It is fascinating to see how reactions to President Donald Trump tend to drive us apart. There are many people for whom I have great respect who absolutely abhor the man. Some seem to regard him as the incarnation of evil. There are others who support him and are willing to overlook his all too obvious faults.
What do I think of Trump?
I must admit that I had no opinion about him at all until he burst upon the national political scene. I never watched any of his television programs, so I had no impression of him from that arena. I remember being aware of his questions about President Obama’s birth and citizenship, and I thought that was an ignorant and foolish position on Trump’s part. Otherwise, I did not think of the man as either good or bad. Certainly, I did not think of him as a future President.
When Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the Presidency in 2016, I did not believe that he had a chance of winning the Republican nomination. My personal favorites were Kasich and Rubio. Trump’s apparent arrogance bothered me, as did his often vicious attacks on other, more traditional Republican candidates and politicians. Trump’s mannerisms, the tilt of his head and the thrust of his jaw, reminded me of the dictator Benito Mussolini. Nevertheless, some of Trump’s ideas for improving America’s business climate appealed to me. More than anything, I wanted Hilary Clinton to lose. It seemed apparent that she would be the standard bearer for the Democratic Party.
When Trump won the Republican Presidential nomination I was on the horns of a dilemma. Hilary Clinton was anathema. Also, though a former Democrat, I felt that the party had abandoned traditionalists like me and embraced a mish-mash of socialistic, liberal humanism. Like most fellow Christian Evangelicals, I now leaned Republican. On the other hand, Trump was a dangerous unknown.
In one of his commentaries, radio host Denis Prager described my political thinking perfectly. He said that one should imagine going down a hall and seeing two doors. One door is labeled “Man Eating Tiger!” The other door is labeled “Maybe, Man Eating Tiger.” Which door should you open? Prager made it obvious that he believed that a Hilary Clinton administration would be a lethal. He was not certain about Donald Trump. Like Prager, I chose the “Maybe.”
Trump’s administration has been a confusing mixture of progress and chaos. The economic turnaround has been amazing. The combination of lower taxes and fewer restrictive regulations has been a boon to business. Unemployment rates among all classes have reached historically low levels – especially among blacks and Hispanics. For the first time in more than a decade wages are beginning to rise. Some manufacturing jobs, previously thought to be forever lost, are beginning to come back.
Trump has also made progress in restoring some balance to our foreign trade. For decades I have been disturbed about the destructive effects of so-called “free trade. I could see the deleterious effects of our trade policies on the faces of unemployed mill workers in the American South and former auto and steel workers in the Midwest. (See my August 13 post on Free Trade.) No one in Washington appeared to be concerned. Now, with Trump’s leadership, more favorable trade agreements have been negotiated with several nations, and positive steps are being taken to address our destructive trade imbalance with China. A full blown trade war with China is possible, and it could have a severe impact on certain sectors of our nation’s economy, but I believe that equitable trade arrangements with China can be achieved and are necessary. Trump seems determined to achieve his stated “fair trade” goals, but progress in this area will require patience and perseverance.
I have been equally pleased with President Trump’s appointments to the Federal courts. It appears he is choosing judges and justices who believe in interpreting the law as written rather than as they think it should have been written. I pray that henceforth we will leave it to our legislators to rewrite laws.
On the negative side, we have failed to adequately address the health insurance needs of many citizens, and we have not been able to develop a comprehensive, rational, and humane solution to the immigration problem. These failures are not entirely Trump’s fault, but he bears part of the responsibility for the lack of progress in these areas.
Foreign affairs have been a mixture of pluses and minuses. The Trump administration’s war against the most dangerous pockets of Islam extremists has been largely successful. Our nation has drawn a line against over aggressive moves by China and Russia, and thus far it appears to be holding. We have made tentative strides toward resolving the long-time conflict with North Korea. All these things appear to be good, but at the same time Trump’s undiplomatic fulminations have led to stresses in our relationships with old allies, and many former State Department and intelligence strategists are horrified. They cannot understand the President’s often confusing combination of bellicose, alarming statements with his mostly rational actions. Many difficult situations remain to be resolved, especially in the Middle East, so the jury is very much out the overall impact of Trump on our foreign relations.
