A year has passed since Donald Trump became president. 365 days is enough time to assess his presidency and his accomplishments.
On Inauguration Day, he promised that he would bring back jobs, borders, wealth, and fix our infrastructure. “We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American.” America first.
His speech described a dark vision of America and the “carnage” we were suffering. None of which was true. The economy was doing relatively well and employment was high. Yet he uttered one of the most arrogant statements ever pronounced in our constitutional republic: “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” Of course, that was a lie, a big one.
So, what is the scorecard?
The first positive is his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. While Gorsuch’s record is yet to be seen, he would fall on the conservative side of the bench of jurists who believe in the primacy of the Constitution. The Administration has also nominated 12 judges to the circuit courts. I am not a fan of “the-Constitution-is-whatever-we-want-it-to-be” doctrine (aka, the “living Constitution”), so this would be a big positive for the country.
The reduction of the corporate income tax (from 35% to 21%) will be a big plus for the economy. However you may think the economy works, the less money government takes from businesses—you know, the guys who create jobs and satisfy consumer needs—the better off we will all be.
Another potential positive is a special 12% tax on corporations’ foreign cash reserves. The idea is that if you incentivize multinationals to repatriate cash reserves with a low tax rate, the money will rush in and be used to boost business. This remains to be seen. There is no shortage of capital here now, and if business opportunities were better here than in other countries, companies would already be expanding here. I expect a very modest repatriation with funds going to stock buybacks, dividends, and acquisitions.
Individual Income Tax Reform
This one is a mixed bag. Middle and lower income tax payers will pay less taxes. The upper 25% income folks who pay 70% of all income taxes will pay more. Like all tax “reform” bills, this one is just as complex after running the political gauntlet in Congress.
While there is a lot of moaning from taxpayers who enjoyed the benefits of the deduction of state taxes against federal income taxes, it levels the playing field and may even force California and New York to reduce their tax burden on their citizens.
Buried in the tax bill was the repeal of the Obamacare mandate which forces those who do not wish to buy health insurance to pay a penalty. I don’t think that any politician Republican or Democrat believes that Obamacare has been nothing but a disaster for health care as most Americans find their insurance bills skyrocketing. But it didn’t stop a shameless Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer from claiming that people will die because of the tax reform bill.
Regulatory reform will only help the economy and create jobs. One of the major drags on business is regulatory burden. While tax reform is a good thing, cutting regulations is just as important. If you examine each regulation, each alone may seem reasonable, but it is the totality of regulation that is the problem. Trump issued an executive order requiring the removal of two regulations for every new one. So far, his record is better than other presidents in reducing red tape.
He cannot take credit for an improving economy since the forces that drive growth were already in play for several years.
The first thing to come to mind is his promise to revive the coal industry. I feel sorry for those coal country supporters who may have thought a president could make it so. Coal is a dying industry and, unless there is some technological breakthrough for clean, efficient, cheaper coal, nothing Trump could do will change that. And, so far, nothing has been done.
Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a comprehensive trade deal with Pacific Rim nations which lowers barriers to trade and investment among the 12 (now 11) countries. The idea was to establish a large trade bloc of which China was not a part. Trump still has no idea of the workings of foreign trade. To him it’s a win-lose situation when in fact it is a win-win for all parties involved, especially for us Americans. Now it appears that NAFTA (Canada, Mexico, and U.S.) may be in jeopardy. The history of NAFTA has clearly been a positive for America.
Immigration has been a positive for America. Yet Trump denigrates Mexicans, Muslims, and Dreamers. Trump preyed on the populist anti-immigrant meme that his supporters believe. If one digs a little deeper one would find that the picture Trump paints of immigrants, especially Mexicans, to be completely wrong. The worst of his policy is to deny Dreamers a path to citizenship. On any scale of right and wrong these people should be given permanent status.
I’m not going to repeat the facts that I explained before in “Myth of the Infrastructure Cure-all”, but our infrastructure is not crumbling and this is just another pork-barrel spending frenzy that politicians like so they can get their photo in the local papers at a ribbon cutting. The result of any infrastructure program will be lots of intense lobbying from contractors to get fat contracts from the government. This is not the path to economic salvation.
Attorney-General Sessions revoked Obama executive orders to go soft on marijuana prosecution. Sessions, a bible-banger from Alabama, wishes to impose his values on the rest of America. Polls reveal he is on the wrong side of this debate. 28 states now have some form of legalization.
In terms of Trump the president, nothing much has changed. He remains who he is. He spreads chaos on a daily basis. To save you the trouble of reading Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury, I read it for you. It is a rambling romp through the Trump White House, but it doesn’t tell us anything new. As the Wall Street Journal put it:
Everyone knew Mr. Trump was surprised to win the election, that he then tried to run the White House like he had his family business with rival factions and little discipline, and that the place was a chaotic mess until John Kelly arrived as chief of staff. We also knew that Mr. Trump knew almost nothing about government or policy, that he reads very little, and that he is a narcissist obsessed with his critics. Any sentient voter knew this on Election Day.
Mr. Wolff has been criticized for his lack of journalistic integrity. He makes grand generalizations about Mr. Trump, his family members, his advisers, and especially Steve Bannon, Trump’s bomb-thrower-in-chief. While those criticism are accurate, at least according to my read, the overall tone of the book does have a ring of authenticity. It is exactly what one would have expected from Donald Trump, probably the least informed president of modern times. His superficiality is real. And when he has to tell us he’s a genius, you know he’s not one.