The First Year of President Trump

I gotta say, it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be.

Last year about this time I was concerned about four major policy areas where I thought Trump could ruin things. He’s been active in all of them, but as I suggested, he’s done the most damage in the area where he has the most direct control: Immigration. Trump’s attempt at a Muslim ban fell apart pretty quickly because it was so poorly executed (although that did not stop our traitorous Homeland Security department from trying to stop permanent residents from re-entering the country). He keeps trying though, with the result that our immigration system is in turmoil. He has also been creating chaos for the “Dreamers” who were brought here as children, leaving their status unresolved and in jeopardy for most of the year. Trump is a wrecking ball.

Lest you think Trump has some principled objections to illegal immigration, he’s also been pushing for more restrictions on legal immigration, including a reduction in the diversity lottery, reduced acceptance of refugees, restrictions on family immigration, and a bizarre scoring system for merit-based immigration.

Trump has done less damage to our healthcare system. The direct Obamacare repeals all failed, and cutting the advertising budget appears to have only slightly lowered enrollment this year. On the other hand, the tax bill removes the individual mandate for next year, without making much in the way of offsetting adjustments, which greatly increases the risk of a health insurance death spiral in 2019.

Trump is moving even slower on Trade. He appears to have killed U.S. participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but that hadn’t been approved anyway, so it’s not so much a setback as a failure to make progress on a trade deal that wasn’t all that great. On the other hand, the recent tariffs on solar panels and washing machines show Trump’s willingness to steal from some Americans for the benefit of the better connected. In addition, that kind of unpredictability discourages investments.

Finally, I haven’t been paying a lot of attention to foreign policy, but I think I would have noticed any really bad blunders, like nuclear war. And the leaders of most other nations seem to understand that Trump’s bluster shouldn’t be taken too seriously. (The fireworks in North Korea have remained rhetorical.) I do have this vague impression that by restricting trade we are losing influence, and nations like China are moving in, but that may have happened anyway as China becomes wealthier.

Clearly some people have lost big under Trump, but as bad as some of those things are, the overall damage has been surprisingly limited: The broad economic indicators have continued their long streak of improvements and no major disasters have befallen us.

To be honest, I expected much more of a shit show, but things have held together better than I thought.  I think this reflects less on Trump as a President than on the resilience of our institutions, but it’s still good news.

For the coming year, I expect continued turmoil in all of these areas, and I’ll add criminal justice to the list, as the Trump administration continues to reverse federal policies and as the reduced oversight of state law enforcement plays out.

(Now let’s see what happens in the State of the Union address.)

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