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Reflecting on Trump’s presidency: Policy

20 mins read

A president creates a legacy based on their policy-making decisions and their response to ever-changing events: how do some of Trump’s policies and decisions shape up, and what kind of legacy will he leave?

The measure of an individual is often said to be revealed in their actions, perhaps none more so than the decisions of a world leader. Their responses and approaches to circumstances shows their character, politics, and vision for the future transparently, when their words may betray their real direction and goals.

Let’s investigate the extent of Trump’s success or failures at enacting some of the policies he ran with in the Republican manifesto and how he approached new challenges and changing circumstances in his term. Did he deliver on his promises, as so many of his supporters keep claiming, loudly and with gusto?

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The environment

As a candidate, Trump was incredibly vocal about his belief in climate change as a hoax. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary from a litany of experts worldwide, he is one of a few world leaders who refuses to halt the industrial brakes to reduce emissions, steaming ahead wildly with a egotistical and maniacal selfishness that centralises on having little forethought for the future, at the expense of the planet and its future inhabitants.

America’s highly influential position on the world stage also render these decisions spectacularly bad in that other nations have similarly questioned the notion of climate change, parroting American scepticism. Trump leads by example, inspiring other nations to commit much less of their energy and ethos to drastic change to the extent that is required to undo even the barest modicum of damage. As a candidate prior to his presidency election, Trump expressed a strong belief that the Paris environmental agreements was stifling American growth.

On this front, he has delivered exactly what he promised, despite its disastrous consequences for the future and utter debasement of the scientific research and its empirical process. In the face of contrary advice, Trump powered ahead with America’s withdrawal from the accord. Quitting the Paris deal, signed by nearly 200 countries, is unequivocally a promise kept. The exit officially takes effect November 4, the day after the US election. Trump also rolled back numerous environmental protections, as well as reducing enforcement of existing regulations. He ended the Clean Power Plan, withdrew from the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation as stated, and urged for subsidies to increase fossil fuel production, again calling man-made climate change a hoax, making a complete spectacle of himself within the scientific sphere of influence. The “leader of the free world” denying climate change is a ludicrous notion and set up Trump’s agenda from the beginning, as mad thoughts of Chinese competition clearly spiral through his aged and sociopathic mind.

In terms of legacy, Trump is responsible for a huge backtrack and regression regarding America’s active participation in emission reduction, and passionate commitment to climate change. Eschewing advice from experts makes him popular with other anti-science, anti-establishment groups and individuals who care only for the next 20 years of their life, but can only actively envision the next two, and who has all the hindsight and forethought of someone unable to perceive cause and effect even one year into the future. America’s growing trend of refusing to listen to experts, favouring echo chambers, comes from a staunch anti-government history, with many citizens wary about government restriction into their lives, valuing freedom above all else.

The isolationist stance has far reaching consequences not just for our environment, but places America at a disadvantageous negotiating position if they decide to rejoin the accord. Trump’s leaving is all strength, muscular and “America First”: what about when allies are needed, and collaboration is the order of the day? This decision may have made Trump popular at home, but caused global upset and shock, cementing Trump’s presidency with a controversial beginning and signalling the direction he would be taking from now on. French Prime Minster Macron, amongst many others, told the USA this decision effectively meant they had “turned their back on the world”.

TAKE AWAY: TRUMP DELIVERED ON THIS PROMISE. It’s certainly not hard to simply abandon agreements and overturn environmental regulations if you’re a psychopath, i.e. it took literally no work to achieve. American people are given the message that their leader doesn’t believe in climate change, which reduces credibility of experts and the likelihood that Americans will listen to science overall. He sends a message on the world stage of ‘America First’ no matter the cause, heightening geo-political tensions and straining relationships. He reduces global impetus for reducing climate change and effectively sabotages collaborative attempts, giving American industry the green light to continue status quo. Nice one mate.

Healthcare and repealing Obamacare (the Affordable Healthcare Act)

Unsurprisingly a key aspect of Trump’s running manifesto was to repeal Obamacare. Trump tried to repeal and replace Obamacare, his predecessor’s attempt to extend healthcare to the estimated 15% of the country who are not covered. An even bigger challenge was for him to pull it off without citing totally inaccurate, Big Business patter to scare voters into again not expanding healthcare in the USA. The majority of the world marvels (or SHOULD) at America’s place as a rich, western nation without national healthcare – both from a negative and positive perspective. I’m sure Jacob Rees Mogg and his lads are enamoured with the system in manner of crazed Dickensian villains.

