A Short List of Giant Failures Brought to America by Donald Trump
The core concept that Donald Trump sold to his supporters was this: I alone. As in “I alone can do it.” Trump campaigned on the idea that any effort to conduct nuanced and detailed policy made for a “weak” position. Instead, everything should be trusted to Trump. Because, as stated by Trump and cataloged by the Washington Post, Trump knows more about just about everything than “anyone else on Earth” including trade, infrastructure, defense, immigration, and the economy. What better thing to do than anoint the guy who knows more about war than the generals and more about science than the scientists and more about money than the bankers to solve all America’s issues?
Trump has maintained this position since taking office, insisting that he doesn’t need to prepare for meetings, or delve into details of policies. All that matters is the “one-on-one” of his relationships with other leaders and those big, simple themes. That, and his “very good genes.”
So … why is it all going so badly? Here’s a very short list of some very large things that are going very wrong under Donald Trump.
There’s no other area in which Trump’s destructive, selfish, and stubbornly unprepared actions have brought on disaster like the area of foreign policy. By insisting that everything can be handled in the same way as he might negotiate the sale of a condo, Trump has wrecked relationships between the United States and our closest, most consistent allies. His ugly treatment of both Canada and the U.K., and his eager embrace of dictators from China, Russia, and North Korea show clearly that Trump will take a murderous autocrat who flatters him ahead of a democratic leader who tries to correct Trump’s misconceptions.
Not only has Trump weakened NATO, but his breaking of the agreement with allies on how to prevent a nuclear weapon in Iran has left the United States isolated and untrusted. Neither historic bonds, national interest, or international law matter to Trump—which hugely weakens the U.S. role in the world and not just now, but for future administrations.
Trump’s recent summit with Kim Jong Un is a showcase of how to do it wrong. Everyone seemed relieved that Trump made it through a one-day visit without actually going to war. But they ignored that by marching in without preparation and out without a detailed agreement, Trump proved again that the United States can be manipulated for nothing more than a photo op and some favorable headlines.
Establishing fair international trade that respects the laws, customs, environmental issues, histories, and relationships of all concerned is one of the most difficult tasks facing any White House. It’s an endless, thankless, joyless issue in which progress is grudging and every detail is vital. But Trump doesn’t see it that way. First, he views trade deficits as a win-lose game, neither understanding what they mean nor how they are measured. He doesn’t understand who has leverage in these negotiations, or care about who is hurt in the process.
His basic formulation, that the United States should not participate in multilateral agreements but engage only in one-on-one arrangements, was enough to exclude the nation from being part of changes that are shifting the flow of goods and capital around the planet. His actions have been a gift to both China and Russia, who have used Trump’s inconsistency and capricious actions to expand their own trade networks, bolster their options on vital resources, and reduce the U.S. role in core areas like agriculture and industrial goods.
Trump’s attacks on NAFTA, like his breaking of the Iran treaty, show America as an unreliable partner, where even agreements still in effect are open to attack when a new butt hits the chair behind the resolute desk. As with foreign policy, it simply makes no one want to deal with America. And Trump’s personal interference in negotiations has made it nearly impossible for his team to make any progress toward new agreements. The net result is, again, a United States that is not just more isolated, but more fragile economically.
There may be no other area where it’s so difficult to separate Trump’s rhetoric from his beliefs than immigration. It would seem to be impossible that Trump doesn’t realize that building “the wall” would be the nation’s greatest boondoggle, a national embarrassment that would make the Maginot Line seem like a sparkling stroke of genius in comparison. By the same token, it would seem to be impossible that Trump doesn’t realize that most of what he is calling for in immigration policy is not just a violation of international standards of human rights, but simply illegal under U.S. law.
It’s hard to tell if Trump is simply feeding his base, using immigration policy as a means to distract from the Russia investigation, or seriously proposing that the United States invert the policies that made it the United States and instead become an isolated international pariah whose standards are know for their cruelty and heartlessness. But … Trump continually insists it’s the latter.
Immigration is the area where Trump leans hardest on a core understanding of conservative theory: cowardice is strength. That is, a “strong” policy is one that involves selfish actions and assumes the worst about other people. A “weak” policy is one that looks to hope, inclusion, and fairness. When Trump says that America is the “laughingstock” of the world, what he’s saying is that the American tradition of taking in people who are not already wealthy, not already ‘winners,’ is a sucker’s game. Trump points instead to nations that limit immigration by merit-based tests, the kind of test that would particularly exclude poor immigrants from Africa, Southeast Asia, and South and Central America. It’s a plan that calls for America to stop being America.
Because America is exactly what Trump is calling weak. He’s not being coy about this. What he’s saying is the “worst” immigration policy in the world is exactly the part of the policy—accepting those who are looking for a chance, not those who have already made it—that has always been the proudest part of American policy.
On the environment, Trump would likely disagree that there’s been an issue, because destroying the environment has been part of his plan from the beginning. On this one, it’s not just difficult, but impossible to believe that Trump doesn’t know that his statements are at odds with his actions. Trump has killed the Waters of the United States rule, blocked the Stream Protection rule, and done in the Ocean Protection rule. These moves have opened up everything from temporary lakes on the prairie that are critical to bird migration, to major rivers used for water supplies by cities, to oceans on all sides of the nation to increased pollution and “industrialization.” In fact, more “industrial uses” of U.S. waters and adjoining oceans is exactly what Trump’s policies call for.
On the air front, Trump has destroyed the Clean Power Plan, scaled back CAFE standards, and done everything he can to ease the use of more highly-polluting power sources. That goes all the way to instituting policies that favor coal over natural gas … for reasons that seem to be little short of “because it’s worse.”
And of course, as he has in other areas, when it comes to the international front Trump took an enormous move to isolate and humiliate the United States by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. To do so, Trump tried to sell the idea that an agreement that is totally voluntary somehow represented too great a burden for America to bear. It was another sign to another nations in the long list of “America: Why bother?” that Trump has been pushing.
This is a short item, because Trump’s actions on infrastructure are … well, there aren’t any. Few areas are more visible to Americans. Few areas offer more possibilities for improvement. Few areas have been more roundly ignored by Trump.
Despite declaring Infrastructure Week more often than marketing organizations have proclaimed National Donut Day, Pizza Day, or Pizza-Donut Day, each of those infrastructure weeks was notable only for all the non-infrastructure-related news each seemed to bring. This is despite the fact there are few programs that could make a greater impact on both employment and the day-to-day lives of Americans.
One of the reasons this isn’t happening? Trump can pump smoke into the atmosphere and still claim to care about “clean clear air.” He can walk away from North Korea with nothing, and still tell Americans to “sleep tight.” He can even rip children away from their parents and talk about how much “Democrats love MS-13.” But if he starts claiming to have filled potholes, people might notice.