Controversy surrounded President Donald Trump since he announced his candidacy in 2015. Few expected Trump, a candidate who had more ties to Democrats than to Republicans, to win the Republican nomination for president, let alone the general election. Yet here we are at the end of his first year, during which not a whole lot has really changed. Perhaps the most unusual thing about Trump’s presidency is that people are pretending that something new is going on.
Almost every campaign promise Trump made has not come to fruition. The only notable piece of legislation in this first year has been a tax bill that passes the Senate 51-49. Minor outrage surrounds the new law; it did not have a single Democratic vote. But nothing new is happening. Those who decry the lack of Democratic support for the new law seem to forget that the Affordable Care Act passed without a single Republican vote.
This tax bill already shows a predictable pattern playing out. The party opposite the incumbent party wins the White House and both houses of congress. During the first term the ruling party’s agenda passes without too much opposition. The majority party loses influence in the midterm, following general election (where the incumbent is re-elected), and subsequent midterm. In the next general election, executive and legislative power change hands and the cycle repeats.
But legislation is not a role of the president. The president is the chief executive and the commander-in-chief. Foreign policy is the most important work of the president. Unfortunately, not much has changed under Trump.
Under President George W. Bush, America was committed – and in some respects overcommitted – to helping foreign allies and some less than good dictatorial regimes, which we tend to prefer over nations ruled by terrorists. Under President Barack Obama, our military was cut, while many commitments were not. Obama made an effort to “lead from behind,” whatever that means. Putin saw the green light and took Crimea, and notwithstanding talk of “red lines,” American took no action in Syria after the Russian-backed Assad regime used chemical weapons on its own citizens. China saw the same green light Russia did and built large military bases on Pacific islands (some of which China actually built) to expand their maritime territory claims and influence.
Now we have Trump. One promising development came recently when Trump decided to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – our most valuable ally in the Middle East. Hopefully Russia and China will take notice of some degree of American resolve, but that remains to be seen.
But don’t get too excited. Tensions with North Korea that received media attention over the summer may be further back in Americans’ minds, but we aren’t really any closer to a solution. Meanwhile, American military units are still overcommitted and undertrained. Recently, two Burke class destroyers (the USS McCain and the USS Fitzgerald), which are supposed to be fast and maneuverable, collided with lumbering cargo ships. That these two vessels are supposed to serve as a primary defense against North Korean aggression is a bit unsettling. As we determine how to prevent these accidents, we must recognize that these incidents reflect some attrition of military readiness and capability. Unfortunately, our military still is and will continue to be over-stretched and under-trained.
Let’s be honest. Trump’s “movement” is and was one built on bitterness and anger rather than charity and optimism. It is not even authentically conservative. He speaks lightly and irresponsibly about serious matters, like harassment and nuclear weapons. But despite his bigger mouth, he is not appreciably different than other establishment politicians of questionable character in our recent history.
He has been credibly accused of serious sexual misconduct, but is unfortunately unlikely to be removed from office, since a past president, also credibly accused of sexual harassment and even rape, somehow remained in office. Ironically, Trump defeated the wife and enabler of this past president in the general election.
Little seems to be changing in terms of political horse-trading, foreign policy, or accountability. The media will continue to focus on the presidential idiot’s tweets and tabloid-worthy gossip rather than important matters that will shape our world. In the meantime, maybe congress can be smart enough to use the lack of actual political awareness to actually get something done for a change. It’s possible, but unfortunately not likely. We deserve better and we’re settling. But that’s nothing new.