President Trump’s apologists, be they in “respectable” right-wing publications (how respectable are they if they routinely repeat provable untruths about immigrants and deny climate change?) or on Fox News’s pretend-news programs, say two equally false things: He hasn’t really done anything bad. And even if he has, look how spectacular his accomplishments are! The first depends on whether you think undermining democracy and objective truth are all that bad; the second is based on misrepresentations of his “accomplishments.”
Trump’s fundamental claim to fame is that he has had huge economic success. That simply isn’t the case, either in real or comparative terms. Robert Shapiro writes:
Let’s measure Trump’s words against the record for real GDP growth over the last three quarters (July 2017 through March 2018). Over those quarters, GDP has grown at an annual rate of 2.6 percent. Comparing that pace to his last nine predecessors over comparable periods in their first terms, Trump here bests the four presidents who faced recessions in their first year in office (Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon). Trump’s other five predecessors came to office, as he did, during economic expansions. Among them, he’s tied for last place: Real GDP growth under Trump over the three quarters has lagged Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Lyndon Johnson and John Kennedy, and tied George H.W. Bush.
Oh, so he’s a mediocre president on the economic front. Well, there is all that business investment! Not so much, actually. He beat “the four presidents who faced recessions in their first year in office (Obama, Bush-2, Reagan and Nixon), plus Bush-1)—hardly a heavy lift—and trails his four other predecessors (Clinton, Carter, LBJ and JFK). On investment in equipment, the comparisons are the same except here he trails Obama as well the four other Democratic presidents since 1960.” Moreover, it’s not as though business had trouble funding investment before Trump’s debt-expanding tax cuts. “The truth is, U.S. companies had been able to borrow the funds to invest for virtually nothing for a decade, adjusting for inflation. So, there was little holding them back from investing here except a shortage of attractive opportunities, and Trump’s changes didn’t alter that reality in any meaningful way.”
Well, he has deported more illegal immigrants than ever before! Nope. Axios notes: “Despite President Trump’s tough-on-immigration rhetoric, there were around 177,000 fewer deportations this year than in 2009, Obama’s first year in office. That number is lower than any year during Obama’s presidency, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data.”
Sure, but we are more respected in the world! Wrong again. Gallup found that for Trump’s first year in office, median approval of U.S. leadership in 134 countries and regions reached an all-time low of 30 percent. Other polls reflect similar results.
The notion that Trump is praiseworthy because he “kept his promises” is peculiar in itself. Obama kept promises to create a national health-care plan, to end the Cuba embargo, to pull troops out of Iraq, etc. Conservatives didn’t “credit” him for keeping promises they thought were unwise. Nevertheless, even the claim that Trump kept his promises is questionable. Yes, he moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and appointed conservative judges, but his record is a mixed bag at best. He hasn’t built a wall. His Muslim ban and punitive measures against so-called sanctuary cities failed in court. He didn’t cut the deficit; he wildly expanded it. He tried to cut Medicaid (contrary to his promise) and had no spectacular, new health-care plan (as he promised).
Many critics who rightly condemned Obama for allowing the genocide in Syria to unfold, Iran to advance its hegemonic ambitions and tyrants to get a free pass on human rights abuses have fallen mute, but Trump’s record is no better than his predecessor’s on these items. If he sets off a trade war with China, allows Iran to escape the restrictions (albeit not as stringent as we liked) on its nuclear program or presides over an uptick in inflation (and/or a recession), his record will look even shabbier.
Even if one thought that normalizing racism, undermining democratic institutions, lying nonstop, misleading the public about hush money paid to a porn star, and condoning widespread financial misconduct throughout his administration were somehow minor matters, one still comes back to a conclusion that his defenders are loath to admit: Trump is not winning on even his own terms (e.g. deportations, growth, jobs). So why would so many right-wingers claim all is forgiven — not that there is anything to forgive! — because of his tremendous gains? You got me.