Not many presidents in American history have garnered as much attention or generated as many strong opinions amongst the American and global public as former President Donald Trump. After being elected in 2016 and redefining presidential norms during his one term in office, the world is asking whether his legacy lived up to his famous campaign promise to “Make America Great Again.”
Below, we’ll discuss three ways in which he met the mark, and three ways he fell short of the bar.
No more bloodshed.
The Trump administration’s foreign diplomacy advanced peace in many parts of the world. He borrowed a page from Obama’s rapprochement playbook and engaged North Korea in talks for the first time in history, emerging with the US-North Korea Singapore Statement. Trump’s administration struck a deal with the Taliban, bringing the USA’s 18-year conflict in Afghanistan, which cost over 2,000 US soldiers their lives tens of thousands of Afghani casualties, to a close. His work fostering official diplomatic ties between long-time Middle Eastern outsider, Israel, and Arab states, such as the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, in addition to Sudan, is the biggest advance for regional peace in the last 25 years.
A man of the people.
Trump made the working-class central to his vision for reviving America, and reflected their concerns and experiences back to them, complimenting their value system and its place in American society in clear language. Whereas liberal platforms have tended to focus on issues faced by minorities and marginalized groups, Trump recognized that there is a large contingency of Americans who do not fall within those definitions, whose concerns nevertheless deserve the nation’s attention. Whether or not he effectively addressed Middle America’s needs, he did something all politicians should do by responding to voices that had fallen by the wayside.
Throughout his one term as president, Trump was true to his promise to ensure that America got the most out of its international partnerships. He sought to fend off the rise of a non-democratic country to global economic supremacy by implementing tariffs and other trade regulations on China and the decline of America’s industrial activities by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He openly questioned the legitimacy of NATO’s contribution structure, catalyzing reforms that will see the US shouldering less of the financial and human resource burdens of protecting European member-states. Trump also implemented policies, however controversial, that slowed illegal immigration into America. In being unafraid to reevaluate every contract, even those with longstanding partners, Trump drove the message that America expects fair terms and accountability.
The US presidency, morality, and the notion of setting an example are intertwined, by the design of the Founding Fathers. Trump’s personal example was hardly virtuous and far from one that children, let alone an entire nation, should emulate. He abandoned duty to country by dodging the Vietnam draft; decades later, in a moment of exceptional insensitivity, he called his efforts to avoid sexually transmitted illnesses his “personal Vietnam.” Trump’s extramarital exploits and his track-record of misogyny are well-known. For instance, FBI documents suggest that he was actively involved in orchestrating the payment of hush-money to a porn star before the 2016 election. He was also accused of countless shady business dealings, including defrauding innocent Americans through a fake university that bore his name and using his charitable foundation as his personal piggy bank. And he lied during his campaign and term. A lot. In fact, many feel that Trump’s lies about the severity of the coronavirus and the effectiveness of masks significantly contributed to the steep American death toll.
What about the little guy?
On the 2016 campaign trail, Trump was the working family’s champion, boldly promising to protect their jobs. In reality, the Trump years didn’t add prosperity to America’s middle- and working classes. Trump’s promised punishment for companies offshoring operations never materialized. Despite his pledge to protect blue-collar workers in ailing industries such as coal, the industry is rapidly shrinking. His tax cuts mostly benefitted wealthy individuals and corporations, who used the breaks to enhance their dividends, rather than investing in job creation. It was also revealed that thanks to government loopholes, the billionaire president paid just $750.00 in income tax during his presidency, less than the nation’s poorest taxpayers.
America, with a capital “I.”
Trump degraded ties and civility between America’s citizenry. In his bid for power, Trump cynically erected a narrative of “two Americas,” frequently pitting groups against each other and pandering to anti-social, even violent sectors of his voting base, such as the KKK and the Proud Boys. Trump’s offensive on American social cohesion was expressed in the nation’s rise in hate crimes, increased participation in anarchist groups, the highest levels of political polarization the US has ever seen, and the wholesale erosion of citizens’ trust in each other. This divisiveness culminated after the 2020 election, when Trump refused to accept defeat and subsequently played a large role in encouraging the violent riot that erupted at the US Capitol Building, which ended in 5 deaths, multiple arrests and Trump’s historic second impeachment.
The Bottom Line: Former President Trump’s accomplishments are as controversial as his failures, but countless intelligent people standing on both sides of the political divide know that no presidency can be declared “perfection” or “total loss.” Where do you see shades of grey? Tell us in the comments.