As Trump’s hold on the White House dwindles even further - now that electors have cast their ballots for the next commander-in-chief - just how well has the president managed to avoid landmines on domestic issues over the last four years?
Although Trump did manage to hit the ground running at the start of his presidency, it was soon proved that much of his decision-making would require the use of executive orders. According to the Federal Register, Trump has issued 198 such orders, with the highest tally being recorded in 2020.
Strengthening US’ Borders
In fact, an executive order issued just seven days after Trump’s 2017 inauguration banned foreign nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries - Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen - from visiting the US, a highly controversial move which quickly saw Trump met by a series of legal challenges.
At the time, Trump explained he signed the order because it would help to “prevent a beachhead of intolerance,” and that it would make certain that individuals entering the US share its values. However, the order was immediately opposed by the public.
Jorge Baron, the executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, told Sputnik at the time that the “unlawful” order violated US immigration laws and undermined the US judiciary system.
And then there was also the border wall, which was started by - yep, you guessed it - an executive order that was signed five days after Trump’s inauguration. The matter of the wall along the US-Mexico border has faced a mixed response, with the president’s supporters hailing the move and others, understandably, criticizing the action as a US money pit that wouldn’t be funded by Mexico, as Trump had repeatedly suggested.
Of the 1,954 miles that make up the US’ southern border, Trump’s infamous steel-and-concrete reinforced wall has only managed to cover a 423-mile-stretch, according to estimates from the US Customs and Border Protection, which itself was given overreaching abilities by Trump to carry out mass arrests across the US early on in the administration.
Both actions were in keeping with Trump’s campaign promises to clamp down on illegal immigration, which would suggest a victory for the president; however, it’s uncertain just how much of a success the orders truly were, considering the travel ban was continuously paused in the courts, and that an overwhelming majority of illegal immigration occurs not through unlawful crossings of the southern border, but as a result of individuals overstaying their visas.
Affordable Care Act
Trump was also unsuccessful in replacing the Obama administration’s so-called “disastrous” Affordable Care Act (ACA), which he initially promised would be one of the first measures to be overturned during his presidency. Trump suggested in his early campaigning days that he would provide a comprehensive replacement within his first 100 days in office.
Promises made by the incoming president suggested that Americans would be given a health care plan that provided “insurance for everybody.” During a joint address to Congress in February 2017, Trump explained that his vision for an ACA replacement included “reforms that expand choice, increase access, lower costs and, at the same time, provide better health care.”
“Mandating every American to buy government-approved health insurance was never the right solution for our country,” Trump told congressional lawmakers. “The way to make health insurance available to everyone is to lower the cost of health insurance, and that is what we are going [to] do.”
Yet, whenever Trump was asked to give more specifics on his yet-to-be released plan, he never quite hit the mark, other than saying that it would be “very inclusive” and that it would be coming soon.
To date, no plan offering a total makeover of the ACA has actually emerged, with Trump issuing symbolic executive orders, such as the one signed earlier this year to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions despite ACA provisions already providing such protections. When questioned on the matter, Trump explained that it would simply serve as a “double safety net.”
The commander-in-chief was, however, able to completely kill an ACA mandate that fined Americans who were not enrolled in a health insurance plan. CNBC reported at the time that the tax penalty imposed by the mandate could exceed $500 for an adult.
Timothy Jost, a health care policy expert with Virginia’s Washington and Lee University, said that “by most measures, Donald Trump’s health policy record is one of failure.”
“President Trump ran for office promising to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which had significantly expanded health insurance coverage during the Obama administration,” Jost said. “His attempts to repeal the ACA failed, however, even though Trump’s Republican Party controlled both houses of Congress for the first half of his administration.”
“Although President Trump repeatedly promised to release a plan to replace the ACA, he never actually did so, and probably never had such a plan. The number of uninsured Americans grew by over 2 million under Trump’s presidency even before the COVID-19 pandemic,” he continued.
