Trump has failed on the two great issues of 2020 -- the pandemic and the economy
Donald Trump became the president of the United States following the 2016 election, inheriting an expanding economy in good condition. He managed it in a reasonable way, and the expansion continued until the pandemic hit the United States in early 2020.
In April 2020, Gallup reported that 64% of the American people thought that they were better off than in 2016. Trump carried out a program to reduce regulations. These actions were a mixed bag, in my opinion, with some welcome relief and others too important to be cancelled.
Many of these cancelled regulations dealt with global warming, reflecting the bizarre and wrong position that this was a hoax. Indeed, the lost four years in effective actions on global warming may be the most expensive price that will be paid for Trump’s presidency.
Trump’s trade policy actions were meaningless and reflected a child’s understanding of macroeconomics. The main consequences were to raise the price of imported goods into the United States and reduce manufacturing competitiveness.
His main foreign policy achievements were to alienate America’s main allies and to treat China as an enemy of the United States. This treatment of China was a deeply flawed approach that reflected Trump’s lack of depth of experience and his two disastrous secretaries of state.
He did what he could to harm the United States intelligence community, making the FBI’s decision in 2016 to open a counterintelligence case more and more reasonable. Some of Trump’s most frantic efforts were to stop such an effort. What does all of this mean? Think about it.
He increased the military budget to unnecessary levels, with little consequence for any foreseeable use. His teenage concepts of strategy were based on simple incidents with no experience in actual conflicts in the international sphere. His ideas about foreign relations were uninformed and primitive.
His only significant legislative achievement was to pass a tax law that reduced taxes, particularly for corporations and the rich. This enabled him to recklessly increase the government deficit, increasing over his four years the government debt, now exceeding the US GDP.
2020 and the Covid challenge
The year 2020 brought Trump’s real challenge as the Covid-19 pandemic struck the world and the United States. At the end of 2020, we can clearly see the disastrous year 2020 has been, and the dreadful ending that Trump has engineered or blundered through.
The pandemic was the great challenge of the Trump presidency. He failed. He completely mismanaged the crisis. He did an excellent job of driving the development of a vaccine, and that will provide some kind of end to this.
But the real problem has been the management of the pandemic from February 2020 until Trump leaves the presidency in January 2021. This was badly handled -- no systematic attack was made to control Covid-19 or to manage the medical challenges. Trump proved to all that he had no managerial ability. He downplayed the pandemic from the beginning, as he explained to Bob Woodward and reported in his book Rage.
Managing the pandemic was not simple. One of the most successful countries was Taiwan. When asked about their approach, the senior Taiwanese scientist said that they had followed the instructions suggested by the American Center for Disease Control. Unhappily, the CDC failed to apply its approach in the United States as Trump refused to listen.
For the past two months, as the pandemic has raged in the United States, Trump has ignored the growing deaths. He has shown no sympathy for the sick and dying; he has refused to take any actions except to suggest it was fraud. He has encouraged people to violate the rules formulated to slow the spread of the disease. He has mocked those who wear masks. He has told his followers that this would go away and not to worry about it.
By the time this is over, there will be more than 540,000 persons dead. If one applies the same death rate as Germany’s, there will be 400,000 dead Americans resulting from Trump’s failure to do his job. His death toll does not reach the levels of Pakistan in 1971, Stalin, or Mao, but it is bad enough. The number of American soldiers killed in World War II was 405,000. Trump must take his place as one of the great killers.
You should find this sickening. The United States government has failed to protect its people. Trump, the leader, deliberately by his behaviour drove so many to their death. If you compare the United States with South Korea or Taiwan, it is even worse. This is the first great reality about Trump.
While not directly complicit, the Republican senators and the Trump cabinet did nothing to stop Trump’s slaughter of his own people.
During 2020, the American economy took a terrible blow from the pandemic. The initial response to the economic recession was an appropriate, bold action to help people and businesses manage the sharp reduction in economic activity and the loss of jobs. The cooperation between the president and both parties in Congress was impressive.
