As we reach the end of President Trump’s first year in office, it’s time to take stock: how well has he done? The emerging popular view among people on the Right is that Trump has had a wildly successful first year, but that his successes have been ignored by a recalcitrant Leftist media seeking his destruction. There’s certainly some truth to that. But it’s also true that Trump has undercut himself repeatedly, and that his policy legacy may well be reversed by a Democratic swell at least partially of his own making.
So, here are the pros and cons of Trump’s first year — the first year Good Trump/Bad Trump.
1. Justice Gorsuch. Despite recent reports that Trump nearly pulled Neil Gorsuch’s nomination thanks to Gorsuch’s comments on Trump’s behavior as president, he didn’t — so who cares what he said behind closed doors? Gorsuch is a major victory for the president, and was for the first ten months of his administration, the only major win the president could point to.
2. The Defeat Of ISIS. Trump hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves for this, but ISIS’ territorial holdings are now non-existent. As Ross Douthat, no Trump acolyte, wrote at The New York Times, “If you had told me in late 2016 that almost a year into the Trump era the caliphate would be all-but-beaten without something far worse happening in the Middle East, I would have been surprised and gratified.” ISIS has carried out terrorist attacks abroad, but their star is obviously on the wane, and Trump’s strengthening of the Obama strategy is largely to credit.
3. The Soaring Stock Market. The stock market has been breaking records all year. It’s difficult to credit Trump with that, unless you also want to credit President Obama for a stock market that increased 250% over his term, but there’s little doubt that a positive business climate has been unleashed under President Trump and a Republican Congress, and that shows in the market.
4. The Excellent Growth And Unemployment Statistics. Similarly, unemployment and growth statistics have been terrific since Trump’s presidency began — we’re at nearly full employment, and last quarter, the GDP grew at nearly 4%. That has a lot to do with Trump’s decision-making with regard to cutting regulations and pursuing policies that would put more money into business’ pockets to spend and invest.
5. Cutting Regulations. Trump brags that he’s cut 22 regulations for each new one created. That is indeed a massive achievement. The only problem here is that regulatory cuts can be undone if Trump were to lose in 2020 — so Trump is doing the right thing, but executive policy is also the easiest policy to reverse.
6. Curbing The Iran Deal. Trump hasn’t ended the Iran deal, but he has decertified it. This is a first step toward reinstalling sanctions, though why Trump hasn’t pursued new sanctions remains a mystery. In the meantime, Trump has ardently pursued the creation of a new anti-Iranian alliance, led by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Israel. Obama’s Iran-led Middle East has, ironically, created serious compatibility between Israel and many of her former adversaries.
7. Announcing Jerusalem As Israel’s Capital. Trump sees that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, both morally and historically. He fulfilled a campaign promise made by every president since Clinton. He also recognized, correctly, that most of the Arab world doesn’t care that much about Israel — they’re more concerned about the rise of Iran, and Israel is part of the alliance necessary to combat Iran’s rise. Trump’s administration has been stalwart on this issue despite media and international pressure, and Nikki Haley’s performance at the anti-Semitic U.N. has been heroic.
8. Opening Public Lands. Under President Trump, the government is moving to open up public lands, particularly in the West — which makes a good deal of sense considering that the federal government controls a vast majority of all land in states like Utah and Nevada. Trump has also finally opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, which makes economic and practical sense — talk of environmental catastrophe in that area has been wildly overstated for nearly two decades.
9. Passing New North Korean Sanctions. Trump doesn’t have a lot of options on North Korea, but he has leveraged American power to achieve new, unprecedented sanctions at the United Nations.
10. Repeal Of The Individual Mandate. The new tax reform package contains the repeal of the individual mandate. That’s a big win for Trump politically, since he’ll be able to say he presided over the death of the most unpopular aspect of Obamacare, but it’s likely to bear mixed results in terms of policy: individual policies will become more expensive as young people aren’t forced to buy them to subsidize older people, and Republicans will have to fill the gap with government funding.
11. Tax Reform. The much-maligned tax bill will lower corporate taxes dramatically, which is necessary. It doesn’t do much on the individual side, but it wasn’t meant to — and while the media lie about the bill incessantly, Americans will feel it in their pocketbook, and businesses will feel it in their bottom line. This is Trump’s only major legislative accomplishment this year.
12. Record Number Of Appellate Court Appointments. Trump has nominated 12 appellate court judges, more than any other president historically. That’s a big win for the administration, which pledged to remake the judiciary along Constitutionalist lines.
13. Pullout From The Paris Accords. Trump pulled out of the Paris Accords, which doesn’t mean much practically, but obviously set a new course for the government internationally — we’ll no longer be signing onto pie-in-the-sky initiatives designed to eventually boil down to restrictions on American growth.
14. Travel Ban. The originally-botched travel ban didn’t help Trump in his opening days, but it eventually passed Constitutional muster, and will now be implemented in full. The ban is overbroad and underbroad, but it is better than nothing, and it’s useful for the president’s power to be restated by the judiciary in this area.
