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One Year In, How’s Trump Doing?

BU experts on a wild first year

Donald Trump, the most un-clichéd of presidents, nevertheless conjures a cliché: what a difference a year makes. What do Americans think of the president now? A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds that by a 53-to-40-percent margin, Americans consider Trump’s first year a failure. Shortly after the 2016 election, we asked some BU experts for their take on what President Trump might do. With the first anniversary of his inauguration tomorrow, we again consulted them, for their assessment of Trump’s first year. Their answers follow.

Virginia Sapiro, professor of political science and former Arts & Sciences dean, College of Arts & Sciences

Trump has been tremendously successful. Aided by a Republican Congress who traded their power to fulfill their highest priorities, he moved his agenda through executive action rather than legislation. He slowed, stopped, or rolled back what even the middle, not to mention the left, would see as progress on core areas of public policy and values: civil rights, civil liberties, protecting the environment, taking pride in American racial and religious diversity, placing a hand on the scale to address the imbalance of power between individuals and communities versus powerful corporations. He speeded erosion of fundamental trust in American democracy, which, in turn, erodes its functioning, to give himself more power. He made our government more clientelistic and autocratic, reflecting his preferred governance style as the CEO of a particular kind of private family company. He gave America’s support to some other world leaders who operate that way. He gave voice to the white people who believe they have been denigrated by racism and to Christians who believe the United States is and ought to be a Christian country. He rolled back the size and impact of the federal government. He restructured the tax system away from redistributive policies. He changed the face of many judgeships, including in the Supreme Court. It would take a long time to undo his accomplishments.

He scored some notable losses. He caused the United States to lose power and respect. He personally provoked an uprising of women who refuse to continue being silent in the face of harassment. He sparked an upsurge in political engagement among Democrats. They will contest more seats at all levels than they have for a long time, which will spread Republican support money more thinly than it has had to be in some time. More of these candidates than ever will be women, people of color, and LGTBQ people. But Democrats should not plan their victory parties yet. The foremost determinant of how people vote will remain their own partisan identification. Unless lots of Republicans abandon their partisanship identification, unless the youngest generations enter the electorate largely as Democrats (don’t forget those young Charlottesville white supremacist marchers) and vote at levels never seen before, the outcome of the election is far from determined.

Bruce Schulman, William E. Huntington Professor of History, CAS

How could I have been so wrong? My November 2016 forecast seems horribly dated, almost upside down. In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s surprising victory, I anticipated that control of Washington would paper over divisions in the Republican Party and plunge the Democrats into a frenzy of “finger-pointing, soul-searching, and recriminations.” Instead, concerted resistance to Trump’s agenda has unified the opposition, muted internecine conflict among Democrats, and energized the party’s base. Meanwhile, even though Republicans largely rallied around Trump’s appointments and behind his tax bill, the GOP has purged many of its anti-Trump voices (the premature retirements of Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker and more than a dozen moderate House members), split over the nomination of Roy Moore [the Republican loser in Alabama’s December Senate race], the influence of former White House aide Steve Bannon, the presence of transsexuals in the military, and the deduction for state and local taxes.

Still, the question I raised 14 months ago about the shifting electoral foundations of American politics remains relevant. Since 2010, Republicans have far outperformed expectations in the industrial Midwest. In those one-time manufacturing centers, Republicans successfully exploited disaffection among less educated, less well-off whites, and in states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, used control of the state legislature to restructure the electorate in their favor. That turned the tide for Trump in 2016 and helped explain why Republicans (who lost the popular vote in the presidential race and won far more Congressional seats than their overall share of votes would suggest) retain majority control of all governmental branches despite their minority status in the electorate. The political riddle for 2018 is whether the intensity and unity of anti-Trump forces is sufficient to overcome the structural advantages the GOP enjoys and win Democrats control of one (or both) houses of Congress.

Kecia Ali, professor of religion, CAS

Sadly, my prediction about the pervasive anti-Muslim bias of this administration, and especially the current president, has been borne out. He retweeted false anti-Muslim propaganda from Europe’s far right, ordered discriminatory Muslim travel bans, and has repeatedly excused violent white supremacists. Attacks on Muslims, and those perceived to be Muslim, are at an all-time high, and some are undertaken explicitly in the president’s name. My mosque was among those receiving a letter declaring that Trump “is going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.” Popular resistance and legal challenges to anti-Muslim policies have been important, but are challenging to sustain in the wake of so many concurrent threats to immigrants, health care, disability rights, net neutrality, reproductive justice, workers’ protections, the climate, Native lands, and more. We have our work cut out for us.

