“The Supreme Court really let us down. No Wisdom, No Courage!”
– President Trump’s Tweet, December 11th 2020.
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution…”
– President Trump, addressing his supporters in Washington DC on January 6th 2021.
In USA’s presidential election held on November 3rd 2020, Donald Trump, the Republican party candidate, won about 74.2 million votes but lost to Joe Biden of the Democratic party who won about 81.3 million votes. Overall, 157 million Americans voted.
All these figures are new records. For example, the previous record was 69 million votes, won by Obama in 2008. Biden’s votes translated into 306 Electoral College votes and Trump’s into 232 votes. (Electoral College votes that are state-based, as distinct from the popular vote, determine the winner of presidential elections in the USA).
From November 7th 2020 when Biden’s victory was projected across the media in the US to January 6th when the Congress was in session for the final certification of the election results, incumbent president Trump refused to accept that he had been defeated.
Indeed, he continuously asserted, via his Tweets, that he was the winner. Significantly, he did not accept the rejection of his election challenge at the level of the US Supreme Court on December 11th 2020 as final: he whined that the apex court had let him down – “No Wisdom, No Courage”. (He, his campaign and various supporters had lost close to 60 election-related lawsuits in lower courts). And when the Vice-President, who is constitutionally mandated to preside over the final certification of electoral votes by Congress, formally stated that he could not reject any electoral votes as Trump had requested, he, too, was lambasted as lacking “the courage to do what should have been done…”
Then, the insurrection by a mob Donald Trump had incited happened at the Congress (the temple of American democracy): hundreds of rioters invaded Congress chambers and the certification session was suspended. After order had been restored, Congress continued with its task.
The session was concluded early on January 7th: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were confirmed as president-elect and vice-president-elect respectively. Several hours later, Trump publicly committed to a smooth transition to a new administration but he did not congratulate Biden.
It is no exaggeration to assert that through his convoluted exit, characterised with unconscionable and patently undemocratic actions, Trump has proved right the one-half million or so protesters who had presciently called him “a threat to democracy” shortly after he was inaugurated in January 2017. (See “Can Democracy Work? Democracy Works,” Vanguard, April 16th 2020). Trump certainly threatened American democracy but he failed. And true democrats in America and elsewhere were relieved that the resilience of American democracy prevailed.
Trump presidency: An interim scorecard
Because of the insurrection at the Capitol by a mob that Trump had incited, he exited the White House on January 19th with the unenviable label of a “threat to the nation”. Exactly a week to the formal end of his term, he was impeached for “incitement of insurrection” by the House of Representatives, becoming the first president in US history to be impeached twice. (He had earlier been impeached on December 18th 2019 for “abuse of power and obstruction of Congress” but he was able to remain in office because the Senate did not convict him).
A second negative in Trump’s scorecard is his failure to provide effective leadership for tackling the coronavirus crisis. With no national strategy to fight the pandemic, he continuously spouted baffling half-truths about the severity of the crisis.
Furthermore, he strangely indulged in blaming others, including China, his predecessor (President Obama), the World Health Organisation, his scientific advisers, as well as some subnational state governments for the country’s consistent poor outcomes with respect to the pandemic.
At his departure from the White House, USA had recorded the world’s highest number of infections (over 24 million, about 20 percent of world total) and deaths (over 400,000, about 25 percent of world total). Unsurprisingly, national exit poll revealed that coronavirus pandemic was third among the top five issues that mattered most in determining citizens’ vote for president in November 2020.
The inhumane separation of about 545 children from their parents since 2017/2018 (that is, for 30 months or longer) is incontestably another negative in Trump’s scorecard. His administration’s crackdown on undocumented migrants implemented in 2017/2018 resulted in the removal of over 1000 children from their parents.
Whilst the parents of less than one-half of the total were found, the location of the parents of the remaining children had not been recorded. The continued suffering of these innocent children casts a shadow on whatever was achieved through Trump’s immigration policy that aimed to eliminate illegal immigrants and reduce legal immigration in order to protect American jobs
Another noteworthy negative is the perception that Trump undermined America’s standing and influence in world affairs through his foreign policy somersaults: he pulled the USA out of arms control agreements, the Iran nuclear deal, the UN Human Rights Council, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. At his exit, America’s image across the continents had been significantly diminished.
I would argue that the above failed scores lend some credence to the warnings contained in The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump edited B. Lee (2017, second edition 2019). The three dozen psychiatrists and health experts who contributed to the book broadly agree on “a society duty” to warn about Trump’s “psychological dangerousness”, “mental instability”, and “delusional beliefs.”
Although the extent of a meaningful linkage of Trump’s specific failures over four years to the dangers flagged in Lee’s book is certain to be a subject of debate for the foreseeable future, the significance of the publication is incontestable: the early warning before the end of Trumps first year in office and a repeat warning during his penultimate year.
Notwithstanding the extensive publicity given to Trump’s failed scores world-wide, especially his most recent threat to American democracy and his failed leadership with respect to Covid19 pandemic, it must be acknowledged that he recorded some successes through the implementation of the policies and programmes in his Make America Great Again (MEGA) agenda.
Trump’s most touted success is with respect to the economy. In particular, his pro-business and deregulation policies as well as sweeping tax cuts are credited with the steady growth in the economy over his four-year term. Although Covid19 had some negative consequences for the economy during his final year (especially increased unemployment and a significant rise in poverty rate), opinion polls consistently showed that a higher percentage of Americans would rather entrust the economy to him than to Biden.
Trump’s “America first” trade policy was also touted as an achievement (promotion of jobs) even though attention was drawn in the media to some negative consequences of the policy.
Finally, the clear 6-3 majority in the Supreme Court that was due more to accidental timing than anything that Trump did by design – the appointment of three conservative justices – is widely considered by all conservatives in the Republican party in general, and Trump supporters in particular, as an achievement. The following are some issues of significant societal import on which the court could have to make decisions during this decade and possibly beyond: voting rights, racial justice, abortion rights, gun regulation and the Affordable Care Act, 2010.
Expectedly, all the five issues revealed in National Exit Poll as the key determinants of Americans’ vote for president in November 2020 featured prominently in the Inaugural Address delivered by Joe Biden, the 46th President, on January 20th. They are: the economy, racial inequality, the coronavirus pandemic, crime and safety, and health care policy. Two other key issues/challenges highlighted in the Address are uniting America and foreign policy (“America’s role in the world”).
He acknowledged the former in both his campaign and post-election mantra of a determination to be a president for all Americans and not only for those who voted for him. The latter was one of his passions during his three-dozen-long years in the Senate, including close to five years as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee between 2001 and 2008. And foreign policy also featured prominently during his vice-presidential career, 2009-2016.
It remains to be seen how Biden will actually prioritize these seven issues. More importantly, what his presidency would concretely accomplish, with respect to each of all seven key issues, remains in the womb of time.
Professor Ladipo Adamolekun writes from Iju, Akure North, Ondo State