The case for and against reelecting Trump
On Tuesday, Americans will decide whether to give a second term to the most consequential president in recent years. The outcome may depend on whether a majority accepts his contentions or votes his failures.
In his first three years, President Donald Trump presided over steady job growth and a massive tax cut. He has filled several hundred federal judgeships – including three Supreme Court seats — with conservatives, scrapped dozens of regulations and pursued an "America first" agenda abroad.
But critics note he created fewer jobs than his predecessor, Barack Obama, and the tax cut mainly helped corporations and the wealthy. The action against regulations curbed environmental, civil rights and health insurance protections, and he weakened U.S. alliances with its traditional allies.
All that pales alongside Trump's catastrophic failure to manage the COVID-19 pandemic that has taken more lives than the Vietnam, Korean and Iraq wars combined, cost more jobs than were created earlier in his term, closed most schools and still plagues much of the country.
Author Bob Woodward's interviews with Trump show the president recognized the deadliness of the virus but deliberately downplayed it to avoid "panic" among Americans. The fact that he and many top aides contracted the virus exemplifies their failure to take it seriously.
Because Trump moved slowly to combat the virus, initial public support for his handling of the pandemic quickly turned negative. Though the president recently graded himself A+ for his management, recent polls showed that three of every five Americans disapprove of his actions.
While the pandemic overshadows the rest of Trump's presidency, it's not the only controversial part. Here are some others:
- He supported unsuccessful health legislation terminating Obamacare and a pending Supreme Court challenge that could deprive millions of Americans their health insurance, including the Affordable Care Act's guarantee of coverage against preexisting conditions that afflict one in three of them. He failed to propose a promised "great" replacement.
- He sought to leverage congressionally approved military aide to force Ukraine to investigate presidential rival Joe Biden, prompting the Democratic House to make Trump the third U.S. president to be impeached. However, the Republican Senate voted against convicting him. Both votes followed party lines.
- A two-year independent investigation questioned the close ties between Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia, but concluded their contacts fell short of criminal activity. It listed 10 instances in which Trump obstructed the probe; it said a sitting president can't be indicted but added its conclusion did not constitute exoneration.
- He began building a steel wall along the southern border to slow the flow of illegal immigrants, financing it primarily with funds Congress voted for other purposes after failing to achieve his campaign promise to force Mexico to pay. He succeeded in reducing both illegal and legal immigration and implemented a ban on Muslim travel from certain countries.
- He withdrew the United States from several international agreements negotiated by Obama, including the Paris accord on climate change and the six-nation agreement curbing Iran's development of a nuclear weapon, failing to force Iran to negotiate a new deal to slow its development of a bomb. Despite two highly publicized summits, Trump failed to reach an agreement with North Korea to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
- He failed to reach a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement but brokered pacts by which the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan recognized Israel. He fulfilled a campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and reduced U.S. troops in the region.
- He embraced autocrats from Russia, North Korea, Turkey, Philippines and Egypt and sought to emulate them by demanding personal loyalty from federal officials. He exacerbated tensions with traditional U.S. allies in Europe, especially Germany.
- He replaced the 27-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement with a revised version called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. He used increased tariffs to force revised trade agreements with countries from Canada to China, reversing decades of GOP support for free trade.
- He challenged, to an unprecedented degree, such basic American institutions as the separation of powers, the independent Justice Department, the free press and the dignity of the presidency. Under White House pressure, fellow Republicans, with rare exceptions, acquiesced.
That summarizes the case for and against reelecting President Trump. But what about the alternative? Based on his long record, Biden is a serious, grounded, knowledgeable public official who would provide the honesty of word, moderation of manner and cooperative atmosphere that Trump lacks. Unlike the president, he favors an activist approach to fight the pandemic and the resulting economic fallout.
He was nominated because Democrats wanted a candidate who would appeal to centrists tired of Trump's bluster and dishonesty, as well as to their party's liberal base. At 77, the former vice president and longtime Delaware senator sometimes lacks Trump's energy. But he recognizes that, to govern successfully, he must reach out in a way Trump refused to do.
"I'm running as a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American president," Biden repeatedly said. "I will work as hard for those who don't support me as for those who do."
That would be a welcome change.
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News.