15. Unshackling The Military And Supporting Police. Trump has changed the rules of engagement for the military, changed their strategic timeline in Afghanistan, and made clear that he wants the military fully funded. That’s a major shift from Obama, and a positive one. Unlike President Obama, Trump doesn’t respond with antipathy to police departments the country over.
1. Charlottesville. Trump’s response to Charlottesville was inexcusable, both morally and politically. It helped cripple his administration practically by allowing Democrats the opportunity to shift away from him at the first available opportunity. Plus, dude, come on.
2. Trans-Pacific Partnership Pullout. While some on the Right love the TPP withdrawal, Trump should have simply renegotiated it. Pulling out of TPP opened the door to China, which has rushed through — TPP was originally conceived as an anti-Chinese trade alliance, and sinking it has made nations in the South China Sea more subject to Chinese power.
3. Obamacare Repeal Failure. While the individual mandate will be gone, federal regulations on insurance companies will not be. That means a spiral in the individual insurance market barring federal subsidies. Obamacare needed to be destroyed wholesale; instead, it still stands, and in some ways, has actually been strengthened by government subsidies rather than mandates.
4. Picking Mike Flynn And Steve Bannon. Trump never should have chosen Mike Flynn for his national security advisor, and that decision has echoed down throughout the administration, thanks to Flynn lying to the FBI. He never should have chosen Steve Bannon as part of his team — Bannon is toxic, useless, and polarizing, a self-aggrandizing leech on Trump.
5. Firing James Comey. Trump shouldn’t have fired Comey — or if he should have, he should have done it immediately. Firing Comey in the dumbest possible way, then announcing to the Russians that it had to do with Russia, then announcing it had to do with Russia on national television — all of it turned out to be rather stupid.
6. Overall Russian Investigation Botchery. Overall, Trump should shut up about the Russia investigation — and he seems to have figured that out now, too late. If he’d just let the thing progress, let the media investigate the investigation, and let his allies point out discrepancies, he’d be in good shape. As it is, Americans have largely polarized along political lines about the usefulness of the investigation.
7. No Border Wall. Ann Coulter’s fighting mad over this one, and she has a right to be. This is nowhere in sight.
8. Push For New DACA. Trump struck down Obama’s unconstitutional executive order on DACA, but pledged to replace it through Congress, or reinstate it later. This isn’t exactly the tough-on-immigration policy Republicans voted for. With that said, Trump has seen a marked decline in illegal immigration thanks to increased deportations.
9. Constant Barrage Of Nonsense. From shouting “fake news” at real news to jabbering about crowd size to asking why there was a civil war to telling myths about General Pershing to a weeks-long crusade against the NFL to a fight with Lavar Ball, President Trump can’t seem to stop himself from following every rabbit down every hole. It eats up energy, it allows the press to misdirect from his accomplishments, and it tires the American people. If somebody unplugged the president’s phone, his approval ratings would jump 10% within two weeks.
10. Kissing Up To Putin. Trump is still making nice with Putin on a personal level, although his new national security strategy admits that Putin is a strategic enemy. Trump’s decision to downplay Russian election meddling may be self-serving, but it also may be a sop to Putin, who is in fact a rogue dictator.
11. Treating Duterte With Kid Gloves. Similarly, Trump has been rather overkind to Rodrigo Duterte, the mad leader of the Philippines, who has engaged in massive human rights abuses in his war on drugs.
12. Roy Moore Endorsement. Trump should have stayed out of this race. Instead, he jumped in just long enough to be linked with a credibly accused child molester with other serious political baggage. And Trump won’t just be linked with Moore’s loss — he’ll be linked with losses in Virginia and across the country.
13. Attacking His Own Staffers. Trump has attacked a huge number of his own employees: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, among others. This isn’t smart. It gives the impression of an administration in chaos, even as things get done.
14. Not Staffing The Federal Government. Trump has done well nominating judges, but he’s done terribly at filling career posts at various agencies. That’s left a lot of Obama appointees in place, which puts Trump in bad position.
As you’ll notice, Trump’s accomplishments aren’t minimal — and a huge number of his setbacks are self-made and rhetorical. All of which demonstrates why Trump is beloved by his base but carries an approval rating of 35%, the lowest approval rating of any president at this point in modern American history (every other president since Kennedy was above 50%, except for Reagan in 1981, who clocked in at 49%). If Trump could just curb his own appetite for the spotlight and stop feeling the need to sound off like a commenter on Breitbart on every issue, he’d be in much more solid position to keep winning on the issues Americans care about. If he can't, he'll continue to polarize Americans, drive young voters away from him, and help lead to losses in the Congress that will prevent him from winning — and may prevent his re-election, too. Rhetoric matters when you're the president, contrary to popular conservative opinion, and Trump should remember that. In fact, he should know that better than anyone else: he's a salesman first, and he's not selling himself or his accomplishments. That's a mistake he should work to rectify, if it's not too late.