of support he started with (less maybe a few ticks that are almost within the margin of error).
Gloom and doom predictions for his presidency have thus far been incorrect. He hasn’t been formally accused of anything approaching an impeachable offense, and claims that he should be removed under the 25th Amendment haven’t engendered any meaningful support. And gloom and doom predictions about what his presidency would produce for the nation and the world have been similarly overblown. The country is experiencing something of an economic boom, which should continue if we can keep the government open, and the world, for all its hostilities, has managed to avoid Armageddon, and will even see North and South Koreans united at the winter Olympics next month.
So let’s admit and acknowledge that while he is despised by many, he also can claim that on his watch some things are not nearly as bad as many critics predicted they would be and a few things are actually pretty good. And then, of course, there are the things that aren’t at all good. Herewith, a summary of the highs and lows of Trump’s first year, starting with those things that can be considered accomplishments:
o The stock market is way up, adding significantly to the personal wealth of those who own these forms of securities. How much credit Trump deserves for the bull market that is seemingly setting new record highs every day is debatable, but it is undeniable that the surge is happening on his watch.
o Unemployment is way down, close to an even four percent (traditionally considered full employment) in recent months. And since he took office, it has dropped the better part of a full point (from 4.8 to 4.1). Again, Trump may just be the lucky recipient of a boom that started under the previous administration, but it’s happening on his watch.
o Wages are slowly starting to rise. This one should naturally follow from exceedingly low unemployment, and it looks like it is finally starting to happen. Trump will claim credit for this development, even though it still pales in comparison to the spike in incomes at the top.
o He signed into law a major tax bill that cuts corporate rates significantly and may spur continued economic growth. The bill is tilted heavily in favor of the wealthiest, offering little to middle class and working class tax payers (and it even hurts some in states like mine), but six months ago, no one thought the bill had much of a chance, and now, again on his watch (if not because of his leadership), it is the law of the land.
o ISIS is losing on the battlefield, not even controlling enough real estate to declare itself a caliphate anymore. Here, too, Trump may not merit much praise for the disintegration of the terrorist organization, as the military campaign against it has been much the same as existed when he took office, but he is the current commander-in-chief, and he is, therefore, entitled to claim the credit.
o He has gone a long way to transforming the judiciary, topped by the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, with a sizeable number of appointments to federal district and circuit courts that have moved the federal bench decidedly to the right.
o His political party has fallen in line behind him. Many Republicans were restive about his nomination, and more than a few were far from thrilled at his election, but Trump now has almost the complete support of his party in Washington. And his approval ratings among the rank and file of the party are also exceedingly high. He may be remaking the GOP in the process, but he’s doing it with almost no resistance from those who could thwart his efforts if they wanted to.
I’m sure the foregoing is an incomplete list, but I think it captures the highlights of Trump’s first year. The lowlights comprise a considerably longer list, but I’ll attempt to condense them into these broader categories:
o He has appealed to racists and neo-Nazis. Either because he holds these beliefs or because he thinks they are politically advantageous, Trump has repeatedly aligned himself with elements of American society that had been shamed into silence before his election. But by claiming that “all sides” consist of “good people,” he has effectively legitimized bigotry. It is perhaps his greatest shame.
o He has made xenophobia national policy. His continuing efforts to expel undocumented immigrants and to limit lawful immigration to white Europeans have besmirched the great tradition of America as the land of assimilated immigrants. The “wall” that he still insists must be built along the Mexican border is symbolic of his desire to make America white again.
o He has insulted our allies and shown an affinity for autocrats around the world. His refusal to acknowledge anything negative about Vladimir Putin while at the same time refusing to shake hands with Angela Merkel is evidence of a hostility to democracies in favor of dictatorial rule.
o He is at war with the fourth estate. His hostility to the legitimate press and to mainstream media generally has been ongoing and may well be part of an effort to declare facts adverse to his interests to be false. Those incessant attacks, coupled with the relentless promotion of “alternative facts,” represent a serious threat to America’s democratic institutions.
o He lies unabashedly, incessantly, and pathologically. Trump is so nimble with falsities that he may not even know whether he is lying much of the time. He says whatever seems convenient to his ego needs at the moment. In this respect most people dismiss individuals like Trump as “blowhards.” But having a “blowhard” as the nation’s president is at best an embarrassment and at worst a disgrace.
o He is ignorant and neither knows nor cares that he is. He doesn’t read and appears to lack the ability to think deeply on any subject of national concern. He watches a lot of cable news (primarily Fox), which feeds him his talking points and spurs his poorly constructed and ill-considered tweets. He may never have read a full briefing memo, since, according to trustworthy reports, he can’t handle anything longer than a page, unless his name appears in it continually.
o He is moving the country inexorably to the right in a way that even Ronald Reagan would have thought excessive. The ultimate result of his efforts would probably be the establishment of a plutocracy, if not a fascist dictatorship, wherein racial diversity was shunned, and poverty was a crime.
I’ll stop there, for to go further is just downright depressing. Suffice it to say that after one full year in office, Donald Trump has been everything those who supported him hoped he would be and everything those who opposed him feared his election would mean for the country. And, as he would most assuredly agree, he’s only getting started.