Trump has spent much of that period railing against his loss. From hours after the polls closed to this very weekend, he has insisted to anyone who would listen that he, not President-elect Joe Biden, won the 2020 contest, which he didn’t. The only moments at which he has offered any concessions to reality on that point were ones in which his obstinance risked amplifying violence, as when he acknowledged that he would leave office Wednesday only after a violent mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 under the deluded belief that Trump hadn’t actually lost.
His single-minded focus on averting the historical brand of “loser” has exacerbated a slew of problems that have marked his final year in office. Since the beginning of 2020, the country has stumbled in a number of ways and, since the election, Trump’s presidency has all but collapsed.
The average number of deaths each day from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has surged, with no effort from Trump to slow the virus’s spread and the rollout of vaccines hobbled by problems at the federal and state levels. Trump’s average approval rating, as measured by FiveThirtyEight, has plunged, with more than 6 in 10 Americans now viewing his presidency negatively. The debt, a hobbyhorse of Trump’s on the campaign trail, has continued to rise as the number of people filing new unemployment claims each week has started to climb back up.
Again, though, each of these — except for Trump’s job approval — is simply continuing a grim trend.
For example, it’s almost certainly the case that more Americans died last year than at any other point in U.S. history. Part of this is simply a function of increased population. But the main driver of that increase was the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s clearly the case that some deaths were unavoidable. But given that the Trump administration last spring estimated that the upper limit of the death toll would be about 240,000 with mitigation, even by its own standard, the administration failed.
Despite that, Trump’s approval ratings were largely static. He received strong support from Republicans even as Democrats and most independents viewed him skeptically. Although his approval ratings were never good, they were at least consistent. In Gallup polling, President Barack Obama averaged 47 percent approval for his second term. In FiveThirtyEight’s averages, Trump was generally around 41 percent.
But then the violence at the Capitol occurred, after which Trump’s approval rating plunged. In Gallup’s polling, his final approval rating was tied with Jimmy Carter’s, a president whom Trump would often disparage.
How did Trump maintain the loyalty of Republican voters during his presidency? Well, one factor was that he said untrue things constantly. In his final year, as he sought reelection, Trump’s false statements and lies surged.
Those data are only through Nov. 5 — meaning that they don’t even capture the deluge of nonsense Trump offered during the post-election period.
Another of Trump’s criticisms of his predecessor was the increase in the federal debt under Obama. In three of Trump’s four years in office, though, the federal debt grew more than it did in Obama’s final year. That includes last year’s surge, a function of efforts to contain the economic damage from the pandemic.
More worrisome is the shift in employment. Again driven by the pandemic, the employment rate plunged in Trump’s last year in office. He will leave office with fewer Americans working than when he arrived, a modern record.
Again, this was largely — but not entirely — caused by the pandemic. Even before the pandemic emerged, employment in industries Trump had promised to revive had stalled. In both manufacturing and coal mining, job growth was flat or down in Trump’s third year in office. In the fourth, it plunged.
The number of people out of work surged over Trump’s fourth year in office, with the number of people permanently out of work (as opposed to those temporarily laid off) increasing by more than 2 million. And again, the number of people filing for unemployment started increasing again about the time of the election.
One of the measures Trump has used to tout his economic success has been market prices. Despite the pandemic, both the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 gained value during Trump’s final year. But the percentage increases were the second-worst of his presidency.
Trump will leave office Wednesday with most Americans happy to see him go and with his approval rating slipping after he encouraged Americans to believe the lie that he’d won the election. He will leave with fewer Americans working than when he entered and with 400,000 Americans having died of covid-19. He’ll leave after having promised that he would revive traditional industries but with those industries having contracted and with the economy again seeming to slip backward.
There is, of course, another metric on which Trump has established a historic standard in recent days.
Before the past 12 months, Trump’s presidency probably would have been viewed relatively poorly. After the last year and, in particular, the past two months, his legacy will probably be far worse.