Thomas Fiedler (COM’71) dean, College of Communication

Readers can prepare for me a heaping bowl of crow to eat, with a side of humiliation. In the spirit of the glass-half-full, I predicted in this space a year ago that candidate Donald Trump’s attacks on the news media wouldn’t carry over into his presidency. Beneath all that bluster, all that showmanship, must lie a foundation of rationality, I reasoned. When he no longer needed to win attention, insult rivals, or beat up the reporters covering him to get the crowd’s applause, surely he would behave like the executive leader his voters thought he could be. Gulp…

That prediction didn’t survive Trump’s first day in the White House, when he blasted coverage of his inauguration as “fake news” because his own “alternative facts” (a term coined by aide Kellyanne Conway) proved that his was the most watched inauguration in the nation’s history. The anti-press tsunami rolled forward from there: he has expressed the wish to edit the First Amendment, at least as it pertains to the press; loosen the news media’s legal defenses, rendering the press vulnerable to lawsuits (his lawyers recently threatened to sue the publisher of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury); and still come the unrelenting tweets dismissing every report not to his liking as fake.

Not since Richard Nixon’s attempt to halt publication of the Pentagon Papers and his infamous enemies list has a president demonstrated such unrestrained hostility toward the Fourth Estate. But even Nixon didn’t mock the news media as Trump is doing with his “Fake News Awards, those going to the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media…”

The press, far from being cowed by these attacks, is energized by them. And it isn’t likely that Trump will hold his fire, not as he becomes desperate to shake the scandals and questions engulfing him and to stop his slide in public esteem (already the lowest in modern history).

I predict that this animus will not only continue through 2018, but will grow even uglier and more unhinged. And if I get this prediction as wrong as I did my last one, I will be a very happy guy.

Cutler Cleveland, professor of earth and environment, CAS

Cutler Cleveland, professor of earth and environment, CAS

The Trump administration’s actions on energy, climate, and sustainability have unfolded pretty much as expected: science-based decision-making to promote public well-being has been replaced by promotion of the financial interests of a narrow swath of corporations. Most of the nation’s key institutions that protect human health and the environment—the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Energy, Interior, and Agriculture—are headed by individuals who openly disdain science and who personally benefit from the extraction of natural resources. These agencies continue to deny climate change, relax drinking water standards, weaken safeguards to prevent worker exposure to harmful chemicals, purge scientific content from their websites, restrict the communication of their staffs (prohibiting the terms “evidence-based” and “science-based”), and create a hostile work environment for staff scientists.

Across all federal agencies, the Trump administration has weakened the advisory committees that provide scientific advice to the government and has left a large number of positions unfilled. The results are policies that will harm well-being immediately and well into the future. Examples include scrapping the Clean Power Plan, opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and federal waters to oil and gas exploration (except off the coast of the key swing state of Florida), canceling a study of health risks to residents who live near mountaintop removal coal mine sites in the Appalachian Mountains, canceling a rule to prevent endangered whales and sea turtles from becoming entangled in fishing nets, repealing emission standards for trucks, and shrinking the EPA budget. Trump’s actions no doubt will resonate with his base; how they will play out in future election cycles is unclear, because there is widespread and deep support in American society for policies that promote clean air and water and that conserve important natural resources and environmental amenities.

Adil Najam, professor and dean, Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies

Unfortunately, 2017 may have been the year that America stopped trying to be great, at least in its international relations.

Donald Trump has led a truly remarkable—even dramatic—turnaround from America’s being a great power that shapes as well as leads the international system to seeing itself as victim of an unfair international order. Nowhere was this shift more apparent than in Trump’s speech to the United Nations in November, when he invoked the word “sovereignty” 21 times. Such is the rhetoric of the weak, not the great.

It was already evident that Trump’s America is not isolationist as much as it is unwilling to accept the mantle of global leadership. US abdication on climate change was not news. But the fact that the rest of the world did not care, react, or think it consequential was a sure sign that American power and influence ain’t what they used to be.

Then Trump began digging his own hole deeper.

In Afghanistan, where the United States is now embroiled in a war longer than the Soviet Union had been and controls even less territory, Trump’s strategy is to coerce Pakistan and coo to India to step in to do more. In Syria, Russia and Turkey are left to take the lead. In Iraq, the Kurds, our staunchest allies, feel betrayed. Having looked the other way on Qatar and then Lebanon, the Saudis stand anointed as the new sheriff of the Arabian Gulf. In Russia, of course, everything has become subservient to Trump’s own complicated relations.

Things are clearly not going well when an American president cancels a visit to London because he is not welcome there. But that’s not as bad as the entire continent of Africa—54 countries—demanding a formal apology for having been disrespected with vulgarities. And after the Pope, as well as nearly the entire General Assembly of the United Nations, reprimands your president for his decisions.

