Trump’s First Year A Big Success

Printed from:

With the one-year anniversary fast approaching of the election that brought us President Donald Trump, it’s not too soon to ask how he’s doing.

One might think it’s a question whose answer would depend on your original perspective. 

If you voted for Hillary Clinton and were worried that Trump was going to repeal ObamaCare, cut taxes on the rich, build a wall on the Southern border, and get American into a war with Iran or North Korea, you might have one answer.

If you voted for Donald Trump and were hoping that Trump was going to repeal ObamaCare, cut taxes on the rich, build a wall on the Southern border, and get tough with Iran or North Korea, you might have a different answer.

Personally, I don’t fall neatly into either of those two categories. But, at the risk of being inaccurately described as a Trump apologist, I’d venture that the correct answer in both cases is the same one:  the president is doing pretty well — better than expected.

Or at least that is the most cheerful way to look at it. And, in the current press environment, cheer is one of this column’s unique selling propositions.

To the base of Trump supporters who are disappointed that the president has not yet accomplished his stated goals, even though he has a Republican Congress to work with, my advice is to consider adjusting your expectations. Try judging Trump, not against some platonic ideal of presidential perfection, but against the alternative. By that yardstick, even a worst-case Trump scenario, in which Trump and the Republican Congress fail to undo Obama’s Iran deal, his Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, his health care bill, or his tax increases, is nonetheless a significant improvement over what would have happened in a Democratic administration. 

In a Hillary Clinton presidency, Congress wouldn’t be debating which taxes to cut; they’d be talking about which taxes to increase. In a Clinton presidency, Congress and the administration wouldn’t be talking about what regulations to roll back; they’d be talking about which new rules to impose.

By this measure, for the pro-Trump Republican activist base, even a Trump failure may amount to a Trump success, because it holds the line at the status quo rather than increasing the pace and scale of redistribution, regulation, and the welfare state.

Admittedly, “at least he’s not making it any worse” may be a low bar for presidential success. But look at the previous administrations. It wasn’t just Obama. Even George W. Bush imposed Sarbanes-Oxley red tape, panicked with Henry Paulson at the expense of property rights in the financial crisis, and signed an unconstitutional law restricting campaign-speech. So “status quo” is nothing to sneeze at, either.

For the Republican never-Trumpers and the Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton, again, assessing Trump sensibly requires not measuring him against what might have happened if your dream candidate had won. To cheer yourself up, try measuring Trump against all the horrors that had been predicted if he had won.Some worried that abortion and same-sex marriage would become illegal. Others prepared for roundups and deportations of tens of millions of immigrants.The world economy would crater. Nuclear annihilation and conflagration would ensue. Any survivors of the nuclear blast would die from either global-warming related sea-level rise or from lack of affordable health-care. Or, if they happened to be minorities, they might be rounded up or lynched by American fascists.

Now, admittedly, “we’re still alive, at least so far” may seem a low bar for presidential success. But given the grim nature of the expectations, why not celebrate while you still can?

The point here is less about Trump than about us. George W. Bush used to talk about the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” It was a memorable phrase, and he was right about it when he talked about the need for high academic standards. When it comes to politicians, though, low expectations are usually appropriate. They are the product not of bigotry but of experience.

Even some of the best American presidents have only had their full successes achieved after they die or leave office. Franklin Roosevelt’s World War II victory came in the Truman administration. The Jack Kennedy tax cut and civil rights act was enacted in the Lyndon Johnson presidency. Ronald Reagan’s Cold War victory came with the breach of the Berlin Wall in 1989, during the George H.W. Bush administration.

Trump’s fans may take it as consolation, and his critics may take it as a caution:  Trump may not be “over” until even after he is gone. For now, any judgment depends on the comparison.


Ira Stoll is editor of and author of JFK, Conservative.