The migration saga started last summer. Hundreds of thousands of poor Central Americans made the 1,000-mile-plus journey north fueled by the belief it was easy to get into the United States. By June, U.S. border agents were arresting more than 130,000 people a month. Something had to be done to prevent a humanitarian disaster.
Trump acted. He announced he would levy tariffs on goods from Mexico unless that country did more to stem the flow of Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States. The move was widely condemned by the usual suspects, but once Mexico submitted to Trump’s demands, attention moved elsewhere.
It turns out that the critics were wrong. Fewer than 33,000 people were arrested at the southwest border in December. That’s not only 100,000 fewer people than were arrested in May right before Trump acted; it’s nearly 18,000 people fewer than in December 2018. It’s not as though the countries the migrants were fleeing suddenly became garden spots overnight. There’s only one explanation for the rapid decline: Trump’s policies worked.
This is far from the first time that policies roundly condemned when Trump has announced them have turned out to be successful. Trump’s attacks on NATO allies for their failure to fulfill commitments to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense was uniformly derided. But today, three years on, NATO defense spending is up, and even many Europeans say Trump’s threats helped them wake up.
Trade is another example of a viciously attacked Trump policy that is turning out fine. Trump’s decision to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) pushed Canada and Mexico to the bargaining table and the result was the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. This revised North American trade agreement responsibly alters a deal made a quarter-century ago when the United States was the global economic superpower to ensure that more high-value-added jobs arise in the United States. Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) bowed to the new pact’s benefits for Americans and backed the House’s approval of the treaty, with some modifications, in December. Score another win for Trump that you probably haven’t heard much about.
Even the so-called trade war with China is not leading to the disaster most pundits prophesied. It turns out that China is more dependent on U.S. exports than U.S. firms are on China. While Chinese economic growth dropped to its lowest pace in nearly three decades, U.S. growth has barely dropped. Today’s employment report yet again showed record-low unemployment rates and above-inflation wage hikes. China has agreed to a “phase one” trade deal that will be signed next week and effectively calls a truce in the ongoing battle. Watch as the punditocracy largely ignores it.
This pattern — condemn the act, then ignore the outcome — is so pronounced it cannot be accidental. Many people think Trump to be so evil, so incompetent and so corrupt that he is simply incapable of ever doing anything right. He is apparently worse than the proverbial broken clock, which is at least right twice a day.
The confrontation with Iran that has played out over the past week and a half is simply the latest example of this pattern. First Trump was accused of pushing Iran to war with the United States because of his decision to kill Iran’s terrorist mastermind, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. But Trump has received almost no credit for the fact that the Iranian retaliation was intentionally ineffective, which was always Iran’s logical response because the country’s leaders know they cannot win a direct war with the United States. Instead, some critics are now blaming Trump for the Ukrainian passenger jet that Iran apparently shot down by mistake. There’s no logic to this, unless the logic consists in keeping up a constant barrage of criticism only loosely connected to reality.
Trump backers have long figured this out. It’s just human nature: If you know someone doesn’t have your best interests at heart, you’re not going to listen to them. So Trump fans have tuned out the majority of the media, knowing they won’t get anything close to a fair and balanced message. This in turn means that when the media does report something that casts real doubt on Trump’s character and capability, such as his wildly inappropriate phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, it falls on deaf ears.
Trump has had his share of policy blunders, but like any president, he has had his share of successes, too. Our politics would be healthier if his adversaries could just admit that once in a while.