The novel coronavirus outbreak also proved to worsen Trump’s ability to effectively address health care issues and saw him give increasingly worried Americans contradicting messages on how best to avoid contracting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
At the onset of the pandemic, Trump often likened the respiratory disease to the seasonal flu, saying it would quickly disappear while also repeatedly expressing skepticism over the effectiveness of face masks. In fact, it was not until July, months after the pandemic was declared that Trump first donned a mask himself.
Trump for a period of time held daily press briefings on the state of COVID-19 after receiving criticism for his lax stance on the growing epidemic at the time, but they quickly diminished in frequency not long after he seemed to suggest that injecting disinfectant could be a valid COVID-19 treatment.
Trump later stated that he was joking, but the damage was already done. He also revealed months afterward to journalist Bob Woodward that he was aware of the severity of COVID-19 much earlier but opted to not express it to the public so as to not cause alarm.
Early preventative moves by the administration saw Trump issue an order to temporarily bar foreign nationals who traveled to China from entering the US. US citizens and permanent residents who returned to the Land of the Free were subjected to screenings and required to undergo a 14-day quarantine.
Policy-wise, Trump launched the White House coronavirus task force, which in turn issued various guidances that urged Americans to avoid unnecessary travel, practice good hygiene, avoid social gatherings and opt for remote work if possible in an effort to slow the virus’ spread.
In spite of the guidance, COVID-19 cases and deaths only continued to spike across the US as health experts were still learning about how the respiratory disease was transmitted. As the months passed, figures ballooned due to a combination of COVID-19 fatigue and groups of Americans simply refusing to adhere to the preventative measures.
In many instances, the so-called anti-mask movement led to confrontations nationwide at retail stores between workers and customers who refused to follow masking measures. Frustrated Americans who rejected the severity of the pandemic also held demonstrations that called for the reopening of businesses and school systems and accused state officials of violating their freedoms.
Trump’s early stances to sidestep the use of masks and not issue any hardline rules, but rather guidance on COVID-19, also only helped to fuel the movement’s opposition. Even Trump’s own COVID-19 diagnosis and subsequent White House photo-op days after being discharged from the hospital ignited beliefs that the virus wasn’t as serious as many health professionals had said.
At present, the US is the country with the highest case tally and death toll, according to the latest records by Johns Hopkins University, though it stacks up a bit better in terms of per capita death rate.
Jost remarked, “Most notably, [Trump’s] mismanagement, denial, and promotion of false information has contributed to the United States’ COVID-19 statistics being among the worst in the world, with over 15 million cases and nearly 300,000 deaths.”
While one can say that the president largely dropped the ball, the Trump administration did see the launch of Operation Warp Speed to accelerate the creation of COVID-19 vaccines, of which the top three US candidates are expected to receive clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration.
Vlad Davidiuk, a Republican strategist and political analyst, said that Trump’s “approach to handling the pandemic has been as good as can be expected, given the circumstances,” explaining that the president’s efforts to shut down flights to and from China helped to somewhat curb the disease’s spread, as the initial outbreak was detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Death of George Floyd And Subsequent Protests
Minnesota resident George Floyd was killed in late May when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for a period of eight minutes and 46 seconds, despite the fact that he had repeatedly told the officer that he could not breathe.
The cellphone video that emerged from the scene sparked a national uprising, with hundreds of thousands of Americans protesting against the police brutality that has overwhelmingly affected minority communities, especially Black Americans. The outrage that stemmed from Floyd’s death also brought renewed attention to the cases of Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark and Elijah McClain, among others, but also allowed for new analysis of the cases of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
Trump’s response to the protests, however, weren’t the definition of supportive, as he eventually moved to attack the Black Lives Matter movement, referring to it as “an extreme socialist” organization that was to blame for the pockets of violent protests that broke out in US cities.
And then there was the deployment of the US National Guard to “restore law and order,” a tagline which the president quickly reiterated time and time again on social media ahead of the US election.
