Two days ago, 45th President Donald J. Trump marked the end of his third year in office. His tenure has been nothing short of controversial, from his own personal antics to the increased polarization to condemn or champion him. Critics have called him racist, sexist, or xenophobic. Supporters have called him better than Abraham Lincoln, with some seeing him as anointed by God. Now, I can’t prove any of that to be true. I can, however, break down some things that I believe everyone should be able to agree upon. With this in mind, here’s my list of the good, the bad, and the ugly of Trump’s three years in office — and a few things I’m unsure about at this point in time.
- Economy: President Trump inherited a growing economy, and he’s done a good job of maintaining its growth. As of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ December report, the US unemployment rate is 3.5%. We’ve had roughly 8 years of job growth, from January 2012 through January 2020. The stock market has continually hit record highs. There was a giant tax cut a couple of years ago, which did cut all of our federal taxes. A decade ago, people were graduating from college with six-figure debt and poor career prospects. That’s not entirely true today. People have options again with few immediate signs of recession.
- Criminal justice: Trump’s exercise of clemency has typically been good — with a few debatable exceptions. Notwithstanding, the First Step Act was a very strong, bipartisan effort that was fully supported by the administration. There are more bills in the pipeline, and many look forward to seeing further progress.
- Philanthropy: While President Trump vowed to take no salary while in office, he was legally obligated to do so. As such, he has instead donated his quarterly salary to various charities and other entities. The American people should want all presidents to demonstrate in good faith that their motivation is not monetary. While he has not publicized his tax returns, donating his salary is an objective good.
- Opioid Crisis: President Trump has prioritized the opioid crisis. He campaigned on it in 2016 and continued to work towards ending it while in office. In October 2018, President Trump signed the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act and in September 2019, the administration granted $1.8 billion in grants devoted to the cause, adding to the previously reported $6 billion (per the White House website). Seeing an issue being taken with the appropriate seriousness is always a good thing.
- Trade War: The president has made reducing the trade deficit a priority of his administration. However, the tariffs he has increasingly placed on countries such as China, France, and even Canada, have affected the very voters who got him elected. Just last year, an estimated 218,000 manufacturing jobs were lost after a boom the previous year.
- Isolationism: Trump has routinely antagonized our allies and charmed our adversaries. While it is not a bad thing to question the nature of our alliances and even re-evaluate them, it is not a good idea to disrespect the people who have come to our aid in the Middle East, laying down their lives for our cause.
- Coordination: Trump has an interesting habit of either contradicting his own officials or jumping the gun on policy announcements without consultation. This leads to poorly planned enforcement of policies like the early versions of the travel ban, or moments where previously reported data contradicts the policies like the transgender military ban.
- Budget: Per the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the 2019 federal budget deficit totaled $984 billion ($205 billion more 2018). “The deficit increased to 4.6 of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019,” the report reads, “up from 3.8 percent in 2018 and 3.5 percent in 2017. As a result, federal debt held by the public rose to 79.2 percent of GDP, up from 77.4 percent at the end of fiscal year 2018.” While the report states that the nation’s total revenue rose 4% to $3.5 trillion, our expenditures also rose 8.2% to $4.4 trillion. Now, I’m not an economist, but it’s probably not good for spending to be higher than income in the long term. The last time the United States had a budget surplus was fiscal year 2001.
- Polarization: It is no secret that liberal media is biased against Trump while conservative media is biased towards him. This is something that tends to follow public figures in general — media likes you more when they agree with you and less when they don’t. President Trump, however, has further stoked this tension, often for political purposes or just for the hell of it. His utter contempt of the media, crass criticism of public figures, and even meme trafficking is not a good role for any president to play. His handling of Charlottesville prompted even Republicans like Tim Scott and Mitt Romney to respond. Regardless of policy disagreements, Trump’s devotion to divisiveness is detrimental to leadership.
- Immigration: Trump’s immigration policies have been a mess. While it is understandable to control borders, his methods have typically been of the “ends justify the means” variety. This has included attempts to block entry of legal US residents & visa holders, ICE raids on illegal entrants, and family separations at the border — some of which resulted in children being lost in the process. Detainees seemingly received inhumane treatment, with some reportedly being forced to drink toilet water and lacking basic hygiene equipment like toothbrushes.
- Impeachment: President Trump is currently facing an impeachment trial for abuse of power and obstruction. Neither charge is particularly surprising. He has abused his power in cases like with CNN’s Jim Acosta, and he was previously accused of obstructing the Russia investigation, a charge that was previously investigated by Special Counsel Mueller in part two of the Mueller Report. The impeachment, likewise, is rooted in an investigation by Trump’s personal lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, into Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden’s son who worked for an oil company in Ukraine. Trump allegedly leveraged funds sanctioned by Congress to Ukraine, making receipt conditional upon an announcement of an investigation.
- Dishonesty: Donald Trump is a pathological liar. It’s so pervasive that administration officials admitted to lying to the American people on his behalf and his lawyers refused to place him in front of Special Counsel Robert Mueller for fear that he would accidentally perjure himself. This is not a quality people should expect of their leaders, and while Trump does not have a monopoly on dishonesty, he’s a prominent example of it.
- Middle East: It is unclear what our foreign policy is regarding the Middle East. Sometimes we want to pull out, sometimes we want to go to war. Just last year, Trump announced we were pulling out of Syria without warning, nearly leaving behind the very terrorists we’d imprisoned to their own devices near our allied forces. This is weird considering he typically had high praise for his handling of ISIS. He’s had escalating tensions with Iran, including the recent assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, one of the architects of numerous operations against the US. This tension eventually led to Iran’s accidental destruction of a civilian flight. There’s also the case of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi Arabian journalist whose murder President Trump failed to actively pursue or even rebuke. To top things off, Trump moved the United States embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, maintaining a long-standing US promise but breaking with predecessors in practice. All of this has unclear implications for the Middle East, but we should keep in mind going into this decade.
- Russia: Trump has actively denied Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, and has continually denied that they will try again. Let me be clear: Russia hacked a major political organization and ran a state-funded propaganda social media campaign. We know this from not just our intelligence agencies, but also because of data released by Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Contrary to Trump’s relationship to Vladimir Putin, however, Congress has maintained sanctions on Russia, never truly failing to punish actions seen as aggressive. It is not clear what will happen long term, but Russia is a country continually on our radar.
- North Korea: Trump spent a lot of time trading aggressive tweets with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, whom he referred to as “Rocket Man” and threatened with “fire and fury.” Months later, the two were shaking hands and seemingly becoming friends. They have met multiple times, often without preconditions, but no substantive agreement has been reached. We do not know if there will be one, but the door is still open for some form of negotiation.
President Trump, like his predecessors, is a complicated individual. He is crass, impulsive, and often unprofessional. He does not take criticism well, and tends to deflect rather than discuss the questions raised. Notwithstanding, he’s done some measurable good, and for that he deserves credit. Does the good outweigh the bad? It really depends on who you ask. For me, however, his shortcomings as a leader and administrator far outweigh his benefits. That being said, I foresee President Trump having a second term in office even as his impeachment trial begins.