Ten Ways Donald Trump Has Failed as President

Some years ago I wrote an article cataloguing all the ways Barack Obama had fallen short as president. I even wrote a later article describing Obama as the “worst president ever.” Reading that five years later reminded me just how bad Obama was at his core responsibilities—but it also reminded me that I should always leave a little extra room at the bottom.

I won’t get into an argument about who was worse, Barack Obama or Donald Trump, but it’s time to compile a similar catalogue for the current president, detailing the many ways he has failed.

I get a lot of complaints asking me to consider all the good things Trump has done. A few days ago, I did that, listing what I see as his legitimate accomplishments, But I warned that “this is just one side of the ledger, and there’s a long list of things to put on the other side.” Let’s look at the other side—then see if we can sum up his whole presidency.

1. He never took the pandemic seriously.

The central failure of Donald Trump’s presidency is so vast, obvious, and ongoing that it almost goes without saying: He failed to respond properly to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To be sure, other countries were also hit hard by the pandemic, particularly Italy and the United Kingdom, and America’s per capita numbers right now are not much worse than those in Europe—though we had a much worse second wave and are just now heading into a third wave, so we have an excellent chance of pulling well ahead of Europe again.

A lot of people were unprepared for the pandemic and slow to respond to it. But let’s not forget that plenty of countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, did much better than the US, both in terms of lives lost and in terms of the hit to their economy. I’ve been banging on about this for a long time, so I’ll just refresh your memory with one link. South Korea controlled its coronavirus outbreak through massive testing and extensive contract tracing. This system made it less necessary for people to limit their economic activity, resulting in a much smaller economic hit.

The crime of the Trump administration isn’t that they tried to do this and failed. It’s that they didn’t even try. Jared Kushner made a brief attempt to put together some kind of system to ramp up national testing, but it never got the support of the president, and as one participant put it, the whole effort went “poof into thin air.” The White House has basically abandoned its own coronavirus task force.

The president cannot do everything, of course. The primary blame for some of the initial failures lay with government agencies and state governors. But the single most important job that is within a president’s control from the very beginning is the vital issue of how he communicates information about the pandemic to the public. That is the issue on which Donald Trump has been uniformly disastrous.

President Trump’s approach has been denial of the problem from day one. Many people have catalogued all the times he declared that the virus was going away on its own any day now, or promised an imminent vaccine that wasn’t going to be ready, or hawked overblown miracle cures. It continues up to now. Donald Trump, Jr., just appeared on a Fox News show and “claimed Thursday that Covid-19 deaths have dwindled to ‘almost nothing,’ despite there being around 1,000 reported in the United States the same day.” The death toll is now above 220,000.

It is not merely that President Trump has denied and minimized the pandemic and failed to take effective steps to contain it. He has actively undermined the steps required to fight it. Having built his presidency on cultural populism and a culture war defined by rage against experts and “elites,” he folded his pandemic response into this culture war, encouraging millions of his supporters to regard masks as a sign of weakness and “submission,” to treat social distancing as if it is a plot to impose a police state, and to denounce test-and-trace efforts (such as they are) as “surveillance.” At a rally in the final days of the election, President Trump mocked one of his own sycophantic supporters as “politically correct” for taking the basic precaution of wearing a mask. So not only has he failed to implement a plan for the pandemic, he has made such an implementation impossible.

The basic underlying theme of President Trump’s pandemic response has been a stubborn belief that wishes, blustering, and slogans can override reality. He has treated the virus, not as a reality that can only understood and combatted through reliance on scientific knowledge, but as a political adversary that can be defeated by denigrating it on Twitter.

He is trying to fight a culture war against a virus.

Those of us who warned that Trump is unfit for office had in mind precisely an emergency such as this. Trump’s performance has fully lived down to our expectations, making him the only president who has the distinction of adding a new major cause of death for the United States.

This one failure dominates and overwhelms everything else. It’s why, for example, Trump can’t run for re-election on a strong economy, because even the positive recent announcement about economic growth is just a partial bounce-back from the sharp contraction of the economy as the pandemic hit.

Since he hasn’t done what was needed to reduce the impact of the pandemic, the only way to keep the economy going is to pump it full of trillions of dollars in borrowed money in repeated stimulus handouts. That leads us to the next failure of Trump’s presidency.

2. He wrecked the federal budget even more.

I remember back in 2016 hearing some people angrily insist to me that we had to vote for Donald Trump because he had a plan to reduce the massive federal debt. The national debt at the time was $19 trillion. It is $27 trillion now.