There are two looming crises that have been almost entirely neglected by the Trump administration:
One crisis relates to the growing national debt – over 20 trillion and growing. The tax cuts and increased defense spending have added to the deficit, but the root problem lies with entitlements and our aging population. No one seems willing to propose a workable solution to the debt problem, and even a hint of proposed changes to entitlement programs such as social security and medicare provokes a firestorm. Remember the image of Paul Ryan pushing the wheelchair bound woman over the cliff? Democrats are merciless in their criticisms of any Republican who suggests reforms, but they are entirely bereft of solutions themselves. Contrary to some leftist commentators, slashing military spending and cutting other discretionary spending to the bone would not suffice to correct our fiscal imbalance, and soaking the rich would not make up the difference. Meanwhile, the debt continues to grow, and someday the interest on that national debt could be unsustainable. Trump knows it, but he also knows that aggressively addressing the issue would be political suicide.
The other crisis relates to climate change. Trump withdrew our nation from the Paris Accords and apparently wishes to go it alone in his approach to the climate problem. I understand his decision about the accords. Our adherence would have put us at a severe competitive disadvantage with China and some other nations and might have caused irreparable harm to the American economy. Also, many seriously doubt that the accords will do that much good. After withdrawal, Trump horrified those most concerned about climate change by ramping up production of fossil fuels, including coal. Through this combination of new government policies and new technology, we are erasing our dependence on foreign oil and becoming energy independent. But what about the long-range environmental impact? Climate change is real, although their remains much debate about the speed and severity of its impact and what can be done about it. At this moment, it does not appear to be on President Trump’s radar.
Evaluating the presidency of Donald Trump based on his first twenty-two months in office is difficult. After some fitful starts, he has assembled an excellent team around him. Several of his cabinet appointments, including Secretary of State Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mattis, appear to be truly top notch. His relationship with the Justice Department, however, is an absolute disaster. Who knows when that situation will be resolved? Looking at the administration as a whole, however, it seems to be performing reasonably well.
The Muller investigation looms in the background. For the purpose of this evaluation, I assume that nothing serious will come of it. I believe that it would be obvious by now if there were any real evidence of collusion with Russia by Trump or his surrogates. I have seen no such evidence.
Trump’s chief handicap would seem to be his personality. He comes across as arrogant, petty, mean, and often unpresidential. Based on the testimony of people who know him well, perhaps that is a false portrait. One on one, he evidently can be warm and charming to those he wants to charm. Despite his two divorces and past womanizing, he has a loving and supportive family composed of persons who seem to be of good character. He is apparently loyal to his friends. Conversely, Trump is sometimes crude, rude, and extremely offensive in his attacks on opponents. His treatment of the late John McCain is an example of his boorishness. Trump often fails to keep quiet when he should, and he frequently gets himself into trouble with foolish words and tweets. He has a quick and vicious temper and does not take criticism well.
What is my overall assessment of Trump as President?
He is a very energetic man who is capable of achieving great things. His successes in improving the American economy have been amazing, and I can think no other person who could have done so much. Also, I very much approve his work on foreign trade. It is something that should have been addressed years ago, but we finally have a President who has the nerve to tackle the problem. I wish him every success in that area. He has also worked to strengthen the American military in the face of serious external threats. His court appointments appear to be excellent.
My greatest concern with Trump is in the area of personal conduct. Petty words and actions on his part serve to divide the American people. We were already split along ideological lines, and Trump fans the flames of partisan discord. Unfortunately, those who oppose him are often no better than he is. Many members of the media have abandoned any pretense of fair reporting, and some Democratic Party notables have gone so far as to approve of liberal mobs harassing Trump supporters in their homes and public places. Very few of our leaders take the moral high ground. It is a volatile and dangerous situation.
I do not agree with those who see Trump as a Hitler-like figure who wishes to establish a dictatorship. I also do not think him to be a racist or a militarist. If he hired a top-notch speech writer, stopped extemporizing and followed the script, turned in his cell phone, and demonstrated more genuine compassion, I think he could be a truly great President.