How bad a President is Donald Trump? Is he a good but misunderstood President? Depending on your politics and where you get your news, he is dishonest, incompetent and perhaps insane, or he is the crafty businessman, courageous in reversing long-standing but counter-productive policies, and someone who has brought us three years of peace and prosperity. Where is the truth? How do you get people in each camp to a common vision of the President?
Taking on this perhaps impossible mission requires a willingness to set aside one’s political preferences, be as unemotional as possible, and research a few statistics. It’s not easy. Five minutes of discussion on impeachment can result in F-bombs and broken friendships. And it will only get worse as the House proceeds with impeachment proceedings this fall.
The question of assessing Trump is not an assessment of whether he committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” or criminal offenses. Rather, it involves looking at his record in a larger context and including things cited as evidence of a successful Presidency.
Here are a few things to consider:
Record low unemployment rates. Few would have imagined the current rate of 3.5 percent possible. For African Americans, it’s 5.5 percent, still too high, but a record low worth celebrating.
A healthy economy. The economy, as evidenced in a positive GDP growth and a robust stock market, is doing well for most of us. Some have been predicting a recession for the last two years, but it hasn’t come. Does Trump get the credit because of his tax and regulatory policies?
Trade. Perhaps in no other area has Trump broken more with his predecessors than in the area of trade. His efforts to address trade imbalances and protect American intellectual property are well documented. The fact that Bernie Sanders, among others, has suggested that something needs to be done to re-invigorate American industry tells you something. You may disagree with the trade war that has resulted and fear its long-term consequences, but it’s impossible to dismiss the fact Chinese imports are down.
Peace. While some may argue that as long as any U.S. troops are in harm’s way the country is not at peace, the fact is that no new wars have been initiated despite, and perhaps because of, Trump’s often belligerent tones with North Korea, Iran, and others. Teddy Roosevelt is praised for his “Speak softly but carry a big stick” foreign policy. Trump rarely speaks softly, but he is carrying a big stick and is perceived by adversaries as willing to use it.
Resetting America’s relationship with our allies. While some believe Trump is jeopardizing the long-standing relationships with allies like Germany, his call for NATO members to pay “their fair share” of the cost of the military alliance has produced results. Were allies like Germany and Japan taking American support for their defense for granted? If so, they are not doing that now.
Loss of World Leadership. America is no longer seen as a world leader by many of our allies. The best example is the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords. If you believe climate change is a global threat, withdrawal from this agreement, whatever its flaws, must be seen as a negative. In addition, Trump’s practice of making world-impacting decisions unilaterally has hurt.
Undermining civility in political debate. For this one, there are more than a thousand actions that may be cited as evidence. Should Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff be tried for treason? Should Mitt Romney be impeached? Should any President use foul language at rallies or anywhere else?
Racism. Is calling Mexicans rapists and criminals evidence of racism? What about enhanced immigration policies? Please note that some view the restrictive immigration policies as a positive, does anyone really support splitting up families and some of the other harsh practices documented in the last two years on the border?
Appointment of incompetent or corrupt officials to public offices. Pruitt, Perry, Carson, Ross and DeVos, are but five examples. There are dozens more. And are you okay with nepotism?
Unstable executive leadership. No, despite claims by some to the contrary, I’m not talking about Trump himself. Rather, it’s the endless resignations, firings, and acting appointments to dozens of positions, including 2 of 15 cabinet offices, and 11 others to senior appointments, including the director of OMB and National Intelligence, as well as the President’s own chief of staff. Why can’t this administration vet officials before appointing them?
Russia. Is Russia our friend or ally? While proof of their interference in the 2016 elections is dispositive, Trump has appeared beholden to Putin. What is going on?
The National Debt. Did Trump let the National debt get “out of control?” The $22.6 trillion National Debt is indeed increasing, notwithstanding campaign promises to the contrary, but Trump is arguably no worse than other recent Presidents. Clinton, aided by a strong economy, is an exception.
Private inurement. The allegation is that Trump is using the Presidency for his personal gain. This allegation is supported by the military using one of his golf resorts in Ireland during refueling stops and, of course, the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Are these things illegal? That is currently under investigation/resolution. Until then, the jury is out.
Corruption. Some argue Trump is no more corrupt than the Clintons, Obama, or, most recently, Joe Biden. Do two wrongs make a right?
Tweeting. Trump’s tweets are hated by many but, in fact, represent a new chapter in Presidential transparency. Although his writings are highly selective, few would argue that this President speaks more to the American public, and more directly, than any President before him.
Supreme Court nominees. The bruising battle over Judge Kavanaugh is now behind us but calls for his impeachment continue. Depending on your politics, you will like or dislike Trump’s two appointments to date. Both have proven to be exactly what he promised, conservative votes on the Nation’s highest court.
Okay, so where does this leave us? For this writer, the negatives far outweigh the positives. Despite the positives, the negatives, most of them resulting from Trump’s volatility, disdain for expert advice, racism, and his New York real estate world view, render him a disaster. More importantly, I fear what Trump may do in coming months as the impeachment process proceeds.
We live in troubled times. Trump’s problems are not going away. It will get worse. Stay tuned.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor. For more than 30 years, he advised clients on federal education and social service policy.