When you tell the tale of this first year of the Donald J. Trump presidency to your grandchildren, it won’t be easy. It is a tale which would properly be labeled as drama, comedy, and horror. It will introduce storylines the likes of which we have never seen before or are likely ever to see again.
And when you are finished telling it, you will be exhausted. Because it is, in fact, a tale of two presidencies.
The first one has achieved inarguably stunning results which are true to Trump’s promise to Make America Great Again and benefit the entire nation. The stock market in the midst of a spectacular rise (42% since Trump was elected!) even as his outspoken opponents predicted doomsday. Unemployment at its lowest level in the entire century; black unemployment is at its lowest ever. There’s soaring consumer confidence and more economic growth than during the whole administration that preceded it. And then there’s tax reform, which will benefit the vast majority of taxpayers and doubtlessly kick the economy into an even higher gear.
But those are just the things that should appeal to all Americans. This first presidency has also delivered a heaping helping of good news for its supporters. He restored a conservative majority in the Supreme Court and replenished the list of constitutionalist judges down through the federal system. Then there’s the massive reduction of the regulatory state – ten regulations subtracted for every new one added so far, strict enforcement of immigration laws, and a commensurate decline in new illegal immigrants. Trump withdrew us from an economy-crushing global climate change agreement and gave notice to NATO that it’s time to put their money where their mouths have always been. Oh, and he finally delivered on the promise/hope of three previous presidents to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Surely, you say, such a record would generate soaring approval numbers. But you would be wrong, for that is where we get to the second presidency. Its tale is of a president perceived by many to embody all the worst possible character traits – a racist, sexist, xenophobic liar, and a sexual predator to boot. An unhinged, uninformed, unqualified chief executive unrestrained and undisciplined, especially when discussing race and ethnicity, yet prolific in the art of 140-character ad hominem attacks on almost everyone imaginable: leftists, fellow Republicans, dangerous dictators, media bigwigs, Hollywood celebrities – even NFL players. It’s a story of a president willing to play fast and loose with the facts, obstruct justice by firing the man investigating him, and surround himself with bagmen willing to collude with a foreign government to steal an election. The subtitle of this second presidency might be loose lips sink ships.
Indeed, this president has consistently taken steps forward with his actions, followed by steps backward with his words – all of which is ultimately unsurprising because he is anything but a smooth, polished politician. The question of whether his scorched-earth style is a mostly deliberate strategy or merely stream-of-consciousness remains unclear.
But more than anything, this bombastic billionaire has come to Washington with a wrecking ball and shaken the nation’s capital to its core. With his status as the first true outsider in the White House, and with liberal use of Twitter, he has called out the political class and sacrosanct policies. He has touched more than one “third rail” of politics because he is not a career politician. His refusal to continue America’s 25 year-long policy of “strategic patience” with the North Korean nuclear threat is a textbook example. Trump has obliterated the mold into which every President in our lifetime has fit.
These two presidencies represent the great divide which separates the left and right like no time since the 1960’s, perhaps even since the Civil War. The two sides are receiving entirely different news and narratives, and since Trump’s election, hardly speak to one another.
So the tale of this first year of the Trump presidency – and likely the years to follow – depends entirely on who is narrating the story. Do you care more about the results of that first presidency or the personality displayed in the second? Do you value his irreverence for political institutions? Do you take Trump literally or seriously?
One thing is for sure: if you expected him to “pivot” into a traditional president, you are bound to be disappointed.