This year saw the National Guard deployed to Portland, Oregon, and Chicago, Illinois, but tensions between the federal government and protesters reached an all-time high in June when Trump held a Rose Garden event where he threatened to use the military to quell unrest before having guards, clad in riot gear, deploy pepper spray to clear a park near the White House for a photo-op outside a historic church.
Though criticism arose following the June incident, Trump defended his actions and called the photo-op a “very symbolic” moment. Trump wasn’t only bashed by everyday Americans for the photo op, but also by former US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, who in a statement to The Atlantic called the incident an “abuse of executive authority.”
US Space Force
One of Trump’s biggest successes came from the signing of the $738 billion defence spending bill in late December 2019 that established the US Space Force (USSF), the first new military service since the US Air Force was created in 1947.
While it was widely mocked across the spectrum, with late night hosts and comedy writers using the creation as fuel for endless sketches, the US Space Force was created as a way to maintain the US’ superiority in the cosmos and to protect its assets in space.
Gen. John Raymond, whom Trump tapped to lead the new US military division, told reporters at the time that the USSF was “not a farce” and was “nationally critical.” He added, “We are elevating space commensurate with its importance to our national security and the security of our allies and partners."
Though the branch’s focus will largely be national security, it’s also possible that service members enlisted in the USSF may soon become more aware of potential extraterrestrial life that the Trump administration, specifically Trump himself, is reportedly aware of.
Similar to the USSF, one of Trump’s more long-lasting impacts on the country will be that of his reshaping of the federal judiciary.
During his four years in office, Trump managed to appoint three justices to the US Supreme Court, despite strong pushback from Democrats. Additionally, the president added another 220 judges installed on the federal bench for lifetime appointments.
A 2019 analysis by The Washington Post found that Trump nominees make up roughly 25% of all US circuit court judges.
Even though Trump’s influence on the federal judiciary will far outlast his own time in the Oval Office, not all agree that the appointments to the federal bench are solely Trump’s success.
Charles Anthony Smith, a professor of political science and law at the University of California, Irvine, stated that “it would be a mistake to give him too much credit for those efforts,” since it was “more of an accomplishment by [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell than by Trump.”
“It is striking that four years ago Trump bragged about paying for an abortion and some are trying to give him credit for appointing thre justices to the Supreme Court that might overturn Roe v Wade,” Smith said. “In other words, my expectation is that history will credit McConnell with this rather than Trump. History is typically pretty cruel to one-term presidents and diminishes them relatively quickly.”
Smith further predicted that Trump’s efforts to politicize the US Department of Justice “may actually mean the next few presidents have to be very hands-off in order to restore morale” and “shed the taint of political motivations in prosecutions.”
‘Worst is Yet to Come’ Amid US’ Economic Struggles
Trump’s signature legislative achievement remains the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), a Republican tax bill that became known as the biggest overhaul to the US’ tax code in over 30 years.
The changes slashed the corporate income tax rate down to 21% - instead of the 15% Trump promised on the campaign trail - and were quickly seen as a lopsided win for corporations due to significant cuts to investment income tax and estate tax with the hopes of creating an economic boost; however, the measure hasn’t entirely lived up to its expectations.
On the campaign trail, Trump promised that everyone - especially the middle class - would receive a tax break once his reforms were put in place, but ultimately it turned out that it was wealthier households that wound up with a hefty break, according to an analysis from the Tax Policy Center.
Trump had promised to bring the individual income tax rate from 39.6% to 33%, but only managed to bring it down to 37%. The Economic Times also reported that wealthy Americans “received 60% of the total tax savings.”
“On purely economic terms, Trump's presidency will go down to history as a great success for the billionaire class, and a dismal failure for the working class,” said Dr. Giovanni Di Lieto, a trade policy expert and commercial law fellow at the University of Bologna. “Those in the middle had varied outcomes and will judge Trump's economic performance based on the contingencies of the industries upon which their wealth and income happen to depend.”