Republicans notoriously hate Obamacare, citing it as the literal death of business and a “job killer”. American’s have been subject to this nonsense take on capitalism for far too long: many American’s fully resent and reject the notion of an NHS for reasons linking to the perception that somehow the government and American employers cannot afford it, and that it will irrevocably cause recessions, joblessness and a breakdown of the system in general. That the government should under no circumstances provide healthcare is a further extension of anti-establishment sentiments. Republicans have helped perpetuate this notion that the Affordable Healthcare Act is an unwarranted intrusion into the affairs of private businesses and individuals.

Republicans have, as of now, been unable to pass a repeal or reform bill.

That said, the Trump administration has managed to dismantle parts of the law. Enrolment periods have been shortened, some subsidies have been axed, and the fine for people who did not purchase health insurance has been eliminated as part of the 2017 tax plan. In December, 2018, a federal judge in Texas ruled that repealing this penalty, an “essential” part of the law, meant the entirety of Obamacare is therefore unconstitutional.

The law, however, remains in place as an appeal heads to the US Supreme Court, with a ruling expected sometime in 2021. Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett could certainly potentially result in the successful repealing of Obamacare, or at least a Supreme Court more willing to entertain the idea that the most vulnerable of individuals shouldn’t have access to basic healthcare. Try typing or saying that without contemplating the inhumanity of the sentiment. While it’s true that of course more government-provided healthcare will incur costs, the American people are in general incredibly avoidant to raising taxes to pay for said medical care. The old “taxation is theft” is still very much alive in the States, and forms, in short, a sort of rudimentary basis for understanding their wariness of the prospect of national health services. This does not apply to everyone, of course.

TAKE AWAY: TRUMP FAILED TO DELIVER ON THIS PROMISE. The entrenched nature of Obamacare and the disparate and patchy options for people with regards to healthcare in the USA are proving to be difficult to navigate. The main point is that even if it’s not achieved, it’s still a goal. A Republican presidency will desire the removal of Obamacare, and will spin it in every possible direction to demonise it to the very people it would assist most. Both Biden and Harris have expressed that the Republicans are “coming for” those on Obamacare. Thank the politics Gods he hasn’t managed to repeal it, as I doubt they will go out their way to replace it.

Few in other countries approve of Trump's major foreign policies, but  Israelis are an exception | Pew Research Center
A breakdown of Trump’s major policies and their popularity globally. Credit: PEW Research Center

The Border Wall paid for by Mexico

Perhaps one of Trump’s most memorable manifesto promises, the border wall dividing Mexico and the United States, left commentators dumbfounded when announced as a serious consideration. I don’t know if ANYONE took this seriously aside from militant Americans that erroneously believe Trump’s hot takes on how Mexicans are responsible for a litany of issues in the States inexplicably. Unfortunately, and to my dismay and surprise, many Americans thought this was a top idea and actively engaged in dialogue discussing logistics about how a wall would work so to speak.

Trump decried illegal immigration from Mexico, alongside drug smuggling, and cast this as one of the most pressing issues facing Americans. It’s a lot easier to blame Mexican people and promise to build a mad wall that appeals to xenophobes and racists alike than to actually address and attempt to solve the very real issues with immigration and drugs that the US faces, amongst a litany of other problems Mexican people have been effectively used as a scapegoat for.

Any calculation of the miles of new wall constructed by Mr Trump and his administration depends very much on the definition of the words “new” and “wall”. Before he took office, there were 654 miles (just over 1,000 km) of barrier along the southern border, made up of 354 miles of barricades to stop pedestrians and 300 miles of anti-vehicle fencing.

Now, according to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in its October 6 status report, the southern border has 669 miles of “primary barrier” – the first structure people heading from Mexico to the US will encounter – and 65 miles of “secondary barrier” – which usually runs behind the primary structure as a further obstacle. This means that in areas where no barricades existed before, they have built 15 miles of new, primary barrier, or “border wall system”, as it is called by CBP.

