Editorial: A year later, reflecting on Trump’s rocky presidency

  • President Donald Trump arrives at Nashville International Airport in Nashville, Tenn., on Jan. 8 to speak at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Convention. AP PHOTO

Saturday, January 20, 2018

One year ago, we expressed disappointment in the bleak and narrow vision for the United States painted by President Donald J. Trump in his inaugural address, and questioned whether his worldview reflected the realities of the 21st century.

“From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land,” Trump said last Jan. 20, promising that his administration’s decisions would be governed by interests at home. “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first — America first.”

A year later, Trump’s isolationist agenda has set the U.S. — and the world — back. The America the president wants to promote and protect is narrowly defined and tinged by xenophobia. It excludes wide swaths of Americans who Trump has devalued with his deeds and words — from his intention to boot transgender people out of military service to his relentless attacks on immigrants.

When Trump ventures onto the world stage, he leaves a trail of insults to friends and foes alike, from the petty — his refusal to shake the hand of German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a meeting at the White House last March — to the reckless — an increasingly hostile war of words with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that is more suited to a school playground than to international diplomacy. And with decisions such as withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, Trump is increasingly removing the U.S. from its historic role as a leader among reasonable powers.

Trump’s impulsive outbursts fit neatly in the tweets he favors. They are encapsulated in his widely reported remarks during a Jan. 11 meeting with senators about immigration when the president is said to have asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” referring to Africa, Central America and Haiti. “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.”

When he utters those words, Trump not only reveals his racism, but also demeans the presidency.

Many Americans not only disagree with his politics, but question his fitness for office. According to the Gallup poll, Trump’s approval rating of 38 percent is by far the lowest after a year in office of any president elected since World War II.

Furthermore, the results of a Quinnipiac University national poll of 1,212 registered voters between Jan. 12 and 16 show that more Americans than not believe Trump is unstable (by a 47 percent to 45 percent margin), and a divisive rather than a unifying leader (64 percent to 31 percent). The poll also shows that by a 59 percent to 38 percent margin, Americans believe the president does not respect people of color as much as he does white people.

“President Donald Trump can’t seem to improve his approval, perhaps because of the troubling fact that half of the voters we spoke to think he’s mentally unstable,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll. “The president is a divider, not a uniter, say an overwhelming number of voters, an assessment made even more disturbing by his perceived lack of respect for people of color.”

Trump also has trouble with the truth. His disregard of the facts, exaggeration and dismissal of criticism and legitimate factual revelations as “fake news” was highlighted this week when Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona squarely took aim at Trump’s unpresidential behavior.

Flake, a frequent critic of the president who is retiring this year, said on the Senate floor that Trump’s targeting the media as the “enemy of the people” evokes memories of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and threatens America’s bedrock democratic principles.

Flake said, “2017 was a year which saw the truth — objective, empirical, evidence-based truth — more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government. … It was the year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally protected free press was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. ‘The enemy of the people’ was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017.

“Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. … And, of course, the president has it precisely backward — despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy.”

A year ago, the newly sworn-in president said, “Jan. 20, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation once again.”

Instead, Jan. 20, 2017, is remembered as the first day in office of a man unprepared for the presidency and unfit to maintain America’s standing in the world as a beacon of liberty. The nation is poorer for that.