But the pandemic kept going, and although there was real economic recovery, it was far from what was needed. The United States remains in a deep recession. Trump now refuses to take any further action. Perhaps a program will pass in the Congress in the next few days. The amount being discussed is inadequate for the magnitude of the problem, but it will help for the next three months.
Whether the Republicans will cooperate in providing additional support next year is uncertain. I rather think that the Republican leadership is out to make the Biden presidency as bad as possible and will be uncooperative. But I hope I am wrong.
But the second stimulus package that should have been approved two months ago is still being discussed and negotiated. For Trump, this is an act of cruelty. We know from the family revelations that Trump is a cruel man who takes pleasure from the misfortunes of others. He is delighted that all of these poor people, with a large percentage being Black or Latino, are suffering.
Trump stands condemned of having mismanaged the economy in 2020, causing much unnecessary suffering. Many are going hungry; many will be evicted from their apartments or be thrown out of their homes for not paying the rent or mortgage. Children are not going to school.
On this the Republican senators are complicit. It is very hard to comprehend men and women deliberately withholding help for the poor and disadvantaged people. Particularly as most of these senators claim to be Christians. I cannot make sense of this hypocrisy. There is something seriously wrong with elite Americans.
On the two great issues of 2020, the management of the pandemic and the economy, Trump failed. He is the president, the country is in terrible condition, and he must be held accountable for the consequences of his behaviour.
But he has done more. After the election, Trump has claimed that there was widespread voter fraud. He launched more than 50 court cases, and has essentially failed in all. No evidence has been presented. The effort to get a case to the Supreme Court continues. As Trump thinks he got all these justices their jobs, now is the time to return the favour and keep him as president. The basis for such an ending would be substantial evidence of voter fraud. None has been found.
Trump has continued to claim that the election was fraudulent and a large number of his supporters seem to believe him. The Republican party has refused to reject Trump’s position. The groundwork has been laid for a rejection of the legitimacy of the Biden government. The faith in an effective election system is being questioned by the Republicans.
As one might expect, Trump has used the confusion to initiate a fundraising program essentially for himself, but presenting this as funds needed to fight the court cases for the stolen election. He has raised $200 million from this. It is ultimately fraud. His supporters are talked into believing the election was a fraud, and then asked to give him money to fight it. But the first 5,000 dollars of any contribution go to paying his bills or getting ready to fight for the next election.
So, my president has mismanaged the pandemic, and the deaths and cases are rising faster than ever while he does nothing. With tens of millions of people suffering as they are short of savings and unable to get jobs (jobs go to the well educated who can work from home), Trump refuses to work with Congress to do much.
Finally he claims a fraudulent election without any evidence and persuades his supporters to give him money. You have to hand it to this guy -- he has wrapped himself in incompetence, dishonesty, and fraud while claiming to be a genius, insisting that the claims against him are fake and that the fraud lies on the side of the Democrats.
As his final present to the United States and Biden, Trump is initiating foreign policy actions that will present difficult situations for the new president. None of this is really serious, but it is annoying to have Trump take these actions without concern for the future choices that Biden might make. It is one sign of the Trump mind that wishes to hurt and harm, delights in the pain of others, and perceives that he must always be in control.
After a reasonable start, the last year of the Trump presidency was a failure as both the pandemic and the resulting economic recession have been badly handled. After losing the election Trump has repeatedly claimed that he won and did not lose, attacking the very foundation of American democracy. At the same time, he launched a financial scam of his supporters. To demonstrate his small mind, he then went about doing little things to make life difficult for the incoming president.
The United States leadership has failed. Its congressmen, civil servants, and generals silently stand by. Some applaud. Some cry. Few make a stand that might signal oppositions.
These events may have far reaching terrible consequences.
Forrest Cookson is an economist who has served as the first president of AmCham and has been a consultant for the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.