When did the Trump presidency begin to fail?
I think it began at his inauguration. His speech was delivered in a monotone of acceptable platitudes by a man who neither believed nor understood what he was saying. From then on, we witnessed, a succession of events proclaimed as great achievements, that failed in delivering what they promised.
He promised accelerated economic growth and claimed he produced it, but the data say otherwise. GDP grew no better than in years past. Jobs grew, but at a slower rate, and almost entirely at the low end of pay with no benefits. There was all time low unemployment among Blacks and Hispanics, but too many jobs were part time and low paying. There was some improvement in middle class income, but not enough to celebrate. Steel and aluminum did not come back. Large manufacturing plants did not reopen. Coal declined more rapidly. The soaring stock market seemed more disconnected than ever from the basics of the nation’s economic health. It brought record paper wealth to those with substantial funds to invest, but not much to anyone else. Trump supporters bragged about the growth of their 401k plans, but they used macro data, not their own, and few had plans worth much.
He promised restoration of America’s standing in the world, asserting that it had become weak and ineffectual. Was that true? In his mind it was. But his forays into global diplomacy embarrassed us, alienated long standing allies, emboldened leaders hostile to the U.S., and isolated America from conversations affecting world trade and peace. Whether he made progress in the parts of the Middle East remains to be seen.
He advertised a new health plan better than the ACA. It was always just two weeks ahead, but never materialized. In the meantime, he did what he could to kill the ACA, stripping people of the limited protection it afforded. In that, like most other initiatives, he did not succeed.
The border wall that Mexico would pay for was a key campaign promise. He worked hard to make it happen. Mexico, of course, paid nothing, but monies stripped from defense appropriations were diverted to the project, and he got some funds from Congress too. The result? Not much. What there is turned out to be easily breached. The whole thing was based on fear of the nation being overrun by hordes of undesirable invading immigrants. Were there hordes at the border? Not hordes, but thousands, most seeking asylum. What we know from their predecessors is that they would be hard working, honest, and contributors to society. But they didn’t speak English, had brown skin, and lacked an American education. It was a white nationalist appeal that included draconian incarceration measures antithetical to everything America stands for.
His signature tax cut was supposed to stimulate job creation and industrial investment. It would pay for itself, he claimed. It did nothing for jobs or investment, it mostly benefitted the very wealthy, and it exploded the deficit and debt for no useful purpose.
He declared America First as he bailed out of multinational trade and environmental negotiations, and slapped tariffs against unfair competitors. He wasn’t wrong about unfair trade, but his tariff wars undermined our export economy, especially agriculture. He never did understand that China was not paying the tariffs, American consumers were. What’s more, China blinked once, looked the other way, and continued expanding its economic powerhouse with little notice of Trump’s jabs. He scuttled NAFTA as the worst deal ever, then renegotiated it with minor changes and called it a victory.
Korea was heralded as the breakthrough of the century. It turned out to be a brief floor show at which Kim had a great time making Trump look foolish. When Kim had enough, he went home to continue business as usual.
Little need be said about his leadership in the COVID pandemic.
Throughout his four years in the White House, he produced a daily stream of falsehoods creating a make-believe reality that his most devoted followers believed with all their hearts. He held 126 rallies celebrating it, during which he encouraged followers to violence against their supposed enemies. Who were the enemies? Anyone not among his followers, radical leftist socialists all.
Though he and his closest advisers claim it to have been the most successful presidency ever, the reality was a trail of failure leaving destroyed lives in its wake. A surprise? Maybe not – it was consistent with the trail of failures and destroyed lives he had left behind in his private life. Did he create anything of lasting endurance? Sadly, yes. He created an anti-democratic, white nationalist movement of ardent believers numbering in the millions. Not the 70 million plus who voted for him in 2020. Most of them, I suspect, will regret their votes, and shamefacedly declare they never really knew him. But there may yet be millions who will not easily turn away from the authoritarian white nationalist paradise he promised. He may soon be gone, but the promise remains.
I offer none of this as condemnation of Trump. He has been a consistent performer, well known to the public, who did not change his ways from private life to public. Who knows? In his mind maybe he really does think he was a good president. He still thinks he was a great business success. Sadly for him, and maybe lucky for the nation, the only tools he had to work with were in his bag of flimflam tricks he’d used all his life as he built the Walter Mitty world of make-believe he lives in. If there is condemnation to be meted out, it is to otherwise competent voters who fell for his hucksterism and thought, in spite of his track record, this time he might be selling a really good thing. Even greater condemnation falls to those who saw an opportunity to solidify their version of democracy as a small cadre of the right kind of people running the nation, and believed they could use Trump to make it happen.