To start former President Donald Trump is the only president in history to be impeached twice. He is also the only president to be in office while a violent insurrection occured at the US Capitol. He is just the 11th incumbent president who won their party's nomination but failed to win reelection. To many, Trump has been the most controversial and divisive president in modern US history, but he still enjoyed a remarkably steady approval rating thanks to his extremely loyal supporters.
Below are Trump's biggest accomplishments and failures as president, measured by their overall impact and taking into account the general response from Congress, the public, and the world.
One of the most impactful and mostly unnoticed was Trump's reshaping of the federal judiciary (Trump picked 3 Supreme Court justices and 226 judges overall to the federal bench, roughly 25% of all US circuit court judges, all lifetime appointments).
Trump established the Space Force, the new sixth branch of the US Armed Forces, after signing a $738 billion defense spending bill for a force tasked with protecting the US military's assets in space.
"This is not a farce. This is nationally critical," Gen. John Raymond, leader of the Space Force, said . "We are elevating space commensurate with its importance to our national security and the security of our allies and partners."
Todd Harrison, who directs the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, recently told NPR: "It will create a centralized, unified chain of command that is responsible for space, because ultimately when responsibility is fragmented, no one's responsible."
One of Trump's signature legislative achievement was a tax bill that made sweeping changes to the tax code.
Joseph Zeballos-Roig reported that it permanently slashed the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35%. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, among others, said the law would juice the nation's gross domestic product to 3% (or more, as Trump said 6%) and soon pay for itself and spread prosperity (In 2016 the U.S. GDP growth rate was 1.57%. Trump's tax law was passed in 2017. In 2017 the growth rate was 2.22%, growth rate for 2018 was 3.18%, growth rate for 2019 was 2.33%).
Despite the little press it received Trump signed the First Step Act into law in December 2018, a major victory for advocates seeking criminal justice system reform.
Michelle Mark summarized the key aspects of the legislation after it passed in the Senate saying it, overhauls certain federal sentencing laws, reduces mandatory minimum sentences for drug felonies and expands early-release programs and is the first major legislative win in decades to address mass incarceration at the federal level. The bill also makes retroactive a 2010 federal sentencing law reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses. It bans the shackling of pregnant inmates, halts the use of solitary confinement for most juvenile inmates, and mandating that prisoners be placed in facilities within 500 miles from their families.
Trump's decision to unilaterally withdraw the US from the 2015 nuclear deal in May 2018 has induced chaos throughout the Middle East. Additionally, the former president failed to thwart Iran's aggressive behavior in the region through a maximum pressure campaign.
In late October 2020, a US raid led to the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (the world's most wanted terrorist up to that point).
"Last night, the United States brought the world's No. 1 terrorist leader to justice," Trump said at the time. "Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead."
"Capturing or killing him has been the top national security priority of my administration," he added.
Although Trump at times falsely claimed that ISIS is totally defeated, it is accepted generally that a five-year effort led by the US to end ISIS's caliphate was finally accomplished in March 2019 (the terrorist group has lost its territory and it's still estimated to have up to 18,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria).
While making some tactical maneuvers that could see a lasting difference Trump had real problem gaining the hearts and minds of the entire country.
Trump's response to a deadly neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was one of the most controversial moments in his presidency. Trump blamed "many sides" for the violence at the rally, which resulted in the death of a counter-protester, Heather Heyer. He later said there were "very fine people on both sides." The former president even caught harsh criticism from Republicans over his response and his failure to offer a swift and forceful condemnation of white-supremacist violence.
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, at the time said the former president's words were "dividing Americans, not healing them."
"President Trump took a step backward by again suggesting there is moral equivalency between the white supremacist, neo-Nazis and KKK members," Graham added.
Trump saw a similar outcome in the wake of the brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and the nationwide protests that followed. The former president ordered protesters to be tear-gassed near the White House so he could pose for a photo with a Bible at a nearby church. He's consistently demonized anti-racism demonstrators, and controversially sent federal agents into US cities to squash unrest and intimidate the local population.
Regardless of what you think of the former president's personal choices, polling has shown that the vast majority of Black Americans view Trump as racist, and his approval rating with this demographic stood at 14% in late 2020. The Pew Research Center in January 2020 released a survey of 32 countries that showed a median of 64% said they do not have confidence in Trump to do the right thing in world affairs, and just 29% expressed confidence in the president.
