One year of Trump's America: He has his critics, but the President has kept his biggest promises to supporters

Even when his efforts have stalled, Trump has consistently played to those who put him in the White House

Chris Stevenson
International Editor
Thursday 18 January 2018 15:41
Mr Trump can claim to have hit the target with a number of campaign promises
Mr Trump can claim to have hit the target with a number of campaign promises

Despite controversy never being far away from Donald Trump’s presidency, it is clear that he has not forgotten the promises that he made to his base during the election campaign.

While a number of initiatives have stalled, Mr Trump has at least looked like trying to follow through on most of his bigger claims, and has excuses ready for any that have not worked out.

For his supporters there is certainly enough to be content with, even if the President’s overall poll numbers are some of the lowest seen for a White House incumbent at the end of their first year.

Trump the crowd pleaser

Many of Mr Trump’s biggest campaign promises were made at the large rallies that became the backbone of his push to victory in 2016. His first 12 months in the White House have seen demonstrable progress on these fronts, even if critics would say that, in the main, they represent broad-stroke moves and temporary fixes rather than detail-orientated legislation.

Four big ticket items he has made clear priorities are pulling out of the Paris climate accord; pulling out or renegotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) deals; deregulation of the government and industry and naming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Pulling out of the Paris accord, which aims to limit global warming to 1.5C, was one of the main facets of Mr Trump’s “America First” policy and it caused major consternation with allies, particularly in Europe.

He called the agreement bad for American workers, and while he has later spoken about being able to rejoin the deal, he said he would only do so on favourable terms for America. The pledge went hand in hand with the President rolling back environmental legislation put in place by his predecessor Barack Obama, including allowing drilling in areas like the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, in order to increase energy production of coal, oil and gas.

Mr Trump has claimed success in these areas, and there is no doubt that legislation is being stripped away, but increases in production predated his administration and there is little sign yet of money allocated to Paris being funnelled into these areas.

On the trade deals, Nafta is still being negotiated with Canada and Mexico but Mr Trump has kept up his hardline rhetoric on the issue. As for TPP, it was actually an easy promise to keep as Congress was unlikely to ratify the deal anyway – but Mr Trump was able to claim it as a key victory to his supporter base.

On government deregulation, while some efforts are being challenged in the courts, there are moves to cut red tape in the areas of finance and labour, as well as the previously mentioned environment measures. A government hiring freeze, which was included as part of the deregulation pledge, was also enacted. However, that restriction was later lifted, and while the government has 16,000 fewer jobs since Mr Trump took office, that equates to only 1 per cent of the total number.

As for Jerusalem, it is another promise that has sparked howls of protest from around the word, and moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the city is a longer-term aim than Mr Trump may have led supporters to believe – but it again shows that he means business.

One other success to shout about, that may not have been at the top of the agenda, is the judiciary, where Mr Trump had Neil Gorsuch placed on the bench at the Supreme Court and dozens more judge nominations are now sitting at courts throughout the American system. There have been a number of cases where nominees have had to withdraw over claims of previous comments made, or lack of experience – but it is an area his supporters will be happy with.

On the economy and taxes, it is clear that American markets have increased under his tenure, and employment figures are looking healthy, although critics will point to the fact that Obama made big gains at various points of his administration. But Mr Trump has always said he wanted to create jobs and push the economy on and will happily tout such numbers. He also managed to sign through a tax reform bill that has made the biggest changes to the tax code in nearly three decades. The changes see many of the benefits fall on the rich, but Mr Trump and the Republicans have been sure to talk about money going back into the pockets of American families – and this will happen to an extent.

Trump the pragmatist

There are some policies the President has seen fit to modify or quietly drop, such as congressional term limits. But in other cases Mr Trump has appeared to bow to global events. He had promised to supporters he could label China as a currency manipulator, another big promise that has fallen by the wayside. He has repeatedly berated the “unfair” nature of the trade relationship with China as he did during the campaign, but it has taken a back seat to getting support for dealing with the threat from North Korea. There will probably be more of this in 2018 if Mr Trump finds he has trouble pushing things through Congress as we approach the midterm elections in November – he may cite the need for “bipartisanship” as the cause.

Trump's First Year: 12 months of quotes

Trump the victim

On many of the promises that have stalled, Mr Trump has been clear about the reason for why – issues with Congress, or the US courts. Image is everything for this president and he has tried to keep his hands clean. The first major failure was the repeal and replace of Mr Obama’s signature healthcare legislative, the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. Two tries at getting it through Congress did not work, but Mr Trump put the blame firmly at the door of Republican leadership in Congress – especially with the party controlling both chambers – and said that there was little more that could be done. Removing some elements of Obamacare as part of the tax reform bill have helped soothe that particular wound, but there is sure to be another push this year.

On an increase in both military spending and infrastructure, both are part of budget negotiations that are still causing trouble in Congress, giving Mr Trump another excuse for the lack of movement on those issues.

The other big area is immigration. Mr Trump has had a number of attempts at a ban on people travelling to the US from a number of Muslim-majority countries struck down by the courts – anger at which he has made known on Twitter, but a third iteration of the order is currently allowed to be put into effect while the issue heads towards the Supreme Court. Flashy raids and detentions of illegal immigrants have also made the news. Mr Trump followed through on a promise to dismantle the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals programme which Mr Obama had put in place to protect young illegal immigrants brought to the country as children from deportation. However, that is also going through the courts and the Democrats have dug in their heels to make sure protections for those left in limbo, by the ending of the programme, are tied to any new immigration legislation.

John Kelly says Donald Trump has changed his view on the border wall

Such legislation is a key part of Mr Trump’s promise to keep America safe, and the border wall with Mexico is the crown jewel in that plan. Mr Trump tweeted on Thursday that his plan on the wall had “never changed or evolved” and he repeated his claim that Mexico will pay. That was a promise that always received big cheers on the campaign trail but has been rubbished by Democrats and Mexico itself. It still looks like a tough fight – but one the President is adamant he will win. If the wall promise falls flat, it would probably be very damaging to his standing with his base.

Trump the boaster

Mr Trump’s biggest boast was that, as an outsider, he would “drain the swamp” in Washington. However, bar imposing a five-year ban on presidential appointees going to work as lobbyists, along with a lifetime ban on lobbying for foreign governments, the “revolving door” still appears to be heading one way – with a number of Trump political appointees being former corporate lobbyists. For example in the Environmental Protection Agency, up to a third of appointees have come from industries such as oil, gas and coal.

“2017 was a year of tremendous achievement, monumental achievement, actually,” Mr Trump told members of his cabinet last week. “I don’t think any administration has ever done what we’ve done and what we’ve accomplished in its first year.” However, while Mr Trump has boasted of signing 80 pieces of legislation into law, there is little of consequence in that pile outside of what has been outlined above.

Having said that, despite the hyperbole, there is plenty about what Mr Trump has put in motion that has kept his supporters happy.

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