Posted on December 31, 2019
Trump Tees Off
But how accurate is his scoring?
In the middle of a long, rambling letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi decrying his impeachment, President Trump took a moment to rattle off a list of his accomplishments, under the heading, "You and your party are desperate to distract from ..." He's obviously correct that the Democrats are obsessing over their quixotic attempt to remove him from office as a diversion from their inability to campaign against him on the issues. Is he equally correct in touting his many supposedly remarkable achievements, or is he being just as creative in scoring his presidency as he is in scoring a round of golf? Let's score the president's scorecard, and find out.
Holes in one
"cancellation of the unfair and costly Paris Climate Accord" -- Actually, the Paris Climate Accord still exists, just without American involvement. In fact, the United States had never been a party to the agreement, President Obama's signature notwithstanding, because it was never ratified by Congress. Nevertheless, Trump's rejection of the pact was an important reversal in stated U.S. policy. Not only that, but Trump called out the United Nations on the fact that its agreement did not even substantially address the mythical threat of "climate change," and was primarily meant as an international wealth redistribution program that would have mugged the American taxpayer.
"recognition of Israel's capital, opening the American Embassy in Jerusalem, and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights" -- Even the president's worst enemies should concede this as a genuine demonstration of bold leadership on his part. Previous presidents of both parties had recognized that we should have moved our embassy to Jerusalem, but backed away because our diplomats believed it would be a provocative act. That's only true if one accepts the premise that the existence of Israel itself is provocative. Israel has the right to choose its own capital just as any other nation does. Everyone really knew all along what was the right thing to do here, but Trump was the one who took charge and followed through on it, and he deserves to have that fact recognized.
"incredible jobs boom, record stock market, soaring confidence, and flourishing citizens" -- Hyperbole aside, the stock market and consumer confidence are booming, and recent jobs numbers have been very strong. One must wonder where they would be if not for the "easy to win" trade war.
"the elimination of the individual mandate" -- Technically, the Obamacare individual mandate still exists, except that there is no longer any enforcement mechanism since Trump signed the 2017 tax cut bill, which contained a provision eliminating the tax penalty for violating the mandate. This would have scored higher had he not undermined his own party's attempt to repeal Obamacare altogether, by calling the House bill "mean" and demanding that they spend more.
"withdrawal from the terrible Iran Nuclear Deal." -- President Obama had thrown Iran an economic life preserver, in exchange for an agreement that was unverifiable by design, and even though Obama acknowledged that it would result in increased Iranian funding of terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. For Trump to ditch the deal and ratchet the sanctions up again was undoubtedly the right move. His only mistake here has been to gullibly describe the agreement as "the worst deal ever negotiated." Anyone can see that Obama did exactly what he wanted to do by rescuing Iran. The interests of the United States were never even represented at the negotiating table.
"a colossal reduction in illegal border crossings, the ending of Catch-and-Release" -- Nobody can really know how many illegal border crossings there are, but their numbers are surely on the decline since the Ninth Circuit Court of Appels approved the Trump administration's Migrant Protection Protocols. This is the policy by which asylum seekers are returned to the adjacent territories from which they entered the country while their cases are being expedited. The only negative here for the president is that he was not content to simply take the credit for it that he deserves, but instead tried to parlay it into a validation of his tariff policies. Trump had threatened Mexico with massive tariffs if that country did not agree to take those aliens who are subject to the MPP, to which Mexico replied that it was already taking measures to accommodate them, and that the tariff threat was unnecessary. In truth, Mexico had no choice. If U.S. policy is not to allow them to enter the U.S. from Mexico, then they stay in Mexico.
"7 million new jobs; the lowest-ever unemployment for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans" -- Okay, but 7 million jobs in three years is hardly unprecedented. In fact, it mirrors the last three years under Obama. An unemployment rate of 3.5 is certainly very low, but what does it mean? When Obama boasted "full employment" with an unemployment rate of 5 percent, conservatives were quick to point out that this number was artificially low because of the plummeting labor force participation rate. Under Trump, the labor force participation rate has inched up only slightly, nowhere near its pre-Obama norm, so there's no honest way to take Trump's unemployment numbers at face value.
"historic tax and regulation cuts" -- Trump delivered on his tax cuts, although the accompanying tax simplification has actually made filing more complicated for many taxpayers, who have had to supplement their returns with multiple new schedules. The president's regulatory reforms have been mostly laudable, but also mostly achieved through executive actions that may be easily undone by his successor.
"massive new trade deals with Japan and South Korea." -- As usual, he's overstating things. His deal with South Korea was merely a revision of an existing agreement, whereas the one with Japan is only a preliminary arrangement, made in hopes of arriving at a more comprehensive deal in the near future.
"the first new branch of the United States Military since 1947, the Space Force" -- He certainly deserves credit for seeing this through. How good an idea it is, only time will tell.
"becoming the world's top energy producer" -- Trump is an infinitely more energy-friendly president than his predecessor, but the U.S. actually became the world's leader in energy production during the Obama years. Energy producers are surely better off without Democrat obstruction, but they are not dependent on government for their success.
