By Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, J.D.
Founder/ President, G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice
The first year of Donald Trump’s presidency has made an impact in both the U.S. and the globe. While tumultuous and contentious, this first year has provided some indication of this Administration’s strengths and weaknesses. The following summarizes the key roles of the presidency and how Donald Trump has functioned in those roles in his first year:
Chief of Party
The President is the leader of the party from which he was elected. But in a country that has an already polarized electorate, the recent presidential campaign year and election of Donald Trump created further divisions between parties, but also within his own party. For those who support Donald Trump, he has been a strong figure that has stood for Republican issues for the most part. For those who do not support Donald Trump, he has been a highly polarizing and contentious figure. But no matter where one falls on the spectrum, the Trump presidency has not improved or lessened the divide between left and right in America. But this presidency also has shown where there are rifts and challenges within each party.
Racial and gender tensions have also been on the rise in recent years and more so in the past year. Donald Trump’s various statements about women, other people and countries, particularly through his regular tweets, has created a general disdain for his leadership among political detractors but also a general concern about his leadership style from his own party. Some have dismissed his moral failings, citing that no president is perfect. But his rhetoric has opened him to increased scrutiny, particularly by the media.
Since taking office, Donald Trump’s approval rating is at an average of 39%, which is among the lowest among contemporary presidents at this stage of their presidency. Bill Clinton had the previous lowest average at 49%, Barack Obama was at 50%, and George W. Bush had an 83% approval. While these ratings comparisons and contrasts are point in time, they still offer some insight into how the public in general is feeling about this presidency at this stage. While Donald Trump’s presidency still has three years to achieve and gain popularity, he also must be aware of how the current ratings reflect both the general public and his voting base.
Many may consider the President’s principal role to be that of Chief Executive. As a business executive, Donald Trump came to the presidency with executive experience and approach to decision-making. He has remained “executive” in nature as president. And he has not been beholden to either his supporters or detractors whether in the opposition party or his own party.
President Trump’s executive approach has cut through some of DC’s interest politics, and has allowed him to exercise authority in a range of ways without much concern how others may react. However, that same executive approach has raised greater angst among detractors.
As President, Donald Trump also exercises political power through executive orders, without legislative action. He used executive orders to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, cut business regulations, and began construction of two pipelines. But the limit on executive orders is that they cannot provide funding or create new laws which are both the responsibility of Congress. Outside of that limitation, very few other limitations have been placed on his executive authority. As such, he has expanded the role of the presidency and furthered the strength of that role.
One of the more significant roles of the Chief Executive is also appointments, particularly judicial appointments. Among the most significant of President Trump’s accomplishments in the first year was the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. While there was some political discord over his nomination based on the Republicans passing over President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland, Gorsuch was approved as a well-respected and solid addition to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Chief Legislative Leader
As Chief Legislative Leader, Donald Trump has had mixed results. Although the Republicans have had control over both the House and Senate during Donald Trump’s first year as president, they have not made significant gains on the legislative front, most notably on health care legislation. In part because of President Trump’s rhetoric and brash approach to both Democrats and Republicans, major legislative gains were limited for much of the year.
Donald Trump has signed 107 bills into law thus far, by comparison, George W Bush had 118 and Barack Obama 124. But notably, President Trump has pushed through a substantial corporate tax cut that may have significant economic impact for 2018.
President’s Trump’s key agenda item was to repeal and replace President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The ACA offered coverage for a reported 20 million previously uninsured Americans, but had significantly rising premiums for many others. President Trump suspended payments to insurance companies that serve as offsets for payments particularly for the poor and cut also cut funding for signing up for the government-run health exchanges. In the tax bill, Congressional Republicans included a provision that removed the mandate that fined those who did not sign up for coverage. But with political and other disagreements over these measures, neither Trump nor Congress has been successful in repealing or replacing the ACA program.
Both during the election and during his presidency, Donald Trump has made immigration a central concern of his Administration. Throughout his campaign and first year of his presidency, he repeatedly shared his intent on building a border wall paid for by Mexico. But this statement to date has not resulted in legislative action that has been either approved by Congress or by Mexico’s leaders.
President Trump continues to push Congress to change U.S. immigration laws. Ending the visa lottery system and “chain migration” are among those measures. He has also signed two executive memos to strengthen enforcement of existing measures. During his first year, he has increased arrests and raids, tried to stop funding for sanctuary cities, and instituted a refugee ban. In October, he also announced an upcoming end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program which was instituted during the Obama Administration to grant residency status to roughly 700,000 undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children.
While President Trump has taken strong stances on these immigration-related topics, there still is not legislative results related to these stances. An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants continue to live in the U.S. and deportations have not increased. Congress continues to attempt to broker a deal on DACA, which was originally a temporary measure, but now needs a longer-term plan.
Chief Economic Leader
Job growth was among the highest priorities for the Trump Administration’s economic goals. Since Donald Trump took office, the economy has steadily been improving on a trajectory similar to the end of the Obama administration. The jobless rate was 4.1% in October – a 17 year low — and remained there. This puts the labor market at or close to full employment. But what is not reflected in these job rate figures are those who may be taken out of the job markets altogether for various reasons.
But the economy is strengthening in other areas as well. Stock markets have hit record highs (at 28.5% compared to 26.5% under Clinton and 18.8% under Obama), oil prices remain low, consumer and small-business confidence is high, and inflation is low. Retail sales have grown in general though wages have not grown. The recent individual and corporate tax cuts may also have an impact on these economic trends.
Overall the economy continues to move in a positive direction whether by a continuation of previous administrations’ policies, Trump’s policies, or by business confidence in current economic trends nationally and globally.
Diplomacy and foreign policy are in many ways the most difficult of roles for every president, and has proven to be a particular challenge for the Trump administration. Global views about the U.S. and the U.S. leadership have declined under the Trump Administration. Foreign approval ratings have fallen 18% points and are four points below the previous lowest point of – 34% for George W. Bush.
Donald Trump has taken many strong positions on foreign relations that have received support from certain countries, but also created great discord from many others countries. His stance on Israel and relations with Russian President Putin are among the most notable. The investigation on possible Russian interference with the 2016 elections is also a factor for foreign relations.
Many countries and leaders particularly in Europe, Middle East, and Africa have viewed Trump’s policies as disconnected and reckless. Most notably, the challenging dynamics with North Korea has accelerated already tense relations with both that country and with its president/dictator Kim Jong-Un, but also raises global security concerns, particularly nuclear security.
As Commander-in-Chief, President Trump has largely relied on the expertise of U.S. military leaders, and most significantly Defense Secretary James Mattis, for military policy and actions. The U.S. military has been generally effective in the past year on various fronts, and most importantly in the effort to contain ISIS particularly in Iraq. However, the U.S. is still facing a range of regional conflicts and relations with NATO are strained. But at this point in time, it seems that globally there is less of an imminent threat against the U.S. militarily.
As we conclude the year, overall, the Trump Administration has struggled on the domestic and legislative fronts but with some advances in the military and economic fronts. What will measure the success or failing of this presidency at the end of the four years will likely be the degree to which Trump’s policies can outweigh his own rhetoric and media scrutiny to achieve practical results across contentious political divides.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice. We are a faith-based, nonpartisan organization that seeks to extend the conversation about justice with a posture of dignity and respect.