This was all wishful thinking in the first place. Back in 2016, Donald Trump made noises about reducing the debt, but he never had an actual plan to do it. Since then, he has shown that he doesn’t care at all about spending and the debt.

In Barack Obama’s second term, Republican leaders in Congress like John Boehner and Paul Ryan—the wimpy Republican establishment Trump campaigned against—imposed the “sequester” that managed to rein in the growth of government spending and reduce annual deficit spending below $500 billion for the first time in years. By contrast, Trump has expanded the deficit in every year of his presidency, producing a deficit just under $1 trillion in 2019—in a moment of relative peace and prosperity, before the pandemic hit. Since then, he has signed on to what will be the largest one-year deficit as a share of the economy since World War II.

As Rush Limbaugh announced to us last year, the party that used to claim it cares about debt and deficits has now embraced spending and borrowing.

3. He lost the trade war.

President Trump blithely declared early on that “trade wars are good and easy to win.” He has since demonstrated the opposite.

I recently acknowledged Donald Trump’s general distaste for regulation, which has been a real benefit of his presidency—but with one big exception. When it comes to international trade, he loves regulation, and he particularly loves to flatter himself as a master dealmaker who will personally manage trade in a way that boosts the US economy and revives manufacturing.

He was drilled with anti-free-trade ideas in college, he made trade war the centerpiece of his foreign policy, and he abused presidential “national security” powers to unilaterally impose tariffs.

I won’t bother arguing about the economic theory behind this, because the results were already evident even before the pandemic came along. The actual effect of Trump’s tariffs was to induce a “manufacturing recession,” and the reason was simple: for every manufacturing company that benefited from tariff protection, there were more manufacturers who were harmed by the increased cost of parts and materials, plus the loss of overseas business due to retaliatory tariffs.

Tariffs have offered American companies some protection from Chinese imports, allowing them to gain a greater share of business in the United States, according to a study released December 23 by two economists at the Fed, Aaron Flaaen and Justin Pierce. But those positive effects of tariffs are more than offset by the negative effects of the trade war, including the higher prices companies must pay to import components from China, and the retaliatory tariffs China placed on the United States in response, the economists said.

Just like it says in the textbooks.

Perhaps the best emblem of the failure of Donald Trump’s role as dealmaker-in-chief is the deal he brokered with the Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn to bring jobs to the US instead of China. Here’s how the whole project is going.

Hopes were high among the employees who joined Foxconn’s Wisconsin project in the summer of 2018. In June, President Donald Trump had broken ground on an LCD factory he called “the eighth wonder of the world.” The scale of the promise was indeed enormous: a $10 billion investment from the Taiwanese electronics giant, a 20 million-square-foot manufacturing complex, and, most importantly, 13,000 jobs.

Which is why new recruits arriving at the 1960s office building Foxconn had purchased in downtown Milwaukee were surprised to discover they had to provide their own office supplies. “One of the largest companies in the world, and you have to bring your own pencil,” an employee recalls wondering. Maybe Foxconn was just moving too fast to be bothered with such details, they thought, as they brought their laptops from home and scavenged pencils left behind by the building’s previous tenants. They listened to the cries of co-workers trapped in the elevators that often broke, noted the water that occasionally leaked from the ceiling, and wondered when the building would be transformed into the gleaming North American headquarters an executive had promised.

The renovations never arrived. Neither did the factory, the tech campus, nor the thousands of jobs. Interviews with 19 employees and dozens of others involved with the project, as well as thousands of pages of public documents, reveal a project that has defaulted on almost every promise. The building Foxconn calls an LCD factory—about 1/20th the size of the original plan—is little more than an empty shell. In September, Foxconn received a permit to change its intended use from manufacturing to storage.

Even the handful of jobs the company claims to have created are less than real: many of them held by people with nothing to do, hired so the company could reach the number required for it to get tax subsidy payments from Wisconsin. Foxconn failed at that objective, too: last week, Wisconsin rejected the company’s subsidy application and found it had employed only 281 people eligible under the contract at the end of 2019. Many have since been laid off.

At best, this was a scam to get tax breaks and subsidies. But more likely it was an even cruder political con game.

In China, where Foxconn employs the vast majority of its million workers, these sorts of announcements are called “state visit projects,” according to Willy Shih, a Harvard business school professor and former display industry consultant….

