The “mute” button at the second presidential debate worked wonders. And its success provokes an interesting thought experiment: How would the Trump presidency be seen with a mute button on?
His victory over Hillary Clinton stopped Democrats from replacing the late justice Antonin Scalia with a liberal activist, saving the Supreme Court’s conservative majority. He appointed three fantastic new justices and has had more than 200 judges confirmed to the lower courts.
He signed the first comprehensive tax reform in three decades; removed the wet blanket of Obama-era regulations smothering our economy; scrapped the Trans-Pacific Partnership that advantaged China and brokered new trade deals with Mexico, Canada, Japan and South Korea. Before the coronavirus pandemic, unemployment reached record lows, including for Blacks and Hispanics. And even in the midst of a pandemic-induced economic crisis, 56 percent of Americans say they are better off now than they were four years ago.
Trump delivered for African Americans, passing criminal justice reform, creating opportunity zones to rebuild our inner cities and securing permanent funding for historically black colleges and universities.
He signed opioid and sex-trafficking legislation, and a new “Right to Try” law giving dying Americans access to experimental medications. He implemented the Protect Life Rule, which prohibits federal family-planning funds from going to abortion clinics, and defended the religious liberty of the Little Sisters of the Poor.
He made the United States an energy superpower — getting rid of President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, and supplanting Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer — which has transformed the national security landscape in the United States’ favor.
He drove the Islamic State from its caliphate and killed its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Unlike Obama, he twice launched military strikes against Syria for using chemical weapons against civilians. Trump withdrew from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran, forcing the regime to cut funding for its terrorist proxies — and he took out Iran’s terrorist mastermind Qasem Soleimani. He moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and brokered three Arab-Israeli peace accords — the first in more than a quarter century.
He shipped Javelin antitank missiles to Ukraine, got NATO allies to spend billions more on our common defense, withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and launched a cyberattack on Russia to deter its 2018 electoral interference. He increased defense spending and created the Space Force. He took on China’s predatory trade practices, signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, and sanctioned Beijing for its suppression of the Uighurs. His tariff threats forced Mexico to crack down on illegal immigration, and he freed more Americans from foreign captivity in four years than Obama did in eight.
And he is the first president since Ronald Reagan not to start a new war.
Even his covid-19 response looks a lot better with the mute button on. What has hurt public perception of the president’s pandemic performance is not, primarily, what he has done but what he has said — the jarring fights with reporters during press briefings, stream of consciousness about bleach, reluctance to embrace masking and suggestions the virus will “disappear.”
But what about his actions? He shut down travel with China in January, saving countless lives. He procured nearly 200,000 ventilators and deployed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build $660 million worth of emergency field hospitals across the country, most of which never treated a single patient. He launched Operation Warp Speed to try to produce the fastest delivery of a vaccine for a novel virus in history, as well as lifesaving therapeutics. The Paycheck Protection Program he signed into law has helped American businesses survive the lockdown. And his push to reopen the economy is working, producing record-breaking 7.4 percent GDP growth in the third quarter — a 33.1 percent annualized rate.
There have, of course, also been serious — sometimes shameful — mistakes in policy, including family separations at the U.S. border; his aborted invitation of the Taliban to Camp David; withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria and giving Turkey a green light to invade and attack our Kurdish allies; asking the president of Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden, among others. And of course, we cannot simply ignore his words. His noxious tweets and offensive rhetoric have driven away voters who might otherwise be supporting him next Tuesday.
But as troubling as some of Trump’s words are, his actions matter more. And by that standard, the Trump presidency is among the best of my lifetime — with the mute button on.
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