In terms of the metrics, this first year of Donald Trump’s presidency has been relatively safe, healthy, and prosperous. The economy is booming. Trump has not gotten us bogged down in any quagmires or misadventures. The North Koreans haven’t “nuked” us—nor has Trump pushed the “button.”
Yet, nobody feels particularly happy about it.
But why? This foreboding sense of anomie and malaise predates Trump, but he is certainly a contributing factor. For almost a full year now, we have been governed by a president who alienates allies, stirs up racial animus and stokes chaos, and is embroiled in a Russia investigation. This takes a toll.
On an almost daily basis, Trump assaults our sense of decency and fosters a notion that America’s political norms are being eroded. These are (so far) mostly intangible feelings, that are hard to quantify. What is the benefit of a nation that is united? What is the cost of a house divided? Are we on the verge of a tipping point when America literally comes apart?
Simultaneously, we should not dismiss the fact that Trump has put points on the board. Former NFL coach Bill Parcells was famous for saying: “You are what your record says you are.” And for the first time all year, this is a quote that Trump can embrace.
The difference, of course, was passage of a tax reform bill that came late in the fourth quarter. This bill (yet to be signed by the president) was a major piece of legislation that significantly cut the corporate tax rate, making America more globally competitive, and also eliminated the individual mandate for purchasing health insurance.
Now, if you’re a liberal, the fact that Trump is accomplishing stated policy goals actually constitutes an argument against him. But Trump’s signature achievements are well within the mainstream of conventional conservative policy goals. That is to say that these are things that a President Rubio or Cruz might have accomplished—if they only had the moxie. Indeed, when it comes to things like moving the embassy to Jerusalem, Trump is actually more likely to do what conventional conservatives have long said they were going to do.
Much of what Trump has done, in terms of rolling back regulations (see the Clean Power Plan)—as well as nominating now-Justice Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court and setting a record for appointing 12 federal appeals judges in his first year)—constitute a legacy that is likely to long outlast the tenure of any president. What is more, unlike his predecessor, Trump sent a decisive message to Syria’s strongman (and the world) that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated. This could potentially disincentive future provocations.
The point here is not to say that Trump has had a fabulous year, or that he is a great president, but it is to say that he has been a consequential president.
Indeed, this year seems to be a tale of two Trumps. On one hand, you have the embarrassing guy who tweets and says things that make us cringe. This is no small thing. The words a president speaks have consequences.
But on the other hand, if you are a mainstream conservative, you have to be pretty happy today with what you found in your Christmas stocking. Expectations for Trump (who, aside from being an eccentric political novice, was also a former Democrat and a Democratic donor) were pretty low. On paper, at least, he has wildly exceeded my expectations.
Republicans made a high-stakes bet that they could coexist with this president and accomplish their goals. For most of the year, this looked like a devil’s bargain that would end in disaster. But as 2017 comes to a close, it looks better.
Of course, a presidency isn’t judged on one year. This has been a season of planting seeds that we may reap later. Will the tax cuts really stimulate growth? Will we look back at Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement in horror? Will the “Trump dossier” turn out to be true?
Stay tuned to this incredibly realistic reality show in 2018 for more.