Any assessment of the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency has to be a very mixed bag. For one thing, despite the still strong support from his base, his unpopularity is unprecedented. At the first year mark, his approval rating is under 40 percent, whereas every modern president since Harry Truman in the 1940s had ratings greater than 50 percent. Jeb Bush, Trump’s opposing primary candidate, insisted that candidate Trump could not insult his way to the White House. But he did. Once elected president, he disconcerted the globe by pooh-poohing NATO, as well as insulting the prime minister of Australia, the leader of North Korea, the entire country of Pakistan and any senator, male or female, who demeaned him. This approach has not been an endearing quality.
Not surprisingly, the media has not been kind. The Pew Research Center reported that in President Trump’s first 60 days in office, media coverage, writ large, was three times more negative than for Barack Obama in a similar period. More specifically, a Harvard University study determined that the coverage of Trump by CNN and NBC was 93 percent negative. Though he has certainly brought a fair share of this down on himself, when the Media Research Center has observed that over a three month period on CNN there were 96 anti-Trump speakers on air versus only seven pro-Trump guests, a conclusion of media bias is hard to avoid.
Indeed, should anyone care to watch CNN and Fox News side-by-side, one could not suspect that the realities that they were covering were in the same country. The sad truth is that both realities are skewed in a world today where “anger has become a way of life,” in the words of one columnist.
This has created the dilemma of how to assess accomplishments that one reality loves, and the other hates. On this list are the appointment of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the promotion of fossil fuels, the rescinding of many of Obama’s executive orders, and the announced move of the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Compounding this dilemma are the uncertainties hanging over unresolved challenges. Chief among these are the fate of all the ongoing investigations in Washington, the threat of North Korean missiles, the handling of China and Russia, and where Trump will come down on trade policy.
Holding all this in abeyance, there are two stellar accomplishments to this first year that cannot be gainsaid: the tax reform bill and the defeat of ISIS.
The Tax Cut and Jobs Act signed into law by President Trump just before Christmas could not be bedded in rosier economic conditions: GDP growth up to 3.0 percent, unemployment down to 4.1 percent, a stock market gain of 5,000 points in 2017, consumer confidence at an all-time, and, at last, rising wages. Though these may not be all Trumps’s doings, he and the Republican Party can take full credit for the tax bill. Despite controversy over the measure’s distributive effects, the over-all growth effects should not be in doubt. Over a period of time thereafter, Kennedy’s tax cut in the 1960s generated 6.2 percent in economic growth and 9.3 million new jobs. For Reagan’s cuts in the 19080s, the respective figures were 11 percent in growth accompanied by 11.7 million jobs. Predictions of gloom and doom over Trump’s tax bill in 2018 lack historical foundation. The military defeat of ISIS carries a significance that cannot be underestimated. Different from other terrorist and insurgent movements, ISIS mounted a conventional military campaign to establish a territorial caliphate in the historic Arab homeland of Iraq and Syria. At one point, 45,000 ISIS fighters controlled over one-third of both countries, and were on the verge of toppling both ruling regimes in Iraq and Syria. Thanks to a doubling of American troops and new rules of engagement for them under Trump, the two ISIS strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria were retaken by U.S.-supported forces.
Today a mere thousand ISIS stragglers are holed up along the Iraq-Syria border. ISIS does remain as a local insurgency and the issues motivating Islamic terrorism certainly persist, but the dream of the caliphate is over.
Thus, at only the one year mark, Donald Trump has both a foreign triumph and domestic policy achievement to his credit, a feat only surpassed by FDR in the 1930s. Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is an historical figure already larger than life.