Thursday, February 07, 2019

Two Years In

Trump has been president for two years.  We now have a basis for evaluating him as president.  Prior to his inauguration, we had only estimates, speculation based on how he had acted in the past and what he had said during the campaign.

His actions prior to becoming president are now much less relevant in discussing his success or failure as president.  They remain valid for discussing his overall character or trying to understand why he does things. If you were a biographer they would be fair game. But they would no longer matter much in rating his presidency or projecting forward. What he did during the last campaign remains pertinent, because he will likely be engaging in another. Yet that is something of an exception.

I have long said pay no attention to what he says, watch what he does.  There is no clean division, certainly, because saying things - or tweeting them - are actions. Also, what one says as president does have magnified effect which cannot ever be split off from what one signs or orders. I have read that his State of the Union speech was quite good.  That has some value and meaning, as the ceremonial part of all leadership is real. Or if it wasn't good, that is still worth noting and factoring in to any final grade. People still get outraged at his tweets.  I should mention what I learned here from a reader the last time I mentioned that: people get outraged at some percentage of his tweets, and as he has an opposition which is looking to highlight the worst of them, the overall effect may not be as great as once thought. He has flooded the market, and the influence of Twitter may have contracted to sports and entertainment, with journalists and political figures squeezing it ever-harder to get juice out of it.

Think what you will about Trump's career as a developer, whether it was brilliant or stupid, deeply corrupt or merely average for the field - it was useful only as a predictor. The many chapters of his family life and relationships were worth considering in estimating how he would act going forward. But the time for estimating is gone.  We have real data now. Not only do we have measurable, describable actions, we are beginning to see their effect.  Trump's supporters wanted to give him entire credit for the improved economy, even though presidents are less important than congress, and both are less important than world events on the matter. I was always more reserved, as an entire economy is a large thing, and rather like an ocean liner, does not change quickly. Trump created optimism, and optimism is a real thing, but if it is unwarranted it can return and bite you. But two years in the illusions of the moment* have faded and we see where the ship is headed. Economically. things are good and Trump deserves at least some of the credit. Less than he claims, more than his opponents grant, but that will always be the case. Bill Clinton and his team played those perceptions better than anyone, but even that is leveling out two decades later.

Similarly, we have evaluations for foreign-policy actions, colored by hopes and fears as they occur. We predict what meeting with North Korea might cause, and keep a running tally after, though we can never know what would have happened otherwise. We project what building The Wall might do, even though much of the result will be debated for years after. Without attempting even a partial evaluation of Trump's presidency on such large matters, I will note that my greatest fear was that his thin-skinned nature would carry over into his treatment of other countries, and we would get involved in a succession of fruitless military actions. I was not the only one. Something closer to the opposite has occurred.  We cannot replay history to see if that is right, but we can make our guesses.

*More permanent illusions, such as ignoring the debt, remain.


Sam L. said...

I'm happy enough to give him the benefit of the doubt. Of which there is so much, from the Left and their media minions.

Donna B. said...

I can't say I was "for" any of the Republican candidates in 2016, but I was opposed to Trump for one reason only -- I thought he couldn't beat Hillary. I'm glad I was wrong. You hear lots about "Never Trumpers" but not so much about "Never Hillarys". I would have voted for a rabid dingo before Hillary.

So, I'm pleasantly surprised and mostly happy with Trump's performance.