Trump's White House Legacy
In his Atlantic column this morning, David Frum noted that few presidents have left office with so little accomplished-- as well as impeached and disgraced-- as Trump is about to. "Trump took a lot of credit for the economic growth of his first three years, but the economy was already growing strongly when he took office. Pick a measure, almost any measure, and the trajectory of his first three years was identical to that of Barack Obama’s final three years: unemployment, manufacturing, wages, you name it. And whereas Obama passed a successful economy to Trump, Trump bequeaths a wreck to his successor. The Trump tax cut promised to accelerate long-term growth by stimulating business investment. That promise was broken; business investment did not rise. The Trump tax cut imposed indefinite trillion-dollar deficits upon the United States even before the pandemic crisis, while conferring little, if any, benefit on economic output. Trump’s trade policy was an utter fiasco, and his much ballyhooed U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement simply inserted more automobile protectionism into the old NAFTA, without addressing the big North American trade issues of the 21st century, especially the needs of the digital economy and cross-border shipping."
But Frum says, Trump did accomplish a few positive things. And he isn't counting his appointments of lots of judges-- "a partisan achievement, not a national one: a zero-sum win for conservative Americans, not a legacy for the nation as a whole. Yet nobody does nothing as president, not even someone who watches television for five or six hours a day. "
He credits Trump with stricter regulation of vaping, "restricting the use of fruit and mint flavorings in vaping cartridges," something Trump signed and then said he wished he hadn't. From counts the appointment of Jerome Powell to head the Fed as something good Trump accomplished, although-- like the restrictions on vaping, Trump wishes he hadn't ever heard of Powell since then. The Trump Regime also safeguarded 5G networks from Chinese control. And Trump did one positive thing for poor people in his 4 years. "The 2017 tax bill failed to deliver an investment boom, but it did lighten the tax load of many low-income earners, as well as simplify their life. Before the tax bill, the standard deduction for taxpayers was $6,350 for single people, $9,350 for heads of household, and $12,700 for married couples. (There was also a personal exemption of $4,050.) Beyond that protected amount, low-income taxpayers could deduct additional amounts—if they kept proper records. The tax law swept away that need for record-keeping by lower-wage workers. And it nearly doubled the standard deduction: For income earned in 2020, single people pay no income tax on their first $12,400, heads of household on their first $18,650, and married couples on their first $24,800."
Frum also approves of Trump's bullshit moves in the Middle East (including the assassination of Iran's General Qassem Soleimani). But...
Trump broke every rule in the diplomatic book. He accepted payments to himself and his family from the same parties he was negotiating with-- not only single millions at his hotels, but the multiple millions in financing that his son-in-law’s family received from the Qataris to retrieve a bad investment in a New York City office building. Trump showed blatant favoritism to the Israelis over other negotiating parties. He repeatedly surprised all involved with abrupt changes in U.S. policy: supporting the Kurds, betraying the Kurds; appeasing Turkey, sanctioning Turkey; provoking Iran, sanctioning Iran; withdrawing U.S. forces from the region, recommitting U.S. forces to the region. And this one time, his seemingly aimless and herky-jerky approach worked, at least in the immediate term. Maybe Trump’s vagaries frightened Israelis and Gulf Arabs into getting along better. Maybe normalization would have happened even without him-- it started before him, after all. Whatever the cause, he leaves office with this particular conflict closer to resolution than when he entered office.
Most of the accomplishments Frum cites are, at best, debatable-- the Space Force, a kind of "due process" to protect rapists on college campuses, tightening asylum rules... but one I think everyone can agree with is that Trump sparked a surge in civil participation. The U.S., wrote Frum "has historically been characterized by lower levels of political participation than other advanced democracies. Trump fixed that! Throughout 2020, he made clear his determination to hold on to power unless repudiated by a massive popular margin. He had won the presidency in 2016 despite losing the national popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots. Plainly an even bigger margin would be required to force him out. The anti-Trump majority of the electorate absorbed that message and acted on it. Never in U.S. history has such a high proportion of the adult population cast a ballot. Nearly two-thirds of eligible voters-- 66.2 percent-- turned out in 2020. The last year to come close was 1908, when 65.7 percent of those eligible voted. But in 1908, women were not eligible to vote; men qualified to vote at age 21, rather than age 18. And in much of the country, Black people were effectively ineligible, too. The 66 percent of 1908 was achieved when a U.S. population of 88.7 million cast 14.9 million votes. The 66 percent of 2020 was achieved by a population of 331 million casting 158 million votes. A president who sought to subvert U.S. democracy instead inspired unprecedented numbers of Americans to participate in that democracy, in order to save it from him. This was an achievement Donald Trump did not intend and surely did not want. But it was his achievement, even so."
