Considering we are entering the 2024 presidential season in the coming months, I thought I would look at the past Donald Trump years and see what I could manage regarding a grade.
I know this will drive a passionate response, so please hold your fire – we are a bipartisan publication supporting all views from MAGA to progressive.
Scoring Donald Trump: How?
Assessing the Donald Trump administration is difficult because there was just so much extraneous stuff going on.
So much Trump, much of which simply did not matter.
Similarly, the Trump administration inspired a remarkable amount of Trump-related outrage and counter-action, which further obscures the true nature of the Trump presidency.
I’m not a Trump apologist. I don’t like Trump.
But I’ve found most mainstream assessments of the Trump administration are gleefully critical of Trump in a way that is not quite honest, in a way that is required to save face in well-to-do liberal circles.
I’m not interested in that sort of assessment. It’s trite, ignorant, and partisan. Not that I necessarily have true insights into the nature of the Trump presidency – but let’s take a shot at giving Trump a fair shake and grading his performance as president.
Trump’s Foreign Policy Ideas…
Trump was maligned during his years in office as being “soft on Russia.” Trump was not soft on Russia – but perhaps he should have been – the results, in part, of being “hard” on Russia are now visible in Eastern Ukraine.
Trump consistently strengthened sanctions against Russia and opposed the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Perhaps more detrimentally, Trump approved the sale of anti-tank missiles to Ukraine and increased troop levels in Eastern Europe. Then, Trump pulled the US out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and chose not to extend the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Trump isn’t the first US president to antagonize Russia – but he escalated a situation that has since broken out into open conflict.
With respect to America’s most potent competitor, China, Trump’s approach was odd. Trump began his presidency with a barrage of tariffs on billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese goods. The US then restricted China’s access to high-tech US products and foreign investments. China reciprocated, and a trade war, which lasted throughout the Trump years, ensued.
By 2020, however, Trump was able to sign a “Phase One” trade deal with China, easing tensions temporarily (the coronavirus outbreak, for which Trump blamed China, ramped tensions back up again). Under the new trade deal Trump allowed his administration to move forward with a flurry of actions (many of which had been on hold for years) against China.
The actions came from the Justice Department (indictments and arrests), State Department (visa restrictions, travel advisories), White House (executive orders, signing bills into law), and Defense Department (freedom of navigation operations). How the last-minute Trump-era actions against China play out remains to be seen. But what’s important to emphasize is that the Biden administration has essentially continued along the track that Trump laid.
Trump’s Domestic Moves…
Trump worked with Congress to pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which amended the federal tax code in adherence to traditional Republican values, meaning tax rates were lowered – especially for corporations and wealthy individuals.
The average American did not especially benefit from the tax cuts, signaling early in the Trump administration that his populist campaign themes may have been a veneer (shocking).
Trump imposed restriction on immigration to the US. Trump had campaigned on building a wall along the US-Mexico border. Once elected, Trump began construction of The Wall while also implementing a highly controversial “family separation” policy.
Trump also implemented a travel ban on citizens from predominantly Muslim countries. Also, for four months, the Trump administration barred refugees from entering the US. Trump’s immigration policies were not all that different from his predecessor or successor – despite the different tone of media coverage between the three administrations.
Nevertheless, Trump failed to solve the legitimate problem of illegal immigration while also degrading (through harsh and hostile rhetoric) the US reputation as a haven for the word’s most desperate.
In most respects, despite the sideshow stuff, Trump was just a baseline conservative. But the sideshow stuff did detract from Trump’s capacity to govern; he expended remarkable amounts of his administrative capacity “putting out fires,” like two impeachments, for example.
Trump wasn’t as bad as The New York Times or college undergraduates think, but he wasn’t a good president; his vision, which he lacked the governing ability to implement fully, was flawed (in my opinion); he wasn’t temperamentally suited for the office; and he was constantly bogged down in superfluous bs. Trump gets a C.
Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.