“There was supposed to be a big announcement and a ribbon cutting that would coincide with Trump coming to town, which would also coincide with his campaign trail,” said an employee. “The joke there was, what’s he going to be cutting the ribbon to?” There was talk of reviving the still-not-self-driving Smart City golf carts. Employees joked about having someone stationed behind a curtain, steering the president around via remote control.

The whole thing was a Potemkin village meant to provide a political favor to President Trump, in exchange for political favors to Foxconn. Donald Trump came into politics by way of fake “reality TV,” and he gave us the economics to match.

The illusion was defended by GOP officials at all levels of government, from Mount Pleasant to the State Assembly to the White House, who accused anyone pointing out that the project was off track of trying to scuttle it for partisan ends, as if the existence of the factory were open to debate and positive thinking might make it real.

But in actual reality, the project has succeeded in manufacturing mostly this: an endless supply of wonderful things for the President to promise his supporters. This past weekend [October 17], in an interview with a local Wisconsin TV station, Trump insisted Foxconn had built “one of the most incredible plants I’ve ever seen” in Mount Pleasant and would keep its promises and more if he was reelected. “They will do what I tell them to do,” he said. “If we win the election, Foxconn is going to come into our country with money like no other company has come into our country.”

This is how you lose a trade war.

4. He breached the moral quarantine on racism.

The moment I wrote off the Trump presidency as a disaster was when white nationalists rioted in my neighborhood, and Trump couldn’t bring himself to unequivocally condemn them.

“Equivocal” is the key concept here, because Trump’s usual approach is to condemn white nationalists at one moment, then call them “very fine people” the next. Then his supporters demand that you listen to the first part of his statement and ignore the second—as I have definitively explained in debunking the supposed debunking of the “Charlottesville Hoax.”

(This, incidentally, has turned out to be a small professional triumph for me. This is not the first time I’ve written an article that I thought was the definitive analysis of a subject. This is the first time that opinion has been widely shared by prominent people in the media, and my piece in The Bulwark is the one that is always cited when this issue comes up.)

But this is a pattern that began before the events in Charlottesville in 2017 and has continued throughout Trump’s presidency. Trump’s 2016 campaign was notorious as a conduit through which Internet memes generated by white nationalists made their way into the political mainstream, from the “sheriff’s star” that was actually a Star of David (meant to imply that Hillary Clinton is in the pocket of the international Jewish conspiracy) to a cartoon frog appropriated as a symbol of the racist “alt-right.”

We have a pretty good idea where he’s getting this stuff. His campaign and administration have been infiltrated by a group of white nationalist sympathizers, chief of whom is Trump’s senior advisor and speechwriter Stephen Miller, a guy who has endured quietly as a power behind the throne while everybody else has been fired. We know from information leaked by a white nationalist defector (see item #4 in this rundown) that Miller is a habitual reader of VDARE, a white nationalist website, and other similar material.

To be sure, Trump has a general weakness for any disreputable group he sees as being on his side, which is why he resorts to his trademark ambiguity with regard to groups like the Proud Boys, who are more committed to street brawling than they are to racism.

Then again, we should probably take seriously Trump’s repeated expressions of interest in the idea that genetics is destiny, culminating in his recent musings on “racehorse theory” as applied to human breeding.

On the campaign trail last week in Minnesota, Donald Trump reached into his well-worn bag of divisive tricks and pulled out a piece of rehashed eugenics in the guise of a compliment: “You have good genes, you know that, right? You have good genes. A lot of it is about the genes, isn’t it, don’t you believe? The racehorse theory. You think we’re so different? You have good genes in Minnesota.”

This was not a one-off rant, but the latest in a string of pronouncements that echo the eugenics playbook. Back at a 2016 rally, Trump mused: “I always said that winning is somewhat, maybe, innate. Maybe it’s just something you have; you have the winning gene. Frankly it would be wonderful if you could develop it, but I’m not so sure you can. You know I’m proud to have that German blood, there’s no question about it. Great stuff.”…

Praising the “good genes” of his supporters at a rally in Bemidji, a town of 12,000 in northern Minnesota not far from the headwaters of the Mississippi, Trump is clearly referring to the stereotypical Minnesotan of Scandinavian descent.

So the president of the United States has been running around endorsing the basic theory behind eugenics. It says a lot about the intellectual environment Donald Trump has created on this issue that these statements have barely been noticed. What would have been a shocking scandal with any other president is just another day.

There are certain ideas so evil and destructive that a society may attempt to establish what is sometimes called a “moral quarantine” around them—a kind of contact tracing in which we ostracize not only those who advocate the idea but those who mix with the advocates and allow their minds to be contaminated by sympathy for their ideas. This is often done badly, out of a spirit of unthinking conformism, but it is an inescapable feature of every civilization. Every culture has to draw a line that separates respectable society from the irredeemable.

