The economy grew at a measly 2.1 percent in the last quarter of 2019. The tax cut failed to deliver 3 percent growth (let alone the 4 percent or 5 percent growth that Trump’s supply-side sect promised) and left us drowning in an ocean of debt. For all that debt, we did not get an infrastructure bill, a huge investment in science or education, or much of anything that will jump-start our currently anemic productivity rate. We did not even get his ridiculous wall (only a mile of completely new wall has been built). His entire claim about having turned around the economy is pure nonsense. That is President Barack Obama’s main accomplishment.
Indeed, a surprising number of accomplishments he does claim (e.g. energy independence, most jobs, most deportations) belong to Obama, who, for having done all that, must have been a great president in Republicans’ estimation.
Criminal-justice reform? “Trump signed the First Step Act in 2018. One of the biggest pieces of the First Step Act — a provision that reduced sentences for crack cocaine offenses — was an extension of Obama’s efforts in 2010,” my fact-checking colleagues note. “We gave Three Pinocchios to Trump for claiming that he accomplished what Obama could not.” Once more, no matter how hard he spins, he cannot eradicate his predecessor’s record; he cannot even match it.
Well, conservatives say, look at defense spending! Once more, there is far less than they think they’ve gotten. The $2.2 trillion number Trump touts is not all that impressive. The Post fact-checkers confirm, “On an inflation-adjusted basis, not one year of Trump’s defense budgets has exceeded the high point in 2010 under Obama.” Ironically, despite having a compliant Congress that could have given him practically whatever he wanted on defense spending for two years, he did not significantly change the trajectory of defense spending. Defense News reported recently:
In 2017, the top two officials at the Pentagon — then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford — testified to Congress that the defense budget needs to have 3-5 percent annual growth over inflation each year through 2023 to ensure America’s military success. ...The budget is expected to be largely flat, as a two-year budget deal reached last summer calls for $740 billion in defense spending in the next fiscal year, up just $2 billion from the enacted FY20 amount.“The 3-5 percent goal was reasonable enough and absolutely needed,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a budget analyst with the American Enterprise Institute. “But it is not happening. The defense top line for 2021 is negative real growth, aka declining.”
No better than Obama. Again.
Well, there are judges! Here, even I got caught up in the spin, in part because progressive groups make it sound as though the entire judiciary has been Trumpified. Yes, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s stunt with Judge Merrick Garland, Trump got two Supreme Court appointments, but beyond that, the reality is much more modest. His “record” of 187 judges may be a record for only three years, but his impact on the judiciary is still far smaller than his predecessors. The Post fact-checkers report: “Reagan has the record, with 383, followed by Bill Clinton with 378 and then Obama with 329." Should Trump get another term and a compliant Senate, Trump certainly will have the opportunity to best his predecessors, but for now, he has hardly remade the courts. (It is noteworthy that a batch of the judges do not sit on the regular district, circuit or Supreme courts. Almost 20 of his appointees sit on tax, military, veterans claims and other specialty courts.)
To be sure, a replacement for NAFTA was passed. However, the changes in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) are largely the work of the Democratic House, which insisted on mechanisms for enforcing labor and environmental standards. (The Wall Street Journal groused that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s demands were “never-ending.”)
As with so much that Trump does, the hype dwarfs the reality. His cult gobbles up the cotton candy he spins; the right-wing media chants the state-fed propaganda. (One is reminded of the Soviet industrial plans that the Kremlin insisted always exceeded expectations.)
Trying to disabuse his base and the right-wing punditocracy of his inflated record is doomed to fail. The rest of the country should understand that for all his boasts, Trump’s biggest accomplishment is making the rich (who own the lion share of stocks) much richer. It is in appealing to the concerns of middle-class Americans and promising to protect their health care, address climate change and reduce gun violence that Democrats stand the best chance of victory.
And for those Republicans who have become intellectual and moral pretzels in service of Trump, one recalls the admonition: “It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. But for Wales?” If only there were a Thomas More or two in the Senate.