Donald Trump was, in my opinion, our best president since Ronald Reagan, rather easily. His achievements are impressive: the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the biggest and most successful deregulatory effort ever, improved trade deals, record low unemployment, substantial wage growth for middle-class and working-class families for the first time in decades, encouraging development of oil and gas resources, pushing back against political correctness, critical race theory, and so on. And in the end, Operation Warp Speed, lowering regulatory barriers to accelerate development of covid vaccines in record time.
Trump’s foreign policy record was equally impressive: standing up to both China and Russia, reinvigorating NATO, destroying ISIS, treating Israel as an ally rather than a pariah, and going a long way toward bringing peace to the Middle East. All while successfully avoiding military action overseas.
Trump’s accomplishments are even more remarkable, given the unremitting hostility and obstructionism to which he was subjected from the day he took office. The centerpiece, of course, was the Russia collusion hoax, which was paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign, adopted by the FBI and other government agencies, and institutionalized in the form of a special counsel. No president has ever been subjected to anything similar, let alone on such a flimsy basis.
But that wasn’t all: apart from the Russia hoax–supplemented, one should note, by the Ukraine kerfuffle and the Democrats’ comic-opera impeachments–Trump faced not just opposition, but non-stop hate, from the press, Big Tech and big business generally, academia, Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry, the public schools, almost all of the federal bureaucracy (including the bureaucrat/”expert” D.C. revolving door), the China Lobby, and–to sum up–the rest of the Swamp.
Why did Trump succeed as often as he did in the face of such relentless, and often crazed, opposition? Because he represented the American people, and his policies made sense. When Trump said “America first,” the establishment swooned in horror. Most people, on the other hand, thought it sounded like the president’s job description. It is a sign of the times that a presidential candidate’s vow to defend the American people, and advance America’s interests, was seen by many as radical.
And yet, in the end the Swamp won. There are two reasons why, I think. The first is the Wuhan virus. For the Democrats, it was manna from Heaven–bad news, when for years the news had been overwhelmingly good. The disease presented endless opportunities for demagoguery, and the Democrats took advantage of all of them. Most fundamentally, covid, or the resulting shutdowns, deprived Trump of the ability to run on the most successful of all re-election platforms: peace and prosperity.
The second reason lies in Trump’s personality. Like a hero of classical tragedy, he was brought down largely by his own character flaws. It is fine to say that Trump was a fighter and couldn’t have gotten where he did without being willing to battle the press and, to repeat, the Democrats. But he made too many mistakes, and his combativeness came across to too many voters as belligerence and egomania. That was what sank him in the end.
The contrast with Reagan is instructive, I think. Like Trump, Reagan was detested by the Democrats and most of the establishment. Until Trump came along, I thought we would never see another president subjected to such unremitting hate. Also like Trump, Reagan’s first-term policies proved highly successful. To be fair, Reagan’s successes were arguably more spectacular, since he started with the country in a deeper hole with respect to both the economy and foreign policy. And Reagan didn’t have to cope with an epidemic that derailed economic growth.
But still: when Reagan ran for re-election in 1984, he won in one of the biggest landslides in history, carrying 49 states. Democrats called Reagan the “Teflon president,” their way of complaining that their attacks didn’t stick. In fact, they failed spectacularly. A big part of the reason was Reagan’s character. His equanimity never failed. His patent reasonableness put the Democrats’ hysterical attacks to shame. It was apparent to most voters that he was simply a better man, and one more in tune with their values, than those who sought to tear him down. In the end, vulnerable as the Democrats were last year, and unattractive as their candidates were, most voters didn’t draw the same conclusion about Donald Trump.
So, to sum up, I give Trump a B+. He did an excellent job for the American people, and kept his promises to a remarkable degree, given a total lack of cooperation from political rivals. But in the end the Swamp won, and Trump bears some of the blame for his own downfall.