Of course, there is also the schoolyard brawl with North Korea. But there, at least, we now know that Trump’s nuclear button is bigger than Kim Jong-un’s.

We already knew that it is not easy for any nation to become great, let alone become a great power. We may now be learning how easy it is to stop being so.

Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

21 Comments on One Year In, How’s Trump Doing?

  • Missy on 01.19.2018 at 5:20 am

    I see no bias here just more fake news.

  • Gary Lawson on 01.19.2018 at 6:19 am

    Dow above 26,000. Unemployment at historic lows. Business confidence at historic highs. ISIS crushed in less than a year. And somehow none of the “experts” uncovered by BU Today find any of this worthy of mention?

    • Jon on 01.19.2018 at 9:19 am

      Yes it’s amazing what happens when there’s pro business leadership in the White House. Big difference from the “community organizer” who said “if you have a business you didn’t build that”

    • Jack on 01.19.2018 at 10:21 pm

      This is all carry over from Obama’s 8 years as president. ISIS was not crushed in “less than a year” and unemployment has been dipping for a while. Trump is bad for American unity and an embarrassment internationally.

    • Jon on 03.23.2018 at 12:14 am

      The DOW is below 20,000 dude, oops Trump did it again.

  • peter on 01.19.2018 at 8:05 am

    He’s the change I hope we can keep.

    • Michelle on 01.19.2018 at 9:20 am

      Trump 2020!

  • Michael on 01.19.2018 at 9:03 am

    More left-wing crying. Are these the same polls that predicted Hillary would win in a landslide and the stock market would crash? Trump’s all about creating job’s and for that reason alone he’s got a really good chance of winning again in 2020. Look at CA to see what decades of democratic leadership do, high taxes, sanctuary cities, no welfare reform, etc.. no wonder businesses are fleeing CA for TX.

  • Diego de la Vega on 01.19.2018 at 9:38 am

    It is amazing how out of touch with the “little people” the academic elite is. They have no idea what the needs and expectations of real American families are and how to take care of them. They just want to keep getting their tax dollar and carry on. I immigrated legally to the USA twenty five years ago to escape the same kind of ideology that turned my native country in a (….)-hole.

  • Linda on 01.19.2018 at 9:55 am

    Excellent analyses, although depressing. Specially the last one on US international standing. That is where this crazy man has caused the most damage. From being the country everyone looked up to, we have been made the laughing stock of the work. No power has fallen as quickly or as disgracefully as he is trying to bring us down.

  • Andrew Wolfe on 01.19.2018 at 10:02 am

    A lot of supposed soul-searching and “mea culpa” by people repeating the same accusations they make about every conservative Republican. They’re apologizing because they were so right before and Trump is even worse. A lot of unsubstantiated rubbish about eroding civil liberties by people who seem not to have noticed the Obama opening criminal prosecutions against journalists. What’s most pathetic is that each of these respondents is actually not providing any meaningful insight or distinct perspective. Instead, they are pandering to each other by seeking clever rephrasings of the same accusations I’ve heard about Republicans since Reagan – another President whose accomplishments like ending the Cold War they never, ever will acknowledge.

  • Chy on 01.19.2018 at 11:20 am

    Any expert assessment of the past 12 months that fails to acknowledge the positive changes the govt of Trump has made, particularly in the economy, is suspect. BU Today editors can do better.

    • Kitty on 01.19.2018 at 2:16 pm

      The “BU experts” polled by BUToday after the 2016 election missed badly post-election and, now, a year afterward, they won’t acknowledge their misses.

      How can the lowest overall unemployment in 50 years, including the lowest unemployment among blacks, demonstrable improvement in the relation among races, an historic tax cut that is already positively affecting the middle class as well as businesses large and small, be the horror described by BU “experts”?

      • Jack on 01.19.2018 at 10:26 pm

        Unemployment is thanks to Obama era. Glad you appreciate it. Race relations are worse now unfortunately. Tax cuts could be good for middle class but the bill wasn’t put together carefully enough. Too sloppy.

        • Joel on 01.22.2018 at 9:07 am

          I love how liberals want to say Obama is somehow responsible for Trump’s great first year in office. Except Obama relied on the Fed to pump up the stock, housing, and commodity markets through low interest rates causing another bubble. Trump is actually creating a pro-business environment through tax cuts and undoing Obama’s regulations that’s a big difference. Unfortunately the Obama Fed inflated bubble will probably pop sometime within Trump’s presidency and he’ll get blamed.

  • Kitty on 01.19.2018 at 2:31 pm

    I neglected to point out that the positive achievements of a less-than-one-year-old administration may be news to some, in part because some media outlets are simply not reporting them! More than ever, those of intellectual curiosity and the need to know the truth, would benefit from broad reporting on current events, with domestic and international.