For several decades, American society has attempted a moral quarantine of racism—in theory. In practice, racism has still been acceptable so long as it comes from the left and is packaged as anti-racism. But Trump has broken down that quarantine from the right—which, ironically, has the effect of validating and emboldening the “woke” racists on the left and setting back progress against racism in American culture by decades.

5. He has attacked freedom of speech.

Donald Trump has a long history of blustering against the traditional media, threatening to pull their broadcast licenses or prosecute them—he recently declared that too much media coverage of the pandemic is a violation of election law—or harassing them with bogus lawsuits for being biased.

More recently, he has focused his attention on social media and started a campaign to destroy any social media company he regards as biased.

That’s the upshot of the recent conservative campaign against Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This is the provision that cleared the way for the modern Internet by making it clear that a platform is not legally responsible for everything said on that platform—that individual users can be sued for defamatory content, but the platforms cannot. (For those who say Section 230 created this rule, I can tell you from personal experience that it merely codified how most Internet discussion groups already worked.) Without the explicit protection of Section 230, bulletin boards and other online discussion platforms would be forced into one of two options: to do no moderation of content at all, or to be responsible for everything said there. The whole point of Section 230 was to allow companies to partially moderate content, without having to moderate everything.

But Trump and his supporters have twisted this to require that platforms be “neutral” according to vague and politicized standards that will be determined after the fact. Here is a good explainer on Section 230 that describes the various attempts to roll it back.

Some Republicans believe that companies are using Section 230 as a cover to let them moderate content however they want, and are exercising anti-conservative bias in what they choose to take down…. In June, Josh Hawley, a Republican senator, introduced a bill that would get rid of Section 230 immunity for big social-media sites unless they could prove they hadn’t moderated in politically biased way. Under this plan, these companies would be audited by the Federal Trade Commission every two years. Employees who showed bias would have to be disciplined or fired. The bill has been widely criticized for being  extremely vague and hard to enforce.

President Trump has also been concerned with anti-conservative bias. Last week it was reported that his office drafted an executive order that would let the White House regulate how social media is moderated. Section 230 granted these sites the power to moderate on their own terms, but the executive order would subject them to guidelines developed by the Federal Communications Commission.

I have complained before about the big social media companies doing a ham-handed and obviously biased job of moderating their platforms. The only thing worse than private companies being bad moderators is the FTC and FCC being installed as de facto moderators of social media.

No, wait, there’s something worse. It has now become a common article of faith among the conservative rank and file that the First Amendment doesn’t protect media companies if they are “biased”—when in fact that is precisely what it protects.

Trump’s nationalist conservative supporters can always be counted on to take these things to their logical conclusion, so Sohrab Ahmari is now calling for social media companies to be nationalized. If you think this is ridiculous and no one would ever do that, note that Senator Ted Cruz is acting as if Twitter has already been nationalized, asking CEO Jack Dorsey, “Who the hell elected you?” The implication is that social media executives, and by extension all other media executives, should be selected by a political process.

Trump and his nationalist supporters have no real conception of freedom of speech. The only issue in their mind is whether a platform is moderated in ways they like or in ways they don’t like.

This fits with the spirit of most of Trump’s other big forays against Political Correctness: his proposed executive order mandating classical architecture, his National Garden of American Heroes, and his attempt to shake down billions from a private company to fund the teaching of “patriotic history.” All of these are attempts to abuse the powers of the presidency to promote his side in the culture war.

As to whether this will do anything in the long run to fight Political Correctness, I’ll just repeat what I’ve been pointing out all along. Trump is trying to create new government power over the culture that will fall into the hands of the advocates of Political Correctness the moment Republicans lose control of the White House—which looks like it will be sooner rather than later.

He’s not fighting the cultural left. He’s empowering them.

It is not just domestic enemies of freedom that Donald Trump has been empowering.

6. He coddles dictators.

Donald Trump has a long record of admiring dictators as tough guys. His fanboying over Russia’s Vladimir Putin is well documented, as is his exchange of love letters with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. Add to that his kowtowing to Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, betraying the Kurds at his behest and quashing an investigation into a state-owned Turkish bank accused of funneling money to Iran.

Trump’s confrontations with China are predominantly limited to jawboning about the trade war. When it comes to historic crimes like the Uighur concentration camps, he reportedly expressed his approval of Xi Jinping’s plans. He has also been notably soft on the mainland government’s repression of Hong Kong.