If you follow Susan Glaser's work for the New Yorker, you know she isn't pecking around looking for accomplishments that can be assigned to Trump. This morning, she wrote that "Trump’s decision to attack the legitimacy of the election has been seen, correctly, as an attack on democracy itself, and as a purposeful and brutally effective use of disinformation. And also as the behavior of a would-be dictator who is dragging an entire political party into a fever dream of denialism. Trump’s protracted post-election fit has been analyzed as preparation for a comeback bid in 2024 and as a fund-raising scam that has brought in hundreds of millions of dollars to support his post-White House political efforts. Very likely, Trump’s continued rejection of his defeat is some of all the above... Whatever the other reasons are for his ongoing post-election temper tantrum, it couldn’t be more clear that Trump is also motivated by the simple psychological fact that he really, really hates being called a 'loser.' It’s one of his favorite insults, and a label he would do anything to avoid having affixed to his own name... I know we’ve got used to thinking of Trump as a genius in turning bad news on its head, in creating grievance out of setbacks and then using those grievances to further cement his hold over his Party. I’ve watched him run this play over and over again. I get it. But the alternate way of looking at his post-election behavior is that he is cementing his reputation as the sorest of sore losers. Not only that, but he is crying so long and loudly about the unfairness of his loss that he is forcing officials at every level of government, across the country, to take sides—against him. His frenetic efforts to deny his defeat have simply underscored it. Trump really is leaving office on January 20th, and he really will go out as an impeached and defeated President, forevermore listed in the history books alongside Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter and all the other one-termers he disdains. He is now, and will always be, a loser."
Reporting for CNN around dawn, Maeve Reston wrote that "When the history of the pandemic is written, one of the great mysteries will be what President Donald Trump was doing in the waning days of his presidency as the number of Covid-19 deaths in the US soared past 3,000 each day, the virus spread unchecked and Congress dithered over the details of an emergency relief package that could be the difference between people being able to eat and being forced to sleep on the streets this holiday season. Trump ran for president pretending he was the consummate dealmaker, the chief executive who could make things happen with a snap of his fingers. He will go down in history as a president who worsened the grief and tragedy of the most consequential pandemic in 100 years by being contemptuous of masks and the safety precautions designed by his own administration-- a man incapable of empathy, who chose to remain cocooned in his White House bubble at a time when leadership would have mattered. For weeks now, Trump has spent most of his time plotting how to nullify the results of President-elect Joe Biden's November victory as he has fleeced his supporters to pay for a string of ill-conceived lawsuits that were tossed out of court by some of his own judicial appointees. When those efforts failed, he began looking ahead to January 6 when a joint session of Congress meets to formally count the Electoral College results-- seeing another opportunity to try and thwart the democratic process. In his comfort zone of the Twittersphere-- where he's put out countless false tweets claiming the election was 'swindled'-- Trump has been silent about the disturbing hacking campaign, suspected to be tied to Russia, that has endangered US national security. Despite being briefed on the massive data breach by top intelligence officials Thursday, he hasn't said anything about risks to the federal government or how he planned to address it."
Instead of even trying to go out on a high note, Trump will be remembered as the asshole plotting a coup to steal the election. This morning, Politico published a piece by Tina Nguyen about MAGA leaders calling for Trump to use troops to seize control of the government, to employ the Insurrection Act, meant to suppress domestic uprisings, to overturn the election.
The idea of using the Insurrection Act to solve his problems, is at the core of the fringe crackpot movement, Q-Anon, that is rapidly taking over the Republican Party. "Trump," claims Q-Anon, baselessly, "is secretly working to disrupt a cabal of pedophiliac, sex trafficking Democrats and global elite. Many swear there is a globalist child sex trafficking base on Mars. Two of them, Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA) and Lauren Boebert (CO), have won seats in Congress and have been embraced by McCarthy and the Republican congressional conference and will be assigned to committees like normal members. I suppose this will count-- for some-- as a major Trump accomplishment, maybe not as consequential as restricting fruit and mint flavorings in vaping cartridges, but, it will be amazing if Taylor Greene and Boebert are assigned places on the Science, Space and Technology Committee so they can investigate that base on Mars.