Sunday, January 21, 2018

“It could have been worse.” Assessing the Trump Presidency One Year Later

“It could have been worse.”  That may be the nicest thing to say about the first year of the
Trump presidency, but that’s much of a compliment.  A year into Trump, America is hardly better off now than it was a year ago, with the damage he has wrought domestically and internationally mostly encapsulated in three words–polarizing,  incompetent, and transformative.
Donald Trump may be the most polarizing president since Abraham Lincoln.  A new ABC public opinion polls place his overall approval at barely 36%–a record low for any president at this point in office– and approximately half think he is mentally unstable.  But dive deeper, this and other polls show that barely 5% of Democrats approve of his performance while 80%+ Republicans approve.  On a range of issues from the economy, health care, the Russian investigation, and even the government shutdown, polarization is the word of the day.  Trump both reflects and exacerbated the cultural and political divides in the United States that have been growing since the 1970s that have so far produced 12 partial government shutdowns, two presidential elections with a split between the Electoral College and popular vote winner, and divided control of the presidency and Congress that now makes straight-party line votes the norm and not the exception.
Nationally Trump’s America has a clear map.  One sees a country divided by race, age, gender, religion, and location.  Trump’s America is older, whiter, poorer, more Christian and religious, more likely to hold only a high school degree, and it hates immigrants.  It watches Fox national news, embraces alternative facts, still believes Obama was born in Kenya, and it hates Obamacare while being the prime beneficiary of it.  They also hate the federal government and taxes yet live in regions that disproportionally benefit from federal largesse.    These people voted for Trump but a year into his office he and the Republicans have done little to help them. While Wall Street is at record highs and unemployment at record lows, it is hard to say Trump is responsible for either alone or that the legislative and political agenda that he has pursued will do much for them or America in general.  And throw into that his divisive rhetoric about just about anybody and any country and polarizing is who Trump is.
Before Trump took office, I argued that those who support or loath him will realize much to their hopes or fears, that he would be a far weaker president than expected.  There are these things called the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that contain principles such as checks and balances and separation of powers that will domestically constrain Trump.  That has mostly been the case.  His travel bans and DACA actions are bogged down in court, he has been unable to move much legislation or persuade even members of his own party to act.  Trump criticized Obama for being the executive order president but has resorted to that tactic far more than his predecessor.   Trump came to Washington with no government experience and appointed the same, leaving a power and competency vacuum yet to be filled one year later.
But as the Supreme Court has declared, presidential power is different domestically versus internationally, and the Constitution does not constrain him the same one when operating outside of US borders.  This is where Trump has been freer to do more damage due to incompetence.  A year later relations with almost all nations except where there are other authoritarian strongmen (North Korea the exception) are worse.    A year later the US is no better off in Syria and the Middle East than before, the moving of the US embassy in Israel will have longer-term corrosive impact on peace and America’s standing, and relations with the closest allies are worse than before (and relations with enemies no better).  Pulling out of the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Paris Accords renders the US a weaker nation, and the failure to stand up for human rights and assume a more closed-borders  isolationist stance across the world renders democracy less safe and a world that less reflects the American century that past presidents created and nourished. 
The polarizing “us versus them” attitude  that has divided America internally and applied externally, along with the basic incompetence of Trump have helped produce the final word describing his presidency–transformative.  Scholars such as James MacGregor Burns describe as transformative individuals who redefine the presidency both to alter the power of the institution and change the direction of American politics.  Examples include Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.    Trump is transformative but in a different way.  He is not enlarging but diminishing  presidential power–it may be hard to call what Trump is occupying is what historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. labeled an imperial presidency. 
But more powerfully Trump is using the presidency to alter America is horrible ways.  It is  his overt appeals to race, fear, and prejudice that will do lasting damage.  It is his disregard for freedom of the press.  It is his disregard for basic protocols of diplomacy.  All this will have a lasting corrosive effect.  But finally, Trump has changed the informal presidency.  The swamp he planned to drain is deeper and murkier than before because of his and his family’s (and appointees’) business conflicts of interests.  His Twitter use and consistent lying has damaged truth, and his use offensive language and swear words had done horrible damage informally to both the office of the presidency, American society, and the world such that the office that he exits someday will look very different  from the one he entered.

Postscript on the shutdown: Minnesota and the United States government seem woven together in  polarization.  Both have had multiple partial government shutdowns over the last few years.  The shutdowns and polarizations represent intense ideological partisan divides where finding room to negotiate is hard.
This federal shutdown may last a while.  Both sides are still in the finger-pointing stage.  Both are dug in ideologically and their political bases may make it hard to negotiate less than look weak.  Members of Congress thus have their eyes on not only the 2018 elections that impact the shutdown, but also maintaining their political bases.  How do you compromise when you have made  it an all-or-nothing negotiation with the devil?


  1. Other than that, Ms. Lincoln, how was the play?

  2. Who the heck are the 5% of Democrats who support Trump? They must be nuts.

  3. Your lucky lying is considered prestige as a "so called" professor. Your snowflakes in pussy hats are all you have who think your so smart because you HATE our President of the United States of America. Keep spewing your Maxine Waters want-to-be hatred. Thank you and please continue professor. Your classroom is empty.

  4. Every description in your blog is a very nice represention of yourself and your lefty loonies.

  5. Just for the record, Hamline was NOWHERE on my kid's list of even the remotest of possibilities for school this fall. She's 18, and too smart to actually PAY to hear this assclown's hate, bias, intolerance, and bigotry.