“I Alone Can Fix It” - Reviewing President Trump’s Performance, Part I

“I Alone Can Fix It” - Reviewing President Trump’s Performance, Part I

On this final night of the convention, Donald Trump accepts the party's nomination for President of the United States. (ABC/ Ida Mae Astute) Attribution - NoDerivs 2.0 generic license, via Flickr

On this final night of the convention, Donald Trump accepts the party's nomination for President of the United States. (ABC/ Ida Mae Astute) Attribution - NoDerivs 2.0 generic license, via Flickr

Corey Uhden, Politics Contributor

PINION - While July 20, 2017 marked six months since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the next day also marked one year since he accepted the Republican nomination for the position he now holds. From the convention stage in Cleveland, Ohio, Trump thundered, “nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” With that in mind, here is President Trump’s performance review so far. Part I will focus on the substantive accomplishments of the nascent Trump presidency. Part II will assess where, and why, the president has fallen short of his promises. 

On January 20, 2017, the freshly-inaugurated president delivered a populist address pledging to repurpose the federal government to serve “the forgotten men and women” of America. Like his predecessor, his presidency began with a flurry of executive orders but unlike presidents Bush and Obama, a glacial pace on submitting nominees to be confirmed by the Senate. Eventually, he and Vice President Mike Pence managed to form a full cabinet with members such as Defense Secretary James Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley proving standouts as public servants. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and Health and Human Service Secretary Tom Price seem to work well within their departments while Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have clashed with theirs. Trump, however, promised to “drain the swamp” and to quote his senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, “if nobody’s disagreeing with what you’re doing, then you’re probably not doing anything that matters in the scheme of things.” 

Clashes with federal bureaucracy were inevitable even before senior strategist Steve Bannon outlined his vision as “deconstruction of the administrative state” and the White House unveiled a budget proposal that significantly reduced future spending on most agencies. Surprisingly, the president has shown the most disdain for the most Trump-like member of the cabinet, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a sign of fallout from the president’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey and the subsequent appointment of a special counsel to oversee Russian involvement in the 2016 election and related matters. The White House has also turned into a family affair with Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, serving in a senior advisory role and son-in-law Jared Kushner taking on a substantial load of responsibilities including overseeing an innovation and technology board and negotiating peace deals in the Middle East. 

From the second day in office, it was clear this would be no ordinary presidency. Trump had used twitter to control the news cycle as a candidate and continues to control the news in much the same way still. Before Trump took office, the presidency had already become the center of political coverage, but Trump’s streaming of his conscience for all the world to see has made it especially difficult for hostile news outlets to ignore. Their hostility has only been met by the self-described “counter-puncher” in chief that has declared their reporting “fake news,” and dubbed press outlets “the enemy of the American people.” Hand-wringing over tweets as an assault on the First Amendment aside, the media has been quite unfavorable in their coverage. As fellow Politics Contributor Eric Lendrum has documented, CNN, in particular, has become something of a leader in obsessing over Trump’s behavior. The result is the president has maintained very low approval ratings overall while scoring very well with his supporters and remaining extremely popular among Republicans. This fight over perceptions results in a “soup,” as Dilbert creator Scott Adams calls it, in which the impact of every scandal is obscured and diminished by the next. 

Still, what the president does matters. The daily deluge of pessimistic coverage of the Trump presidency has a tendency to obscure the lasting reforms he has pursued. For example, President Trump streamlined approval of both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines and a ‘Trump bump’ in confidence among investors has fueled the stock market to record highs. He imposed a temporary travel ban on six countries plagued by terrorism and civil wars. While it faced numerous court challenges, the Supreme Court has allowed further implementation while the justices will ultimately review the underlying constitutionality of the order during the next term. On his signature issue, enforcing laws against illegal immigration and building a wall on the southern border with Mexico, Congress has begun allocating funds for the wall, deportations have increased substantially, and the inflow of illegal immigrants has been reduced to a level that one Border Patrol union chief says is “nothing short of a miracle.”

Furthermore, President Trump announced the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. He loosened the previous administration's control over military operations against the Islamic State and fast-tracked an arms sale that will make Saudi Arabia, and America, indispensable leaders in the Middle East. With the help of Senator Marco Rubio, he shepherded appropriate reforms to U.S.-Cuba relations that rescinded President Obama’s promises to the Castro regime in favor of economic promise for the people of Cuba. Perhaps most important and longest-lasting, he nominated an accomplished judge in Neil Gorsuch to serve on the Supreme Court and the fight to confirm him resulted in the Senate Republicans lowering the threshold for Supreme Court nominees, making the next vacancy easier to fill. On these matters, President Trump may have lived up to his promise - he could fix parts of the system, and he did. 

President Trump’s first six months have been defined by the media as much of a failure but there have been some notable victories, especially when he has been able to act on his own. Where he has been less successful is in relying on Congress. More on that in Part II. 

You can follow the author on Twitter @CACoreyU 

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“I Alone Can Fix It” - Reviewing President Trump’s Performance, Part II

“I Alone Can Fix It” - Reviewing President Trump’s Performance, Part II

For Love of Country

For Love of Country