There was a certain undeniable appeal to Trump in 2016 — he was an anti-establishment candidate who thought out-of-the-box and made some staggering promises. Four years later, it’s time to evaluate his performance objectively. Granted that the COVID-19 pandemic threw a curve ball, let’s scrutinize ten of his core “Make America Great Again” objectives.
Reducing Trade Deficit: This was one of his biggest obsessions for the last thirty years. To him, trade deficit means we are getting “ripped off.” We are buying more than selling, and hence we are losing money. He repeatedly said that he would make “great deals” and eliminate trade deficit. Since “they need us more than we need them,” it would be easy to get these terrific deals done.
Well, let’s take a look at the U.S. trade deficit with the rest of the world during the last four years of Obama and compare it with the four years under Trump. Oops, it actually increased. All those “greatest deals” and nasty fights with Mexico, Japan, South Korea, EU, Canada and others resulted in a big nothingburger. Clueless Trump gets a grade of “F”.
Trade and Tech War With China: Again, the main promise that Trump made was that he would negotiate awesome deals so that we would buy less from China and they would buy more American goods. His tariffs would kill imports from China and force American companies to bring manufacturing jobs back to the USA. Looking at the picture below, you need a microscope to see that small difference in U.S. imports of goods from China between 2016 and 2019.
The trade deficit with China in 2020 is also virtually the same as it was in 2016 — about $30 billion a month. Again, ignorant Trump failed in the biggest goal of his presidency.
China did make big concessions in opening up its financial sector, getting rid of joint venture mandates, and strengthening its IP laws. However, those changes would have happened regardless of all the illegal tariffs and Sinophobic rhetoric from the U.S.
Trump employed gangster capitalism by arresting Huawei’s CFO, placing numerous successful Chinese hi-tech companies under sanctions, and trying to buy TikTok at gunpoint. All these are going to eventually backfire.
Now, more than 3,000 American companies — including giants like Tesla, Disney, Target, Home Depot — are suing Trump to remove the tariffs. And even the WTO has ruled that Trump’s tariffs violate international laws.
Manufacturing Renaissance: Billionaire Trump got a lot of working class votes because he promised to MAGA by bringing manufacturing jobs back. Well, the total number of people employed in manufacturing went up by only 3% in 3 years (from 12.4 million to 12.8 million). Not surprising, as we saw in the trade charts earlier. And then coronavirus happened and employment in the sector crashed to below what it was in Obama/Biden years.
BTW, manufacturing employment now is where it was in the … 1940s! The world has changed, but senile people like Trump have a hard time adjusting.
Mr. Populism also raised tariffs on steel and aluminum, which then caused – even before the pandemic – 75,000 job losses in industries that use steel and aluminum. Duh!
Trump also failed to help the farmers, his loyal base. Farm bankruptcies skyrocketed in 2019, in spite of the billions of dollars Trump handed out like a socialist country.
Eliminating Debt: “Nobody knows debt better than I do!” Trump constantly attacked Obama for rising debt, but has seen the federal debt go up by whopping $7 trillion. Even before the pandemic, the debt had risen by $4 trillion in three years. Big failure.
And in FY21, the US had the biggest budget deficit (as % of GDP) since World War 2!
In 2016, Trump also (correctly) pointed out to the dangers of low interest rates that created “big fat bubbles” in the stock market and real estate. But … Trump quickly embraced the same policies when he got into the office. Typical politician. And he gets a big fat “F”.
International Image: “Obama apologized for America’s actions and had no respect in the world!” Trump would show tremendous strength and the whole world would be in awe! Everyone would love America. Really? Everyone hates America and Trump now. America’s approval and standing in the world have plummeted. 2/3rd of Europeans have negative views of the U.S. now. Look at the chart from the latest Pew Research poll.
Petulant Trump also withdrew from U.N. organizations like UNESCO and WHO, which were founded by the USA! He broke core WTO rules under the fake excuse of “national security.” His unilateral withdrawal from TPP and Iran Deal only alienated our friends. “America First” became “America Isolated.”
GDP Growth: “With deregulation, tax cuts and trade deals, I will have GDP growth of 5% or 6%.” Ummm … U.S. GDP growth in 2017, 2018 and 2019 were 2.3%, 2.9% and 2.2% respectively. And then, of course, it totally crashed in 2020. Embarrassing failure.
Mexico Wall: “I will build a huge wall and Mexico will pay for it.” Well, neither happened.
Infrastructure: This was actually a good idea that Trump had in 2016. He constantly talked about how China has amazing bullet trains and how America is falling apart. He promised to spend $1 trillion on rebuilding America. Surprise … nothing happened.
Military bases: Trump was correct in pointing out that we wasted trillions of dollars on wars and military bases. Although I would give him credit for not starting a big war in Syria, he didn’t bring home any U.S. soldiers or close any of the 800 U.S. military bases abroad. Failed again.
COVID-19: His handling of COVID19 has been an unmitigated disaster. While he was right on imposing travel ban on China in late January, he failed to do the same for Europe. Genetic studies show that more than 80% of the early cases in Los Angeles came from Europe. More importantly, there were virtually no coronavirus tests available in the U.S. until mid March. By then, the virus had already spread all over America.
Furthermore, Trump plays down the virus, saying that it’s less lethal than the common flu. Then, like a cynical politician, he also calls it the “China plague” and the “invisible enemy.”
Bonus Areas: Trump talked a lot about drug addiction during his 2016 campaign. However, drug usage constantly rose during his first three years, and is expected to go up significantly this year. Even methamphetamine (“meth”) usage has increased by 12% and cocaine by 40% (link).
Trump has also failed miserably to bring America together. Rather than negotiating with Antifa and the Black Lives Matter, he just fuels more hatred and polarization.
Thus, Trump failed in all of his big promises he made as a candidate. To use Trump’s own limited vocabulary and unlimited sensationalism, he has been a tremendous failure and the greatest disaster that America has ever experienced. Believe me. As for Biden … Sleepy Joe is not inspiring, but will be far better for America’s stability and global leadership after the last four years of circus.