As he departs the center ring for one of the smaller rings of American politics, it is fitting and proper that we take stock of President Trump’s presidency.
Each president changes the nation for both good and ill in their own subtle and direct ways. For his part, Mr. Trump had a variety of accomplishments that will remain as part of the American fabric for years to come.
He acknowledged and acted on the fact that our approach to China has weakened us and strengthened their ruling communists. The new approach by the United States to its competition with China is going to be a secular trend. A Biden administration will not change it. That is going to affect everything, especially supply chains that originate in or transit through China.
Mr. Trump brought a new approach to the Middle East, which has enabled Israel and the Arab states to create meaningful diplomatic and commercial ties. While the new administration would prefer to rebalance our position in the Middle East away from the House of Saud and toward Iran, that is unlikely to succeed. The velocity of Arab engagement with Israel seems set, and Iran is on the outside looking in as the Saudis and Israelis remake the Middle East.
Mr. Trump and his secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, deserve the credit for this.
Mr. Trump encouraged all involved to reassess the form and purpose of foreign policy and national security assumptions and arrangements that date from World War II. That particular genie will not be put back into the bottle.
With respect to the economy, he was successful in expanding both the economy and personal wealth because he understood that low tax rates and a light regulatory hand help companies and people prosper.
He changed the face of the federal judiciary for generations.
Mr. Trump also tried to change trade and immigration policies that place American workers at a disadvantage.
He accelerated the necessary and welcome realignment of the parties. The Democrats have long since given up representing workers and those of modest means, and the Republicans, until Mr. Trump, had little interest in filling that vacuum. American politics will not be the same in our lifetime.
Finally, Mr. Trump ended both the Bush and Clinton political dynasties and made clear to everyone the biases — and sometimes hypocrisy — of all sides in Washington. If he accomplished nothing else, he should be lauded by his fellow citizens for this.
At the same time, Mr. Trump had a handful of failings that proved his undoing.
Like many new to Washington, he was unaware of the folkways of the town, and, consequently, created more problems than necessary.
It is not clear that the president ever completely understood that in politics, like in business, competence matters. Three examples will suffice. First, it is no accident that the CARES Act was passed and signed way back in March with little public friction — those who worked on it for the administration were skilled professionals.
Second, compare the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2020 to the 2021 NDAA. The 2020 version was negotiated by competent staff who were aware of each principal’s red lines. It was signed by the president in a lovely ceremony right before Christmas 2019 at Joint Base Andrews. The 2021 version was a complete mess that resulted in an overridden veto.
Third, and most damaging, part of the failure of the COVID-19 response can be laid at the feet of Mr. Trump’s indecisive and weepy final chief of staff.
Like many businessmen, the president also failed to account for the importance of having sturdy philosophical allies in senior positions. He assumed, wrongly, that political personnel are as interchangeable as those in a corporation. He never fully understood that in politics not everyone is committed to the same bottom line, that staff sometimes have different objectives than the boss.
Consequently, a lifelong Democrat who shared few of Mr. Trump’s policy preferences (son-in-law Jared Kushner) wound up as the de facto chief of staff and closest adviser to the president. Same with the secretary of the Treasury. Same with the first director of the National Economic Council.
Personnel — good or bad — is policy in the federal government.
Mr. Trump may be the most consequential president of our lives — one term or otherwise. Or his legacy may be obscured by new men, strange faces, other minds. Only time will tell.
As Tennyson wrote in “Idylls of the King:” “The old order changeth, yielding place to new.”
Thank you, President Trump. We wish you all the best.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.