    Identifying media bias, which so easily moves to media censorship, must be our individual and collective responsibility if we care about the truth.

    Compare what major outlets are reporting. Ascertain what stories not carried (ignored) by some can be independently verified. Don’t limit your news sources to outlets that ignore news that may not comport with the outlet’s (or your own) “view of the world.”

  • Greg S on 01.19.2018 at 5:35 pm

    Who took the BU that I once knew and loved? Honestly, what happened to the University? This BU seems deeply lost in the liberal elite weeds … utterly clueless!

    Our ‘best and brightest’ professors don’t even seem an inch deep and a mile wide … they learned NOTHING from the 2016 election or the year that’s just passed … I’m embarrassed for each of them, and candidly, of my alma mater too.

    You don’t have to like Trump … that’s okay, but to NOT acknowledge that he’s fired up the economy .. an economy that lazily floundered around, made some tech gazzilionaires but mostly crushed the middle of the country – and the hardworking folks who populate the area between the left and right coast. He’s got the consumer reenergized (critically important in a consumer driven economy), GDP could start bumping up against 4% – this would be a 100% improvement over the ‘Community Disorganizer’s’ average, unemployment claims are at a 40 year low, GOOD jobs are beginning to return to the country, corporations are repatriating capital at an astounding rate (bonuses to employees, wage increases, and cap-ex will all follow), stock markets are flying, there’s optimism in the economic marketplace … etc etc etc. He’s lifted a mountain of regulation that was stifling growth (I read that he’s surpassed his goal of 1 new law at the cost of removing 2 – with 20 removed for 1 new one passed), he’s given business leaders a reason to invest in the US, the tax overhaul is MASSIVE, he’s placed a bunch of federal judges, and seated a US Supreme Court Justice. He’s stomped ISIS, and put the fear of collapse and ultimate survival into the little rodents who run a bunch of these silly little nothing countries .. he’s backhanded NATO and has them beginning to actually ‘pay’ for their own relative security, so OF COURSE they don’t like his approach – to NOT acknowledge that is to miss the train completely!

    It is, without question, an astounding track record … PERIOD.

    Seriously, keep hating Trump … if it makes you feel good – go for it. But, also, enjoy your greater paycheck, don’t forget to check your 401k balance, have fun working through all the new job offers that are certain to start rolling in once the engine really gets humming, and get prepared for another 7 years of a Trump administration.

  • Matt on 01.19.2018 at 5:36 pm

    Your experts are exactly right. And very proud of BU that our professors are speaking truth to power. Amazing how out of touch Trump supporters are. The Pew survey out just today (http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/06/26/u-s-image-suffers-as-publics-around-world-question-trumps-leadership/) gives data for exactly what your international expert has to say: Under Trump America has stopped being great!

  • izaz haque on 01.19.2018 at 5:37 pm

    long-term thinking is a relic of the past, unfortunately.

  • Michael Dodge on 01.19.2018 at 9:14 pm

    As a longtime creature of BU, I find this level of privileged separation from the facts and practicalities of the real world a parody of itself and a real disservice to students. Too many of us at BU and elsewhere in academia are inclined to champion every form of diversity except political ideology. I suspect publicly noting anything that isn’t dystopian about the current administration might be detrimental to the social status and professional standing of those who contributed to this story. That’s a shame.

    Among the six experts, Virginia Sapiro and Adil Najam offer an extra special type of useless histrionics. Conversely, Bruce Schulman deserves credit for presenting a smart, unemotional analysis.

    Tom Fiedler is a good man with a highly informed point of view. It’s disappointing that he avoids an honest exploration, here and in other public forums, of the reasons why a significant majority of Americans no longer trust the media or think national reporters can relate in any way to the suburban and rural experience. He says nary a word about the dissolution of standards and ethics; the tones of ridicule and righteousness that creep more and more into fact-based reporting; the popularity of cable news and social media punditry as an acceptable side hustle for those who report straight news; or the manifold incidents of major media outlets getting important stories wrong in the past year because of a reliance on anonymous sources who are often settling scores and advancing partisan objectives.

    These are not glory days for American journalism or aligned in many ways to the best practices of Tom’s era as a political reporter. There are agitators and unprincipled purveyors of disinformation, of all political persuasions, within government AND media. The assault is reciprocal, and it continues to sow tremendous anger, confusion and division among Americans of sound intelligence and good intentions.

  • Patty on 01.20.2018 at 12:01 pm

    Is there anything “fair and balanced“ about this this article? How are students to form their own opinions when you push this one sided garbage? BU should hire diversity in opinion…

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