Although the judgments on the performance and quality of presidential leadership is usually reserved for history, the 45th president came under the microscope from day one when he took the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2017, for scrutiny of his presidency. This was primarily due to Donald Trump’s exceptional abrasive personality; independent style, campaign promises, and his very ambitious agenda to transform America. His lack of experience in any elected public office also contributed to his close monitoring. Donald Trump, in effect, did not have much of a “honeymoon” period as enjoyed by his predecessors.
Now, as the year almost draws to a close, it is perhaps time to take count of what President Trump could indeed accomplish in the 11 months since becoming president of the United States.
The answer to the question whether Trump delivered on promises or met expectations for the first year in office, indeed, lies in the eyes of the beholder. It must be also put in perspective. Donald Trump became president as champion of American conservatism with an agenda to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), build a wall on the Mexican border, ban or restrict Muslim entry into the United States, deport illegal immigrants, decertify the Iran Nuclear Agreement, eliminate terrorism, destroy ISIS in the Middle East, balance international trade, relax and reduce business regulations, cut personal and business taxes, lax environmental laws, etc.
Trump’s presidential term indeed had a tumultuous start with significance confusion, ambiguity, and uncertainty at various levels of White House operations. This was reflected in the lack of experience at the top and manifested as high turnover of personal, lack of coordination, and interpersonal conflicts among the staff members. Within the first 11 months of his presidency, Donald Trump’s White House saw the departure of most of the original senior-level professionals. This includes Press Secretary Shawn Spicer, Chief of Staff Reins Priebus, Senior Advisor Steve Bannon, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Health Secretary Tom Price, Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, etc. Such developments slowed the president in achieving his goals.
Conservative spin doctors are, however, touting a few of Trump’s first-year achievements as a great political success on the domestic front. They point to his major tax-reform bill becoming law, appointment of conservative Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, revocation of business regulations, reduced illegal immigration, stock market setting new records, sustained economic growth, substantial defeat of ISIS in the Middle East, and low unemployment as major accomplishments of President Trump. But the fact is that except the major Tax-Reform Bill of 2017 and Gorsuch’s appointment, most of the other achievements were indeed either due to executive actions by the president or carry-over policies from President Obama’s term.
Critics, on the other hand, point to many failures of Trump in his first year. They say he had promised to repeal and replace Obamacare on the first day of his presidency but could not deliver on it even in one year. Indeed, the ACA repeal was embarrassingly defeated in Congress by senators of his own party. Similarly, Trump’s major campaign promise about the Mexico border wall is nowhere in the process. Also, his executive orders banning travel from several Muslim-majority countries has been challenged or reversed by the federal courts in some states.
Besides these developments, Trump has often aligned or identified himself with “moral wrongs.” This includes his defense of the violent white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, during the anti-confederate protests, as well as his support of senatorial candidate Roy Moore, an alleged child molester. Both instances have perhaps hurt his image both nationally and globally.
Then, topping all these developments on Trump’s presidency is the ongoing “Russian Investigation” by the Department of Justice and congressional committees, who are trying to ascertain if Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, which might have in some way affected Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency. Such investigations are a distraction for any administration and sources of paranoia and disruption in normal operations.
In the meantime, various national polls show Donald Trump having the lowest approval ratings at this point in the U.S. presidency among all U.S. presidents in the modern era. These low ratings in the 30s may portend danger for Republicans the 2018 mid-term congressional elections, causing significant anxiety for most incumbents in the Democratic (blue) states.
As regards the presidential assessments, the presidency is not defined by some predetermined, preconceived absolute parameters. It is indeed shaped and defined by the circumstance that emerge during the presidential term and how a leader steers through them to preserve and promote the cause of the country.
In that respect, one must be fair to President Donald Trump. He has learned a lot in his first year of the presidency from legislative maneuvering to political intrigue to survival instincts. He will decidedly benefit from these. For now, however, he has achieved what he could under the circumstances. It may not be optimal, but it is certainly reasonable.
Dr. Chandra Mittal