"rebuilt military" -- This is perhaps the most overstated accomplishment since Vice President Al Gore "reinvented government." Trump did restore the Pentagon funding that had been "sequestered" during previous budget agreements, which is commendable, but hardly Reaganesque. Almost immediately, he declared that "our military is again rich," and tried on that basis to divert defense funds to his border wall project. If our military is any stronger now than it was three years into the G.W. Bush administration, that's only because Obama seldom used it, whereas Bill Clinton deployed it promiscuously, without ever replacing the resources he'd spent.
"a completely reformed VA with Choice and Accountability for our great veterans" -- The VA Choice Act, allowing veterans to avail themselves of private-sector medical care, was passed with huge bipartisan majorities, and signed into law by President Obama in 2014. President Trump signed bills extending that law in 2017, and expanding it in 2019, but it's an issue on which Congress has taken the lead, regardless of who holds the White House.
"more than 170 new federal judges and two Supreme Court Justices" -- Every president makes lots of judicial appointments, which makes this a peculiar thing to brag about, but let's look at Trump's judges in terms of quality, and not quantity. There was a time when the Trumpies' canned response to his conservative critics was, "But Gorsuch," meaning that the value of his Supreme Court appointments superseded all concerns about Trump's ethics and his lack of philosophical grounding. There's a reason they do not now say, "But Gorsuch and Kavanaugh." Brett Kavanaugh is a liberal, and will cancel Gorsuch out on rulings important to conservatives for decades. The best that can be said about Trump here is that, having no ideology himself, he didn't know any better. He agreed to pick his judges from a list provided by conservative think tanks, and so he did. The big questions are: who belatedly added Kavanaugh to that list, and who persuaded Trump to pick Kavanaugh, out of all the potential nominees?
"the first decline in prescription drug prices in half a century." -- Of all the convoluted metrics by which this can be measured, the only report that actually claims such a decline comes from the president's own Council of Economic Advisors, which itself fails to argue how the administration might be responsible. In addition to claiming credit for an accomplishment that arguably isn't, Trump expresses a desire to collaborate on the issue with congressional Democrats. Watch out.
"strong protection of the Second Amendment" -- Trump has voiced his support for "red flag" laws, which would allow a judge to confiscate an American citizen's firearms if he believes that citizen to be dangerous. How is that anything other than an infringement on the right of a person to keep and bear arms? He has also expressed his willingness to "stand up to" the NRA. Why does he think an organization of concerned citizens committed to preserve the Second Amendment is something to be stood up to?
"criminal justice reform" A Republican president leads his party to go soft on crime. -- What conservative considers this an accomplishment? The First Step Act that Trump signed, nicknamed The Jailbreak Act by its critics, makes Michael Dukakis look like Joe Friday. By signing it, and through many of his pardons, the president has adopted the Janet Reno view that distinguishes high-level narcotics dealers from "real criminals." The fact that he's done it in part to suck up to reality show trash celebrities doesn't make it any better.
"a defeated ISIS caliphate and the killing of the world's number one terrorist leader, al-Baghdadi" -- He would have a lot more credibility here if not for his capricious pullout from Syria, which betrayed the Kurds, our closest allies in the fight against ISIS, while setting more than 800 captured ISIS members free to rejoin the fight. In addition, Trump takes an unrealistically narrow view of the conflict, by which he does not recognize that ISIS and al-Qaeda are one in the same. In fact, it was al-Qaeda co-founder Ayman al-Zawahiri who commanded al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to establish a caliphate in Iraq, a plan that depended heavily on a premature American departure. Moreover, Trump is all but sending al-Qaeda an engraved invitation to reestablish its training camps in Afghanistan when he attempts to negotiate a U.S. withdrawal plan that would leave the Taliban once again in control.
"the replacement of the disastrous NAFTA trade deal with the wonderful USMCA" For all the breath that Trump has expended condemning NAFTA, is it too much to ask him to specify which parts of it are so bad, and how his USMCA is such a dramatic improvement? Throwing in colorful modifiers like "disastrous" and "wonderful" does nothing to demonstrate his point. Furthermore, he hasn't even done this yet. To date, only Mexico and the U.S. House of Representatives have approved the deal. The U.S. Senate and the Canadian parliament have yet to take it up. When it is enacted, however, it will merely be a somewhat revised version of the thing he calls disastrous.
"a breakthrough Phase One trade deal with China." -- This agreement is not a done deal, either. President Trump and Xi Jinping have only agreed to arrive at an agreement within the following weeks. What this eventual deal would consist of is still a bit hazy. More importantly, given what is supposed to be Trump's tactic in this trade war, no kind of intermediate agreement should even be up for discussion. All it can accomplish is relieving the pressure on China, so that it will not feel the need to make any significant concessions in the near future.
"the building of the Southern Border Wall" -- No, really. Not only is he counting this as part of his record, but he's applying the proper name, "Southern Border Wall," as if it were a thing. He might as well have included the accomplishment of making Mexico pay for it. One of President Trump's many disturbing similarities to Bill Clinton is his tendency to take credit for having done things simply because he's talked about them, and this is perhaps the most egregious example.
Keep in mind that this scorecard is only on those issues that Trump himself is bragging about. It's a decidedly mixed record, even without the inclusion of things he'd rather not bring up. Just like his golf game, his presidential performance is better than that of Barack Obama, for whatever that's worth. That doesn't mean it's nearly as wonderful as his own dubious scorekeeping would have us believe.
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