Expecting Progressive Trump was a reasonable assumption. Trump supported the 2009 stimulus, the auto bailouts and the bank bailouts. He'd recently left the Democratic Party and had raised a ton of money for the Clintons, Nancy Pelosi and Charles E. Schumer. He'd supported single-payer health coverage, tax increases and even Planned Parenthood.
He was a New York liberal who had conquered the Republican Party in part by promising a good Supreme Court nomination. That was the most I allowed myself to hope for when he won.
The nomination of Neil M. Gorsuch to fill the vacancy of Antonin Scalia more than fulfilled that promise. Gorsuch isn't a John Roberts, David Souter or Anthony Kennedy, to name three disappointing justices appointed by the three previous Republican presidents, but a brilliant legal mind with tremendous writing ability and persuasive powers.
Trump critics, particularly those on the right, like to mock Trump voters with the phrase "But Gorsuch!" It's their way of saying that Gorsuch is the only good thing Trump has done and that a Trump presidency is not worth the rest. Except Gorsuch is not even close to the only good thing Trump has done.
He has appointed 12 outstanding federal appellate judges — a record number for a president in his first year. By comparison, President Barack Obama had only three in his first year.
In early June, Trump announced the U.S. departure from the Paris climate accord, an agreement that would have had virtually no impact on future temperatures but would have come at a large cost in the growth of government and control over the economy. Since Obama never ran the treaty through the Senate, it was nonbinding, but the federal bureaucracy was working to implement it with new regulations on U.S. businesses. Critics on the right say Trump just does what other Republican candidates would have done. Yet the previous Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, lobbied Trump to stay in the global agreement.
The Clean Power Plan, which gave the Environmental Protection Agency unprecedented authority over states and businesses and was on track to be the most expensive regulation in history, is under review. For the 2017 fiscal year, Trump revoked 22 regulations for each new regulation that was issued. His chief regulatory officer, Neomi Rao, said the administration would continue the pace of deregulation through 2018, announcing 448 deregulatory actions and 131 regulatory actions.
It took a while for Capitol Hill to get used to working with Trump, but by the end of the year, lawmakers had passed the largest corporate tax reform in U.S. history and secured tax cuts for the vast majority of Americans.
Businesses are responding to the deregulation and historic corporate tax reform by loosening purse strings and investing in plants, equipment and factories. Pepco, a power utility that serves the Mid-Atlantic region, just announced it's lowering everyone's electric bills as a result of the savings from corporate tax reform.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is restoring due process to college campuses by rescinding Obama-era guidelines that made the mistake of encouraging college administrators to adjudicate serious crimes such as sexual assaults.
Trump's foreign policy could be more restrained, but it's far less interventionist than that of any of his recent predecessors, focused on national interest over nation-building or other less pressing and more expensive concerns. By trusting his military leaders to make quick decisions on the battlefield, in contrast to Obama's desire to placate Iran and micromanage trivial moves such as helicopter deployments, Trump is crushing the Islamic State. Sanctions and other nonmilitary efforts are being used to keep North Korea at bay after the failure of denuclearization as practiced by presidents since Bill Clinton.
Trump is not normal, his critics keep saying. Sometimes that's a plus. He recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel more than two decades after the Senate passed legislation requiring it, and after two decades of presidents signing waivers every six months to avoid it. More recently, he froze funding for Pakistan until it stops harboring terrorists.
Like most people, I don't particularly like Trump's rhetorical style, juvenile insults and intemperate disposition — on full display in recent days. At the same time, having followed his career for decades, I am not surprised that he wakes up each morning as Donald Trump.
And that boorish attitude has come in handy after decades of media bullying of conservatives. Ironically, the very lack of conservative bona fides that worried me two years ago means he's less beholden to a conservative establishment that had grown alienated from the people it is supposed to serve and from the principles it ostensibly exists to promote. His surprising conservatism might also be the result of the absolutism and extremism of his critics, whether among the media, traditional Democratic activists or the anti-Trump right. If Trump were ever inclined to indulge his liberal tendencies after winning the election, the stridency and spite of his opponents have provided him with no incentives to do so.
My expectations were low — so low that he could have met them by simply not being President Hillary Clinton. But a year into this presidency, he's exceeded those expectations by quite a bit. I'm thrilled.