​​About a further 350 miles of barrier has been built, according to CBP, made up of replacement structures and some new secondary barrier.

More is planned, too, with 378 miles of new and replacement barriers either under construction or in the “pre-construction phase”. Less than half of this will be in locations where no barriers currently exist, according to CBP.

Mexico poured scorn on the claim that it would pay for such a barrier, and even Trump appears to have dropped that absolutely preposterous idea. Democrats are vociferously opposed to a wall, whereas some Republicans have baulked at a bill that could reach $21.5bn (£17bn), according to a Department of Homeland Security internal report.

In December, 2018, the US Government went into shutdown after Democrats resisted Mr Trump’s demands for $5bn to fund the wall. He has since redirected defence and some other funds to build or replace sections of the wall, a decision that has faced legal challenges.

All in all, the wall has been more trouble than it was worth; the fact it was taken seriously and acted upon boggles my mind frankly. The logistical nightmare of building so much wall, especially given that some of the territory is not unoccupied, is sheer lunacy. Why was this allowed? Why did no one stop them? Seriously, this is one of the worst policy ideas I’ve ever heard. Ever. Extortionate, divisive, xenophobic, and lacking in any planning or forethought. The eternal meme that is “we’re gonna build a wall” and its subsequent appearance in our timeline and reality as an actual factual policy is disconcerting.

Donald Trump says Mexico border wall must be see-through to stop 'sacks of  drugs' landing on people's heads | The Independent | The Independent
A section of the Mexican border wall. Image Credit, AP

TAKE AWAY: TRUMP HAS MADE LITTLE PROGRESS WITH THIS POLICY. While some random stretches of wall have been constructed, his confidence with which he asserted building this wall was sorely misplaced. This policy, in my opinion, did little for Americans in practice or theory, and was little more than a distraction to seem like something was being done, while the problems that plague the States continue as ever. What a shocking waste of time, resources, and thought in general. Mr Trump’s proposal that Mexico pay is so outwith the realms of rationality that I seriously doubt any Republican ever expected it to happen. If they did, they seriously need a new career.

Increased military spending

“I’m going to build a military that’s going to be much stronger than it is right now. It’s going to be so strong, nobody’s going to mess with us,” Donald Trump said on the campaign trail in October, 2015.

He promised to reverse defence cuts brought in by President Barack Obama in 2013. “We want to deter, avoid and prevent conflict through our unquestioned military dominance,” he said.

After the Iraq war and the war in Afghanistan, it is unsurprising that Obama reduced military spending after the money poured into it during these conflicts. Trump’s entire mantra is “make America great again”, which apparently consists of an imposing military with spending consistent with almost the expenditure for 2008-2009 in Obama’s administration.

Defence spending has indeed risen steadily throughout the Trump presidency – although overall levels remain below the first years of the Obama administration, reasons for which are explained above.

The defence budget increase sends a message to others on the global stage, and in general America’s “America First” stance is presumably worrying for many countries when co-operation is the order of the day. America is projecting strength, and the will to use it – not to mention the dollars to fund it. This coincides with Trump’s wider strategy, to appease citizens with all the appropriate check-list appetisers that a “strong” nation would possess, primarily a stonking great military presence.

TAKE AWAY: TRUMP HAS DELIVERED ON THIS PROMISE. Mr Trump has successfully made good on his promise to increase defence spending; in light of increasing terror attacks this may be prudent. Funding into other sectors, like education, is clearly not prioritised.

Overall, Trump has managed to deliver on a host of policies to varying degrees – after all, it’s easier to withdraw from agreements that create them with the future in mind. What is perhaps a better question is the type of policies he chose to run with. Most of Trump’s policies are reactionary, insular, and easier to achieve than actually attempting to undertake change. He has succeeded in creating a regressive America, one that values science and expert advice less than it’s predecessors. Trump’s legacy in policy-making is fundamentally one of reactionary, non-progressive merit. The man who suggested Mexico pay for its own wall, the man who took America out of key climate change agreements, and set back progress immeasurably. Trump’s policy legacy may be one of success, but we must ask ourselves questions about the nature of that success, and at what cost it was achieved.

Featured Image Credit: NBC News

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