It seems like just yesterday when President Trump stunned the nation with this unprecedented election victory in November 2016. Now, less than a month from the 2020 election, the last four years of President Trump will be soon litigated by the American people under the veil of a record-breaking pandemic and economic crisis. With this said, how has President Trump performed in his first term in the White House? I offer the definitive analysis.
As per standard convention, context must be given before delving into any topic. And while many familiar with the President will expect me to discuss his upbringing and his adventures (or misadventures!) in New York in his previous career, I find the appropriate contextual springboard to be the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. If this starting point appears to be random and quite odd, you are not alone. Virtually everyone in that room that night, I surmise, thought their actions and the event they were witnessing were purely benign. Everyone, that is, except one Donald J. Trump.
Soon after the inauguration of President Barack Obama on January 20, 2009, a peculiar conspiracy theory sprung up claiming Obama was born in Kenya, and because his father was not an American, he was not a naturally born citizen—a prerequisite to being president. Of course, this theory had no credence, especially given Obama provided his Hawaii state birth certificate that was subsequently verified by the state as real. Notwithstanding, President Trump, who has a history of poking his nose into controversial matters seemingly for the heck of it (remember the Central Park Five full-page ad in the ‘80s?), poured gasoline on the fire by reinvigorating the theory into 2010 and following years.
This brings us back to the correspondents’ dinner. For those who are not aware, the annual dinner, also known as “nerd prom,” has the purpose of giving White House officials, including the president, and the press corps a night of levity and fun—a needed relief given the other 364 days of the year they are at each other’s throats. Under this impression, President Obama mockingly played a clip from Disney’s The Lion King, an allusion to the conspirators’ Kenya theory, and then continued to make fun of the birthers who had questioned his legitimacy.
As Obama specifically called out Trump in his stand-up, the cameras cut to an embarrassed Trump, who was painfully putting on a cordial façade, while the entire room laughed at him. This moment, many proclaim—myself included—was the point at which Trump decided to run for President.
Fast-forward four years and we see prophecy being fulfilled as then-candidate Trump descended the escalator at the Trump Tower. Over the next year and a half, Trump would stun the establishment over and over with his uncouth language however, reflective of the “silent majority” Trump frequently cites, many average Americans began to be convinced that his unconventionality was worth a shot.
And this is where I must digress for a second. It is often said by Trump’s detractors that there is an inherent problem in America because its citizens elected someone so morally bankrupt. I contend, on the other hand, that Americans chose Trump out of a perceived sense of desperation. Trump’s supporters, by-and-large, did not vote for him for his questionable way of speaking; they voted for him despite this. To them, saving their farm, having their small businesses thrive, and keeping their factory jobs were more important. This, in part, is why I believe, in retrospect of course, 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton calling them “deplorable” was perhaps the most damaging thing she did to herself in that election cycle.
What exactly did Trump say on the trail? While there are way too many to list, some highlights include him making fun of late Senator John McCain, a Vietnam war hero, and another gold star family; making fun of a disabled reporter; and joking about shooting a man on Fifth Avenue in New York—all this from the 2016 campaign alone sans the name calling. This is not to say Trump has ceased with this behavior since assuming the presidency—he has not, in fact news broke literally as I was writing his that he called current vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris a “monster”—but it has become so commonplace now, people seem to automatically tune it out as noise. It becomes like the annoying fan in the background that suddenly is not annoying after 10 minutes. It is just…there.
This provides a perfect segue to my analytical concern about Trump as the election nears. He has dragged the bar so low, it cannot go any lower. The bar is on the ground. (Remember this lowering of the bar was appealing to many). President Trump’s master strategy was risky in that if it worked, if he brought America back, he, and Trumpism, would be set; but if it marginally succeeded, or utterly failed, he would have no failsafe. America, as a collective, is not die-hard for Trump. Only about a third of the nation strongly approve of him. That other 10-20% are those aforesaid citizens who are just giving him a try. With that said, since we are currently in the latter situation—the marginal success—and he has no more cards to show, Trump literally has nowhere to go, unless has something hiding up his sleeve. This theory explains two things: 1) why current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden achieved and has maintained his lead for months and 2) why Trump’s continued efforts to abide by the 2016 playbook is not working.
Now let us define this “marginal success” I keep referring to. Of course, despite my best efforts to avoid it, I must address COVID-19, the elephant in the room. In a nutshell, Trump and his team tried to keep everyone from panic by downplaying the virus at its advent only to preside over lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, as well as travel bans, starting in March in an attempt to “flatten the curve.” They (somewhat) did that however lost some ground in the fight over the summer months.
In general, however, I really do not see what more they could have done. Everyone is talking about the national mask mandate—Biden made it a campaign promise—but there are constitutional concerns here, despite the federal government doing more draconian measures in the name of crisis in the past. At any rate, though, he could not do it unilaterally. After that everyone is saying his rhetoric, especially regarding masks, was not helpful. And while a case exist that less people would have died if he had spoken more seriously, this argument is rooted in the idea that Trump, personally, is responsible for the virus—which is nonsensical. With this said, I do not believe the administration did a stellar job, but I digress.
Before COVID-19 upended everything, the Trump Administration, in my book, did the following notable things (in no particular order): left the Paris Climate Accord (and still reduced carbon emissions), created the USMCA (replacement to NAFTA), put two conservatives on the Supreme Court, passed the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, maintained a good economy, got themselves impeached, tried to kill Obamacare with no replacement, started and failed at talks with North Korea, began a trade war with China, and ended the trade with China (sort of) with a deal that might of worked but the “China virus,” as Trump called it, pretty much ruined any changes that it could.
As you can see, the Trump Admission has had its fair share of negative, but also its pros—the first four points and maybe the last one. Notwithstanding, these accomplishments are nowhere near the total revolution the coalition that supported him in 2016 envisioned. Ignoring COVID, many of their farms were not saved, nor were their factory jobs, and the small business certainly did not do “better” by any means. And, thus, an interesting American experiment called the Trump era, ends.