Under President Obama, the US deliberately neglected its role as a global advocate of liberty, and under Trump this trend has somehow managed to get worse.

When you confront his supporters with this, they tell you that at least Trump is ending wars instead of starting them like those neoconservative warmongers—throwing out more than fifty years of Republican posturing as the more hawkish party.

That leads us to the next bit of wanton destruction in Trump’s legacy.

7. He has wrecked every single Republican talking point.

What does a political party consist of? How does it command the loyalties of its voters? A party is just a set of policies, ideas, and arguments. So what happens to a party when it systematically undermines and abandons all of its ideas?

That is what the Republican Party has done under Trump’s leadership, selling out everything it used to claim to stand for in order to line up behind one man.

So the party that backed the War on Terror and reveled in its hawkish response to 9/11 is now in favor of cutting deals with the Taliban.

On spending and the deficit, Donald Trump has effectively embraced “Modern Monetary Theory,” the notion that the government can spend whatever it likes by just printing money without limit—and Stephanie Kelton, the crackpot economist who is the chief advocate of this theory, is not letting us forget it.

For six years, Republicans campaigned on the promise they were going to repeal Obamacare. But they always needed us to support them for just one more election. First, we gave them a majority in the House, but not in the Senate. Then they got their majority in the Senate, but they still needed the presidency. In 2016, Republicans won the presidency, plus majorities in both houses of Congress. Then they still didn’t repeal Obamacare.

To be sure, this is partly a failure on the part of congressional leaders, whose Obamacare “repeal” proposals couldn’t gain support because they weren’t really a repeal. They were just a Republican adoption of Obamacare Lite, which drew the active resistance of the congressmen most opposed to Obamacare. But Donald Trump did little to ensure an actual repeal of Obamacare, and after the congressional vote failed, he dropped the issue altogether. Since then, he has not had a health-care plan, does not have one now, and is not likely to have one any time in the future.

The party of free markets is now railing against Big Business, turning openly anti-capitalist, and praising the economic policies of Elizabeth Warren.

The party that posed for decades as the guardian of decency and traditional morality is now the party of a serial adulterer and of Jerry Falwell, Jr., whose lifestyle has turned out to be even more spectacularly, er, non-traditional than Trump’s. I don’t think the religious right has even begun to reckon with the damage they have done to their cause over the last four years—though given my views, I regard that as a bright spot.

Oh, and the other casualty of this scandal is Trump supporters’ favorite trope of accusing their opponents of being cuckolds, which is going to ring really hollow right now.

Across the board, on foreign policy, on spending and debt, on markets, on health care, on morality, Trump’s Republican Party has abandoned and discredited its favorite talking points—and we’re going to be hearing about this for a generation.

This is what gives the lie to the “but he fights” argument that won Trump the Republican nomination in 2016. Ideologically, his term in office has actually been one long, continual capitulation.

8. He has subordinated all policy to the crudest partisanship.

The Republican Party has sacrificed its talking points for the sake of the crudest form of partisanship: backing a single politician and whatever his latest brainwave happens to be. Trump has made that worse by subordinating all national policy to his own electioneering needs.

This was the upshot of the Ukraine scandal that got him impeached: hijacking the foreign policy of the United States to pressure a foreign leader into generating negative publicity for Trump’s political rival.

Similarly, a continuing theme of the pandemic has been the president threatening to withhold federal aid from governors who do not sufficiently flatter him. He’s still doing it.

Add to this Trump’s penchant for abusing his presidential power to issue pardons or commutations for his corrupt cronies.

The worst results have been in US foreign policy, which is in complete disarray with no clear objectives and will have to be rebuilt from the ground up by the next president.

That leads me to the next item on the list.

9. He has made America a laughing stock.

I complained for years that Barack Obama deliberately sought to make the US irrelevant in world affairs. Donald Trump has made it irrelevant and ridiculous—an unreliable ally and an unfeared adversary, led by a man who is not taken seriously.

Claire Berlinski recently wrote about speculation that China might take the current time as its opportunity to take back Taiwan by force. This probably won’t happen—it would be an awfully big risk for the regime—but what is revealing is that one of the key arguments is doubt about whether Donald Trump would take this aggression seriously, that he would treat it the way he treated Russia’s seizure of Crimea.

