Trump’s first term: a scorecard
Oct 29, 2020 - 09:55 AM
WASHINGTON — Donald Trump boasts that “no administration” accomplished more than his during his first term as president.
But apart from his response to the coronavirus pandemic — a massive one-off crisis which voters broadly say he flubbed — how do the Republican’s achievements measure up?
1. The wall
“Build the wall” is a mantra that helped get Trump elected, symbolizing the Republican’s vow — hugely popular among supporters — to reinforce the US-Mexican border and cut illegal immigration.
The US Customs and Border agency says 370 miles (595 kilometers) of wall are complete on a border measuring nearly 2,000 miles. There’s an additional caveat: Almost all of that is repairs or additions to existing barriers, not really new wall.
Yes, apprehensions of undocumented migrants are way up (and admission of refugees is way down). But while Trump promised to deport three million undocumented immigrants, less than half that number has gone.
And no, Mexico is not paying for building the wall, as Trump claims it is.
2. ‘America first’
“America first” is Trump’s nationalist slogan describing a policy of unilateral diplomacy, protectionism, trade wars and forcing the world to “respect” the United States.
Work in progress.
Even many critics secretly cheered Trump when he took on China over the economic giant’s unfair advantages in trade.
But despite Trump’s intense relationship building with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, their “phase one” trade deal has seen mixed results.
While China is sticking to an agreement to buy more US agricultural goods, tariffs on Chinese imports are still six times higher than before the trade war started in 2018, says the Peterson Institute for International Economics. That means pain for US-based companies.
Also, trade partners have angrily retaliated to US protectionism with counter duties on goods like bourbon and farm produce, obliging the US government to give farmers millions in aid.
The US trade deficit hit nearly $577 billion last year — an increase of over $100 billion from the last year of Barack Obama’s administration.
A similar approach in the broader diplomatic field again brought mixed results.
Most notably, Trump tore up a complex international agreement to monitor Iran’s nuclear capacities in return for lifting sanctions. This infuriated European allies and has not achieved what many suspect was Trump’s real goal — regime change in Teheran.
3. Ending ‘stupid’ wars
Part of Trump’s appeal to voters has been his promise to end post-9/11 US military adventures or what he calls “stupid” wars.
Yes and no.
Critics feared the inexperienced and temperamental leader would blunder into conflicts. He didn’t.
Despite an early exchange of insults with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Trump not only avoided war but made unprecedented moves toward reconciliation, including entering North Korea to meet Kim.
US-backed peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are underway, raising chances for a complete US pullout after two decades.
Added to this is a spate of agreements by majority-Muslim states like the UAE and Sudan to establish relations with Israel — all part of an Israel-pleasing push to isolate Iran and the Palestinians.
On the negative side, North Korea has not backed off its nuclear weapons program. Violence continues at high levels in Afghanistan and full withdrawal from Iraq is not imminent.
In Syria, the pullout of a small but strategically located number of US troops allowed Russia to cement its influence over the Syrian regime.
4. Greatest economy in history
Trump promised to bring business sense to the White House and repeatedly claims to have built the “greatest economy” in history.
Depends how you measure.
The stock market has seen repeated highs, even largely recovering from a steep plunge after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
But the strongest growth measured by GDP was three percent, which is on a par with performance under Obama and nowhere near historic US records.
In Trump’s favor, unemployment hit a 50-year low of 3.5 percent in December 2019. Revised figures issued a month later, however, indicated that job growth actually slowed in Trump’s first three years, while the coronavirus lockdowns have now pushed millions into unemployment.
As for Trump’s pledge to restore manufacturing, factory jobs are only gaining at the same pace as under Obama — or they were until the pandemic hit.
Trump likes to say that the most important function of a president may be to appoint federal judges — lifetime positions that shape politics and society in every aspect.
Yes and then some.
Every president gets a chance to fill judge vacancies, but Trump’s Republicans have worked especially quickly. According to Pew Research, Trump has appointed 24 percent of all currently active judges.
In particular, he has appointed 53 powerful appeals court judges — one step below the Supreme Court — compared to only 30 by Obama at the same point in his presidency.
With Amy Coney Barrett’s Senate confirmation Monday, he filled a third Supreme Court seat, tilting the nine-justice panel firmly to the right, potentially for many years to come.