At the time of writing, President Trump’s third State of the Union address is scheduled for Tuesday, February 4, but like last year, whether or not it takes place is up in the air. There hasn’t been an invitation extended yet, and many are calling for it to be canceled amid the impeachment hearings. Despite this, the scheduled SOU address brings us to the end of Year Three of the Trump administration. So, as last year, it is now time once again to go through the Trump administration and rate all of the major aspects of the presidency of the last year. In case you missed it the last time, we will be giving the good bits an UP and the bad bits a DOWN. And, of course, these are qualitative measures, not quantitative, so the totals aren’t the important part. This list only considers events and policies that took place after February 5, 2019.
Let’s get this one out of the way, off the bat. It’s the biggest story in America these days, and regardless of whether or not you think the president deserves to be impeached, deserves to be convicted, or is the subject of a witch hunt, the fact that this is happening is not a good thing. It’s not good for Donald Trump. It’s not good for America. I won’t go into analyzing the actual impeachment (of which discussions on this actually began all the way back in September), because I know you can get all the coverage you want anywhere you wish, but suffice it to say that the fact that it’s happening at all is a DOWN.
Let’s follow that with an easy UP. Coming in just before the deadline on Year Three, President Trump proposed his so-called “Deal of the Century” to the Israelis and the Palestinians. It’s no surprise that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu basically accepted the terms immediately, while PA Leader Mahmoud Abbas rejected it before it was even made public. But the big win here for the president was the reaction to the deal by several Arab countries that now back the peace plan. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan all had a positive response for the deal. Oh, and earlier in the year, President Trump supported Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, so there’s that, too.
Let’s stay in the Middle East to give President Trump another UP, this time in regard to how he has dealt with Iran. When Iran shot down an American drone in June, President Trump was quick to enact sanctions. When tensions rose a bit at the end of 2019, President Trump ordered the strike against Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s second most powerful person. Despite media warnings of the impending World War III, Iran had a whimper of a retaliation, and has basically been quiet ever since. It’s clear that President Trump has had a much better handle on Iran than did his predecessor.
But that wasn’t the only win on the foreign policy side of things. Last year, American troops were able to basically end all ISIS strongholds, and the head man, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was eliminated in the process. In South America, the president backed the Venezuelan opposition leader, Juan Guaido, in his election. In Asia, despite my trepidation from last year, the Kim Jong Un relationship has not ended in a fiasco. In fact, the North Korean dictator took steps inside South Korea last year. While nothing really has come from it, I’m still counting this as an UP. Finally, in one of the most improbable victories for the Trump regime, we saw the replacement of NAFTA with the USMCA. The surprising aspect of this is how bipartisan the vote for this went. It passed the House 385-41, and the Senate 89-10. These kinds of numbers are unheard of on major policy issues in the Trump era.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Not everything is peaches and cream on the foreign policy side of things. While the tariffs against China did not start a trade war, and there were even cracks showing on the side of Chinese willingness to maybe agree to some of the terms to which the US was looking, a report by the Federal Reserve showed that the tariffs lead to both a loss of US jobs and higher prices for goods. For now, this is a down, but if things dramatically change in Year Four, I can change it. I just don’t see it happening. There were two other major DOWNs on the foreign policy side. The first is the withdrawal of troops from Syria, which was done hastily and sloppily, two things Trump had previously condemned the Obama administration for doing in the Middle East. This move completely blindsided our best ally in that region, the Kurds, and I fear that this mistake could result in longer-lasting problems moving forward. The second was the asinine decision to announce the location of the 2020 G7 Summit in Trump’s own Doral Resort in Miami. This reeked of Trump padding his own pockets, and even though it was announced that he was considering changing the venue to Camp David, that was in October, and no change has been made yet.
Another major story this year was the completion of the Mueller Report. While the report didn’t come close to issuing a “complete exoneration,” it certainly didn’t implicate the President in any wrongdoing harsh enough to be penalized. For that, I am willing to grant a reluctant UP. It’s only reluctant because if not for the way Trump spoke about the report, blowing its results way out of proportion, the UP would have been fully warranted.
In the first two years of the Trump administration, staffing was in total chaos. Remember Steve Bannon, Omarosa Manigault, and Anthony Scaramucci? Those names can bring ulcers to Republicans. In the first two years, Trump lost position after position, setting a record in the first year for such things. This past year, there has been the normal turnover in the White House. Sure, we said goodbye to James Mattis, Rick Perry, and Linda McMahon, but none of these seem like much of a big deal. Plus, the hire of Bill Barr as Attorney General was definitely the right move.
Domestic Policy is definitely an area where the president has won. Unemployment is hovering at 3.7 percent, and the stock market is doing really well. President Trump was also the first sitting president to attend the March for Life rally to fight against abortion, showing his fearlessness on that issue. On a more niche note, Judaism is now federally recognized as a nationality or race, not just a religion, a policy that allows the federal government to withhold funding from universities if they don’t adequately deal with anti-Semitism on campuses. Opponents of this policy point to possible reads of this that allow anti-Semites to classify Jews as inferior. I’m not concerned about this because they already do it. The only minor blemish for the president was that three-minute meeting with Senate Democrats on infrastructure he stormed out of early in 2019. Not great, but not enough to turn this into a DOWN.
Anyone who has been following my critiques of the president knows that this is my biggest qualm with him. He continues to call press coverage he doesn’t like “Fake News,” and can’t help but bring up ratings as an argument, as if someone must be wrong because their ratings are low – just look at me. Far fewer people read my columns than do the New York Times columns, and I’m right more often. But there were definitely some more low-lights that need to be revisited. Remember when he told the “Squad” to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from where they came,” when only one of them was born outside the US, and was in fact a refugee? This brought on chants of “Send her back” at Trump rallies. Or when he referred to Baltimore as a “disgusting, rat- and rodent-infested mess”? Now that may be true, but this is about rhetoric. And any time the media gets the chance to call Trump a racist, they will. Stop giving fuel to that fire. Oh, and there was that time Trump said that any Jew who votes for a Democrat is either “disloyal or unintelligent.” I could go into an entire article by itself explaining why this is bad, but let’s just leave it as don’t decide how a group of people should vote simply based on race. That’s literally the Democratic pitch to black voters. We chastise them for playing identity politics, and you are certainly not above that criticism.
Another mixed bag here, because on the one hand, the president’s threat to close the US-Mexico border if Mexico did not aid in quelling the drug importation certainly worked. He also threatened to levy tariffs on Mexico if they didn’t agree to help deal with Latin American migration. Both of these produced positive results. However, he did issue a National Emergency to fund the border wall, and while he is building that wall, he has set a terrible precedent for future Democratic presidents to bypass Congress in order to fund unapproved projects. This will come back to haunt the American people, and will in all likelihood have a longer-lasting effect than any other move Trump made in regard to immigration.
I think this will do it for this year’s edition of Trump UPs and DOWNs. I know there are many things we left out, like the environment and all the meetings with European leaders, but I think this gives a general overall view of the biggest headline stories from Year Three of the Trump administration. As a reminder, this review is meant to be qualitative, not quantitative, as some categories can be weighed differently. So despite the final tally being 5-3-2 in favor of the UPs, some categories outweigh others in their importance, and that is for you to determine. Last year, the DOWNs had it by a 7-5 margin.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.