Trump’s Two Years in Office: Provocations, Achievements, Failures

It was obvious that Donald Trump is an extraordinary figure in US politics from the moment he joined the presidential race. Many of his election slogans were overtly populist, but this was largely what his core voters wanted to hear and they were ultimately enough to secure his victory due to a flaw of the US election system.

Once in office, Trump set about delivering on the majority of his promises. Obviously, almost all of his initiatives were strongly resisted by the Democratic Party and some were opposed even by his fellow Republicans.

The Trump administration has at least two achievements to its name. First, there is tax reform. In December 2017, the Congress approved a bill proposed by the Republicans to reduce the corporate tax rate. Second, there were the Supreme Court nominations of Neil Gorsuch (2017) and Brett Kavanaugh (2018), which cemented Republican dominance on the court for a long time to come, considering that justices are appointed for life. Trump is likely to appoint one more justice considering reports of the declining health of Ruth Bader Ginsburg who was appointed in 1993 by then President Bill Clinton.

These achievements ensure Republican support for Trump, although views of the president are still divided. Under the circumstances, each of Trump’s failures is not just a setback but a serious political defeat.

Many of Trump’s initiatives were blocked for various reasons, for instance, the total ban of Muslims entering the US. The first two versions of the order were rejected by the Supreme Court. The third version was upheld, though many of the tough provisions had been removed. So this promise can only be considered partially fulfilled.

Trump did not succeed, either, in undoing the changes to the healthcare system made by Barack Obama. Initially, Trump planned to repeal Obamacare, which was probably Obama’s signature achievement. After the attempt to overturn the law failed, some amendments were made but its main provisions remained intact.

During his first two years in office Trump was focused on restricting illegal immigration from Latin America. He thought the construction of a wall on the country’s southern border was the solution. But Democratic resistance has blocked the wall, and so in 2018 Trump refused to sign a Senate-approved spending bill without border wall money. The dispute between the White House and Congress over this issue triggered the most recent shutdown of the US government on December 22, 2018. The majority of federal workers were placed on indefinite unpaid leave that will end with the passage of a federal budget. The current shutdown is already the longest in history. Apparently, Trump is unwilling to agree to any compromise and could even declare a national emergency to gain additional powers, including the authority to redistribute federal funds.

It should be noted that over the past two years Trump’s policies have only further divided US society. While in 2016 the Republicans had a majority in both chambers of Congress, Democrats won control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections. This change in the balance of government will allow the Democrats to exert more pressure on the White House.

The continued investigation into Trump’s alleged ties with Russia is playing no small role in his policy decisions. During the election campaign, a number of politicians hoped that this investigation would allow them to declare the election illegitimate, and later it provided Trumps’ opponents with a long-term source of pressure on the administration. Judging by what media have reported, there are no serious grounds to begin impeachment proceedings although the investigation is doing serious damage to Trump’s reputation.

The election campaign of 2020 has already got underway. By early 2019, many Democrats who want to run in the 2020 elections had already declared their candidacies. Obviously, Trump intends to run for reelection. His success will depend on his ability to push through his initiatives in the face of Democratic resistance.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.