Trump in 2016 campaigned on reducing undocumented immigration, pledging to take a hardline approach. In an effort to make good on his promises the Trump administration enacted a "zero tolerance" policy on illegal border crossings that led to the separations of at least 5,500 families. The result was he was accused of human-rights abuses and violating international law by the UN and it lead to the American Academy of Pediatrics at the time describin the practice as "nothing less than government-sanctioned child abuse."
"As a pediatrician, but also as a mother and a former head of state, I am deeply shocked that children are forced to sleep on the floor in overcrowded facilities, without access to adequate healthcare or food, and with poor sanitation conditions," the UN human-rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, also the former president of Chile, stated.
After widespread backlash, Trump issued an executive order in June 2018 to halt the family separations, and a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to reunite all those it had separated. At least six migrant children died in US custody, leading to widespread condemnation of conditions in detention facilities.
The late GOP Sen. John McCain's iconic "thumbs-down" vote denied Trump a full congressional repeal (even a "skinny repeal") of former President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law (although Trump did have success in dismantling parts of the law, a rollback of the tax penalty for those who did not enroll in healthcare).
Trump's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic will likely go down as one of his biggest disasters as hundreds of thousands of Americans have died, and millions are unemployed.
In the first study, researchers at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania compared COVID-19–related death rates in the United States through Sep 19 with those in 18 other countries with populations exceeding 5 million and at least $25,000 per capita gross domestic product.
By Sep 19, the United States had recorded 198,589 COVID-19–related deaths, for a death rate of 0.06%. For example, the death rate in Australia was 0.003%, while Canada had a 0.02% death rate. Italy's COVID-19 death rate was 0.06%, while Belgium's was 0.09% throughout the pandemic. But, since May 10, the United States' rate has exceeded that of all other countries studied.
Before May 10, the United States had a lower coronavirus death rate than Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, but after that date, all six of the other high-mortality countries had lower death rates than the United States. For example, Italy's death rate from May 10 to Sep 19 was 0.01%, compared with 0.04% in the United States.
If US death rates were similar to those of most high-mortality countries starting on May 10, it would have had 44,210 to 104,177 fewer deaths (22% to 52%); if the start date were changed to Jun 7, it would have had 28% to 43% fewer deaths.
The authors concluded that COVID-19 deaths and excess deaths from any cause in the United States likely were due to a poor pandemic response rather than an early surge of coronavirus cases before virus prevention and treatment methods were improved.
"Compared with other countries, the US experienced high COVID-19–associated mortality and excess all-cause mortality into September 2020," the authors wrote. "After the first peak in early spring, US death rates from COVID-19 and from all causes remained higher than even countries with high COVID-19 mortality. This may have been a result of several factors, including weak public health infrastructure and a decentralized, inconsistent US response to the pandemic."
Coronavirus lockdowns in early 2020 and reduced consumer spending led to tens of millions of job losses as whole segments of the economy sputtered.
Roughly 22 million jobs were lost from February to April (nearly half have been recovered). The unemployment rate is still at 7.9% (estimated to be about 12 million people). The pre-pandemic unemployment rate was 3.4%. As Trump left office, the US national debt was at the highest levels since World War II.
Trump eroded democratic norms in many ways by repeatedly attacking the media, leading UN experts to warn that Trump's rhetoric raised the risk of violence against journalists. He threatened to deploy combat troops to American cities, over the objections of their elected leaders, and ordered illegal actions like demanding poll workers stop counting ballots.
Trump's also supported dissemination of disinformation on an array of topics, particularly the electoral process. Trump's refusal to concede the election breaks from a democratic tradition in the US that dates back to its earliest days when President John Adams lost the 1800 election and peacefully stepped aside for Thomas Jefferson, a member of another political party, to take over. Trump also skipped Biden's inauguration. He's the first outgoing president since 1869 to refuse to attend the inauguration of his successor.
Love him or hate him everyone needs to take an objective look at what Trump accomplished and push our new elected officials to build on his accomplishments and continue helping all people in the country while repairing some of the divisions he helped create.