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Viewpoints: As expected, lots of tweeting and turmoil in Year One of Trump

By Patrick Reddy
Special to The News
“In the year since Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency, earnings have crept upward, employers have added 1.8 million jobs and the stock market has soared by 22 percent. That’s enough to boost Trump’s grade on the economy to A- in the latest installment of the Yahoo Finance Trumponomics Report Card.”
– Rick Newman on Yahoo.com in early November.
“The people who voted for Trump knew they would be getting a disrupter, a critic of business as usual and an enemy of political correctness. Many also realized they were electing a bully and a braggart. But they may not have known what they were getting above all else: an incompetent. … Trump came to office uninformed, unprepared and oblivious to his shortcomings, with no capacity to recognize or overcome them. He is in way over his head, and not waving but drowning.”
– Steve Chapman of the usually Republican Chicago Tribune.
Nov. 8 marked the first anniversary of President Trump’s big upset victory. So, how is he (and the nation) doing in Year One A.D. (After Donald)? Like the man himself, the answers are quite complicated. While Trump remains as controversial as ever, the country is undeniably in better shape than a year ago – regardless of whether Trump deserves the credit. As those two quotes show, Trump’s administration seems to be pushing forward, regardless of the leader’s faults.
Many people (myself included) had hoped that as president, Trump would make the transition from outsider candidate to statesman. By and large, he hasn’t. The Donald Trump we saw during the campaign – loud, stubborn, abrasive, argumentative and sometimes downright rude and crude, is very much the president the world sees on a daily basis. He simply can’t restrain himself from responding, usually via Twitter, to every real or imaginary verbal challenge. Whether it’s the very dangerous North Korean dictator or some obscure writer somewhere on the information superhighway, Trump always has to – and always has – an answer.
All this noise has greatly contributed to his continuing high negative poll ratings over the past year: a majority of Americans have consistently disapproved of Trump personally since the winter of 2016, and his job approval score has been over 50 percent negative in every poll after May 1, 2017, except the conservative Rasmussen survey. (However, we should keep in mind that Trump won last year in spite of the polling results that consistently showed him trailing). Furthermore, solid majorities of Americans tell the various surveys that they are dissatisfied with the state of the nation and things are off on the wrong track.
So, Trump’s style is undeniably hurting his poll ratings. But what about the substance of his policies? Conservatives and Republicans have generally been happy with his judicial appointments. The public predictably divides along partisan lines here. Although he has thus far failed to “immediately repeal and replace the Obamacare disaster,” that may be a good thing as the public opposed the repeal efforts by a 2-1 margin. While tax cuts are generally popular, most Americans believe that the current Republican proposal favors the rich too much. According to the latest Gallup Poll, majorities of Americans disapprove of the way Trump is handling health care, taxes, North Korea and foreign policy in general.
On North Korea, the best of a bad set of options appears to be living with a nuclear-armed militantly anti-American state, avoiding war by deterrence. Very few Americans would object to the policy of getting China to curtail assistance to North Korea and America helping nations threatened by Kim in strengthening their defenses as long as it does involve a pre-emptive American war. (Trump’s verbal bluster of “fire and fury” may not be the best tactic here). While Trump continues to be personally as controversial as ever, his administration has not yet committed a fatal error: they haven’t got the country into war and they certainly haven’t crashed the economy.
The one relative bright spot for Trump in the Gallup Poll was his relatively high marks (nearly 50 percent) on handling the economy. As the Yahoo quote above illustrates, there are good solid reasons for this. The gingerly economic recovery that began with President Barack Obama’s second term in 2013 has picked up steam. As Trump never tires of pointing out, a massive rally began on Wall Street the morning after Trump’s victory in the Electoral College was confirmed. A nearly 25 percent increase in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the “Trump Rally,” has added several trillion dollars to the national wealth. Sure, the wealthy have benefited the most from this rally, but pension funds for the middle class and workers have started to become solvent again. Unemployment has consistently dropped since Trump took office and workers who had previously dropped out of the labor force are starting to come back in for the first time in a decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the “labor force participation rate” has increased to 63 percent this year, up slightly from two years ago.
All this economic good news has helped Trump. As David Lauter wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “In 2016, the U.S. economy served as a punching bag for then-candidate Donald Trump. Today, it has become a lifeline for an otherwise embattled presidency. … Trump has increasingly grabbed for that line, touting low unemployment, record high stock market values and healthy economic growth rates in speeches and his ubiquitous tweets.”
And there may be even more good news ahead: a report from Goldman-Sachs predicted even faster growth for 2018 – on the assumption that Trump’s tax cut passes.
Speaking of taxes, we are about to get a laboratory experiment in supply side economics. Ronald Reagan first tried this doctrine in the 1980s, believing that massive tax cuts for business and the upper classes that lower taxes would create incentives to start new businesses and revive older ones, thus creating many new jobs. He produced a genuine recovery in the mid-80s, but critics always pointed out the bad side effects – record-breaking deficits, declining older industries in the auto and steel sectors, rising inequality and poverty. Reaganites replied that the deficits were largely the fault of the Democratic Congress, which refused to control spending, and industrial unemployment was the fault of too-high union wages. Now, with a Republican president, a narrow Republican Senate majority and a Republican House speaker, Paul Ryan, who is a famous fiscal conservative, and labor unions severely weakened, Republicans will have no excuses if their policies don’t work out. Will it work? Who knows? A recent experiment with the supply side failed miserably in Kansas, the epitome of Middle America.
Carl Cannon wrote on the website Real Clear Politics: “American corporations can return their operations to the U.S., open new plants, invest in new technologies and new businesses, and pay their workers higher wages. Or those corporate executives can buy more yachts and company jets, award themselves huge stock options and obscene bonuses, hand out dividends to shareholders, exploit their own workers, and continue to look at quarterly profits as the Holy Grail – to the detriment of the country. … Corporate America, it’s your move.”
Like Reagan, Trump is betting on a huge business tax cut. American companies are sitting on an estimated $2 trillion in cash. If it works and that money is invested in job creation, Trump and his party will be in good shape for 2020. But if it doesn’t, Republicans will likely get the blame because their policies are passing on pure party-line votes. (Democrats governed the same way in the Obama years and got wiped out in two consecutive mid-term elections when Obama was not leading the ticket and generating high minority turnouts).
So, as Trump’s Year One ends, his presidency is as much a wild ride as his campaign was. Will the economic recovery continue? Will Northeast Asia blow up? Will Trump keep getting in fights? Stay tuned to the ultimate reality show.
Patrick Reddy is a Democratic political consultant from California and author of the forthcoming “21st Century America.”
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