“This is regardless, or in some cases even thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, which triggered monetary stimulus measures that further entrenched larger than ever capital accumulation in the hands of the richest 0.1%,” he added.
Early on the pandemic, it became clear that COVID-19 would have a deep impact on the US and global economy as a result of countries implementing countrywide shutdowns in order to curb the spread of the disease.
While the US unemployment rate had experienced a 50-year low prior to the pandemic, the situation quickly shifted and sent the jobless rate spiking to 14.7%, its highest level since the Great Depression. The US Labor Department reported in May that some 20.5 million Americans were suddenly left jobless in April at the initial height of lockdown measures.
Incidentally, Trump’s early promises suggested that his policies would help to bolster the economy and allow for the creation of some 25 million jobs in the 10 years that followed his arrival to the White House.
Michael Pento, president and founder of financial consultant agency Pento Portfolio Strategies, says that “Trump did many good things for the economy but failed to fix its core problems,” as he motivated “habits of relying on debt, bubbles and free money.”
Pento predicts that “the worst is yet to come” for the US in terms of its growing national debt and stalled economy as COVID-19 continues to ravage much of the country.
Analysis by financial company The Balance determined that the current national debt reached $26.9 trillion at the end of fiscal year 2020, and that Trump added about $6.7 trillion to the total during his time in office.
Divided Presidency & Impeachment Shadow
Even before Trump clinched the White House, rumors and reports emerged of foreign interference in the 2016 US election, eventually prompting special counsel Robert Mueller to begin an investigation in 2017 into alleged collusion between Russia and Trump campaign officials.
While the allegations were repeatedly and sternly rejected by Russia, the investigation ultimately saw several of Trump’s allies, such as former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and campaign officials George Papadopoulos and Rick Gates, come under fire.
The investigation culminated in the 230 to 197 vote by the US House of Representatives to impeach Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The not-so-shocking vote marked Trump as the third president in history to be charged with committing high crimes.
Davidiuk expressed that the impeachment was “baked-in from the moment he defeated [2016 Democratic challenger] Hillary Clinton.”
“[Impeaching Trump] was a goal that the left implemented before his presidency even began. The left was obsessed with at least impeaching him and tainting his presidency, with hopes of actually removing him from office,” he said.
“Americans who supported or opposed him did not have their perspectives changed one way or another, but it did serve to further polarize the electorate, driving the division of Americans even further.”
Incidentally, a survey by Public Policy Polling found that roughly 40% of Americans voters wanted to see Trump impeached just two weeks into his administration. After the impeachment proceedings wrapped, that figure jumped to 42% when individuals were polled through a national online Reuters/Ipsos opinion survey.
Political Opposition From the Get-Go
Even before Trump won the golden ticket to the White House, it was clear that Democrats would fight him every step of the way during his administration, just as everyday Americans would use their right to protest to voice their disdain for the 45th president.
As much of the opposition’s efforts were focused on getting rid of Trump by way of the Russiagate investigation, Democrats used every opportunity to stall policies and appointments - even going so far as to allow two government shutdowns.
Democratic Fight Against SCOTUS Nominations
One of the very first fights taken on by Democrats was in regards to the nomination of conservative judge Neil Gorsuch to the US Supreme Court. At the time, lawmakers including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) rallied against the nomination, arguing that Gorsuch’s track record showed a preference for corporate interests.
Gorsuch was eventually confirmed some two months after Trump filed his nomination in early February 2017, but the Colorado-born justice wasn’t the only nominee to see strong pushback. In fact, Trump’s second appointment to the bench, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, came under the microscope even more so after allegations emerged that he had sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when the pair attended a high school in the Maryland suburbs.
