Donald Trump campaigned on a platform of “Making America Great Again”. Simply uttering this phrase draws wildly different reactions from different demographics. This duality essentially highlights his presidency and the political climate of the last four years and serves as a good foundation to evaluate his term as a whole and the legacy he leaves behind. Certainly, in light of the events of the last year, and even the last few weeks, this evaluation is much different than what it would have been in 2019 or early 2020. Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump’s approval rating has steadily declined, with an even sharper plummet in the months since the election.
The nation’s 45th president broke several of the promises he made on the campaign trail as well. However, that isn’t to say that he was completely ineffective as a commander in chief. Nevertheless, his term is scarred and stained by the deep ideological divide that was widened during his term, which ultimately leads me to give him a C-.
Over the last year, the international community has suffered at the hands of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while normalcy has not yet been restored to much of the world, one country stands out from the rest in terms of the virus’ impact. As of writing this, the United States accounts for roughly a quarter of the world’s COVID-19 cases and has killed 400 thousand Americans. The White House’s response to the pandemic has been disjointed from the beginning, with Trump downplaying its risks, and going against CDC recommended mask guidelines. This bolstered an already skeptical voter base and sparked dissent over the need to wear them. However, credit must be given to him and Operation Warp Speed, which pumped funding into vaccine research and accelerated its development. At the end of his presidency, only 38% of Americans approved of his response to the pandemic.
2020 also brought mass civil unrest in the United States, with the killing of George Floyd at the hands of officers of the Minneapolis Police Department. The protests and riots that followed sparked a greater conversation in America about systemic racism. However, Trump avoided speaking about the roots of these protests, choosing instead to call protestors “thugs” and characterizing the Black Lives Matter movement as extremist. In general, Trump did much to exacerbate already tense race relations in this country and did little to compromise and understand the protestors.
In my opinion, these were the largest failures of the Trump presidency. This list is not absolute, however. For example, during his tenure, Trump has made tens of thousands of false or misleading statements. He frequently demonizes those who disagree with him, even dismissing members of his cabinet or executive council, leading to a much higher rate of turnover than has been seen in years past. He failed to conceive and pass a viable replacement for the Affordable Care Act. He also increased the national debt by 8 trillion dollars, something he swore to eliminate in only 8 years in office. He also continued and did little to curb the family separation policies at the border. He also perpetuated a lie that the election was fraudulent, and refused to concede. The list can go on, however, some of Trump’s achievements must also be noted.
The most consequential impact Trump had over his term was strengthening the economy. Before the pandemic, the United States entered its 11th year of economic expansion, which was the longest such period in its history. While it would be naive to suggest that Trump created this strong economy on his own, he certainly took steps to strengthen it and continue a positive trajectory. Additionally, undoubtedly, President Biden will also inherit a much stronger and more stable Middle East than was given to Trump in 2017. The Islamic State and other similar non-state actors, such as Hezbollah have all but been eradicated, Qassem Soleimani was killed, and the United States did not participate or escalate any additional conflicts in the region.
The Trump presidency, if anything was eventful. While 45 made strides in areas such as the Middle East and the economy, many of these efforts have been washed away and marred by the divisive nature of his rhetoric, failure to reach across the aisle, and his handling of events over the last year of his presidency. His actions during the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter Protests, and the months following the election greatly contribute to the decline in his approval ratings this last year and have justifiably defined and hijacked the overall legacy of his presidency.