Think this is exaggerated? Donald Trump’s biggest current foreign policy initiative is a de facto alliance with the Taliban in Afghanistan. He famously asked them to Camp David on the anniversary of 9/11. Then he negotiated a separate peace with them that undermined our Afghan allies, and most recently he has been trying to move up the US withdrawal (by means of tweeting about it) in what is widely regarded as a unilateral gift to the Taliban.

This is why we’re seeing people like Admiral William McRaven, former commander of US Special Operations and “a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, small-government, strong-defense and national-anthem-standing conservative,” citing Trump’s lack of global leadership as the reason he is voting for Biden.

Now, the world no longer looks up to America. They have been witness to our dismissiveness, our lack of respect and our transactional approach to global issues. They have seen us tear up our treaties, leave our allies on the battlefield and cozy up to despots and dictators. They have seen our incompetence in handling the pandemic and the wildfires. They have seen us struggle with social injustice. They no longer think we can lead, because they have seen an ineptness and a disdain for civility that is beyond anything in their memory. But, without American leadership the world will indeed be transformed, just not in the way we hope.

Every person I take seriously on military and foreign policy—including people whose presence in the Trump administration used to reassure me, like James Mattis and H.R. McMaster—is taking a similar position. I think it would be smart to listen to them.

10. He has immersed us in the politics of the middle finger.

One of my criticisms of Barack Obama is that he brought celebrity culture to politics. Donald Trump cashed in on that and took it one step farther, dragging politics down to the level of the worst of popular culture—the kind of culture that made him a national figure: a combination of tabloid gossip columns, reality TV, professional wrestling, and social media trolling.

Everything wrong with this approach to politics is summed up in a column by National Review‘s Rich Lowry that is supposed to do the anti-anti-Trump thing and make us more understanding of the basis of Trump’s support. Lowry describes Trump as “The Only Middle Finger Available.”

Besides the occasional dissenting academic and brave business owner or ordinary citizen, Trump is, for better or worse, the foremost symbol of resistance to the overwhelming woke cultural tide that has swept along the media, academia, corporate America, Hollywood, professional sports, the big foundations, and almost everything in between.

He’s the vessel for registering opposition to everything from the 1619 Project to social media’s attempted suppression of the Hunter Biden story.

To put it in blunt terms, for many people, he’s the only middle finger available—to brandish against the people who’ve assumed they have the whip hand in American culture.

This is what happens when the right succumbs to the culture of grievance and tries to complete on the basis of who is the bigger victim.

The problem with the politics of the middle finger is that when you elect a president to give a middle finger to the cultural “elites,” he will also give a middle finger to economists, military strategists, intelligence analysts—and epidemiologists.

More broadly, the problem is that every discussion just turns into this: a couple of guys flipping each other off, literally or figuratively, but unable to discuss or debate ideas.

No, I don’t expect a president to be a philosopher-king. But he is supposed to be a debater and advocate for certain policies and principles, and he is expected to stand for something other than his own desire to be the center of attention. Most politicians end up failing in this regard, but none more spectacularly than Donald Trump, and certainly none with such a widespread effect on his party and on the conservative movement. As I put it after the disastrous first presidential debate, “The issue here is whether our politics still has a place for speeches, debates, policy, and ideas—or whether we just yell insults at each other from here on out.” The issue is whether we want our political leaders to stand for anything more than an obscene gesture aimed at one’s tribal enemies.

Can we find a common thread to all of Donald Trump’s failures as president? Yes, there is clear connecting line: the idea that one’s feelings are more important than reality.

President Trump believes that culture war posturing is the answer to a viral pandemic; that we can keep on spending and borrowing without thought for the consequences; that Potemkin projects can paper over the failure of the trade war; that a political party should stand for whatever he feels like doing at any given moment; that the narrative needed for his political campaign is a greater reality than the long-term interests of the country; and that slinging insults agains his partisan enemies is the only real substance of politics.

I don’t write all of this to influence your vote, since I hope for your own sake that in this pandemic year you cast your vote weeks ago rather than waiting to stand in line and risk infection. Moreover, given the extent to which these candidates are thoroughly known quantities after decades on the national stage, I doubt very many people are undecided at this point.

Rather, I write this to help sum up the Trump presidency on what I expect will be the eve of its departure. And while we face the distressing prospect of Joe Biden as the next president, I suppose it softens the blow to go over Donald Trump’s record and recognize that we aren’t really losing very much.

We have a lot of reasons to want to fight back against what the Democrats will try to do if they get into office next year. But if Donald Trump loses. we won’t have a lot of reasons to pine over the loss of his second term. 

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