But just like Gorsuch’s clearance to the nation’s highest court, Kavanaugh managed to attain the coveted legal job despite several motions and coordinated moves by Democrats to stall the looming green light, including earlier efforts to halt proceedings in order to obtain documents that would have offered additional insight into Kavanaugh’s time as an aide to former US President George W. Bush.
However, even after Kavanaugh arrived at the US Supreme Court, Democrats didn’t waver. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) in September 2019 called on members of the House of Representatives to take up a new investigation into the justice after new sexual misconduct allegations emerged that dated back to when Kavanaugh was in college.
And then there was Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, which prompted Democrats to immediately lambast their Republican counterparts after they decided to open the floor to her subsequent Supreme Court confirmation. In 2016, as former US President Barack Obama’s term was coming to a close, Republicans refused his administration’s shot at filling a vacant seat on the court, arguing that the position should only be filled once the new president, in this case Trump, was elected.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) criticized Republicans and said that “history will haunt this raw exercise of power.” Democrats later turned their ire to the conservative nominee, who they feared was far too hostile to the ACA and more specifically women’s right to choose, as her arrival to the bench would lean the court further right on the political spectrum.
Following Barrett’s confirmation, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) issued a statement calling the development a “bleak day” for the US Senate and the nation. He added, “This day will long be remembered as the moment when Republicans tore up their own rules to ignore the will of the American people and pack the Supreme Court with right-wing ideologues who will compromise Americans’ rights and civil liberties.”
Congressional Disagreements Prompt Two Government Shutdowns
Disputes between Trump and Democrats in Congress also brought about two government shutdowns, the first of which took place in January 2018 amid disagreements over the funding for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and assurances against the deportation of individuals who would be protected under the proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
The Obama-era DACA program allows young immigrants who were brought into the country as children illegally to remain living in the US. The DREAM Act, legislation that has yet to be passed by Congress, would create a pathway for immigrants to obtain their citizenship and remain in the US.
Republicans at the time were intending to pass a stopgap measure to keep the government afloat for a period of four weeks; however, their bid fell flat when they failed to snag the required amount of votes, as Democrats remained firm on their stances on immigration reform.
The White House was quick to blame the shutdown on Democrats, referring to the political party as “obstructionist losers, not legistors.” A statement released by the White House press secretary noted that the administration would not “negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands.”
Although the first shutdown only lasted for three days before Democrats let up on their demands, Schumer did indicate that had offered to “put [funding for] the border wall on the table” to avoid a shutdown during earlier discussions with the president, but it was not enough for Trump to make a deal. In allowing the shutdown to come to a close, Democrats were promised new talks on handling the DACA program and DREAM Act.
Eleven months later, the US government found itself on the cusp of a second Trump-era shutdown. This time, however, the lights went out after lawmakers were unable to reach a deal that allocated some $5.7 billion for the construction of Trump’s long-promised border wall.
Democrats overwhelmingly opposed passing a spending bill that contained funding for Trump’s border wall, fully maintaining that such an allocation would prove ineffective - even a Republican congressman whose district sits along the border flipped and sided with members across the aisle on the matter.
All nine congressional representatives who serve districts that span across the US-Mexico border were wholly against Trump’s border wall visions. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX) called the wall efforts a “4th-century solution to a 21st century problem,” and further explained in comments to CBS News at the time that the wall wouldn’t create “real border security, and it comes at a major cost to taxpayers."
In the end, the shutdown lasted a total of 34 days, becoming the longest such closure in US history. As for Trump, he never did manage to get congressional lawmakers to approve his desired funding for the border wall.
However, blocks from Congress weren’t going to keep the commander-in-chief down for too long. A few weeks after the shutdown was lifted, Trump managed to get a hold of the funds by declaring a national emergency at the southern border.
While Trump has had more downs than ups during his four years in the Oval Office, it’s anyone’s guess whether he may try to better deliver on his campaign promises should he be granted the chance of a second term. Trump has hinted that he may run in the 2024 presidential election, a report which, if true, could soon make a good amount of Republican voters jump for joy.