Monday, January 1, 2018

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of Trump's First Year

As the new year begins it also marks the final month of Donald Trump’s first year as president. As President Trump’s first year draws to a close some people proclaim him to be the greatest president since Reagan while others say he is tyrant. As usual, the truth is somewhere in between.

In December, the White House issued a list of 81 accomplishments of the Trump Administration. While the list contains many items of fluff (“Trump traveled the world to promote the sale and use of U.S. energy” and “made progress to build the border wall with Mexico”) and economic statistics that may or may not be the result of Trump’s election win (“increase of the GDP above 3 percent,” “saw the Dow Jones reach record highs” and “a rebound in economic confidence to a 17-year high”), the list did include real accomplishments.

President Trump had several legitimate legislative successes in his first year. The crowning jewel of the Trump Administration’s first year is the tax reform bill. The bill slashed the corporate tax rate as well as cutting individual income tax rates. The bill also repealed Obamacare’s unpopular individual mandate. Earlier the in the year, the Republican Congress also passed several bills repealing Obama-era regulations under the Congressional Review Act. A more bipartisan success was a bill reforming the Veterans Administration.

Trump also has made his mark on the federal judiciary. Neil Gorsuch has filled Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court with another conservative, an accomplishment that many said would make a Trump presidency worthwhile. Trump has also appointed 18 judges to lower courts.

Many of the list items relate to Donald Trump’s 55 Executive Orders, which are far more numerous than his legislative successes. With Congress deadlocked for much of the year, the majority of Trump Administration accomplishments relate to executive actions or rulemaking by bureaucratic agencies. Some of these decisions have been good, such as rolling back Obama-era net neutrality rules, reinstating the Mexico City policy and cutting federal regulations. President Trump also signaled his intent to withdraw from the Paris Climate treaty and move the US embassy in Israel to the capital city of Jerusalem.

In other cases, Trump’s executive actions weren’t as good. One of Trump’s first acts as president was to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a move that opened the door for Chinese expansion with their One Belt One Road Initiative. Trump decided against withdrawing from NAFTA, but reopened negotiations with Mexico and Canada. A series of Executive Orders that limited immigration from designated countries were largely upheld by the courts, but are more symbolic than useful in preventing terrorism since many, if not most, recent terrorists have been native-born Americans.

Whether good or bad, the common thread among the Trump Administration’s executive actions is their impermanence. Many of Trump’s executive actions reverse executive actions by Barack Obama. A future president could reverse Trump’s executive actions just as easily.

On foreign policy, Trump’s year has been mixed as well. A one-off missile strike against Syria in May had little discernible effect on the situation in the Middle East. Likewise, Trump’s war of words with Kim Jong Un has not helped to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. President Trump did score an end-of-the-year win on foreign policy with the news that ISIS had lost 98 percent of its territory.

There were several particularly bad spots for President Trump in 2017. Trump’s firing of James Comey ensured that the Russia investigation would continue indefinitely and, although evidence of illegal collusion between Trump and the Russians is doubtful, the probe has already led to a number of indictments of Trump campaign officials and the investigation is an albatross around Trump’s neck.

The failure of the Republicans to repeal or reform Obamacare was the president’s biggest defeat of the year. Trump and the Republican Party had spent years campaigning against the health law only to have even watered-down versions of their own healthcare bill fail to pass. The repeal of the individual mandate in the tax reform bill is a consolation prize that may make matters worse. The repeal of the mandate may drive healthy Americans from the insurance market just as Trump stops making subsidy payments to health insurance companies. The result could be upheaval in health insurance marketplaces for 2018.

Even with the year-end successes by Republicans, Trump approval averages in the 30s and Democrats hold a 15-point lead on the generic congressional ballot as the country heads into a midterm election year. Trump’s twitter rants and feuds with such varied targets as the FBI, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the National Football League and pretty much every media outlet may be a big part of the GOP’s image problem. In a country at peace and experiencing a good economy, Trump’s unpopularity may be unprecedented.

In spite of a year that the White House heralds as a year of “winning,” President Trump has not been able to win over the American people. If he doesn’t do so in the next 10 months, his administration may not last until 2020.

Originally published on The Resurgent

No comments: