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Donald Trump
Image: Reuters/A.P. Bernstein

How Donald Trump changed things in 10 easy lessons

Carsten von Nahmen | Michael Knigge
January 19, 2018

Much of the attention on US President Trump focuses on what he says and tweets. But in his first year in office he has already had a significant impact on key issues affecting people in the US and around the world.


International Trade

Donald Trump has made it repeatedly clear that he prefers bilateral trade agreements over multilateral ones. Since he took office, the US President has stopped the United States' participation in negotiations over a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and put negotiations over a free trade deal between the US and the European Union (TTIP) on hold. In addition, he threatened to cancel the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), forcing Mexico and Canada to re-negotiate the terms of the agreement. Meanwhile, America's competitors are continuing their efforts to reduce trade barriers between them: The European-Canadian free trade agreement CETA went into effect in 2017, and 11 countries on both sides of the Pacific are continuing their efforts to establish a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement without the US. Although China is not part of the TPP negotiations, Trump's critics fear that the US withdrawal will further strengthen China's influence on commerce in Asia and the Pacific region.

Trump signing an order
Trump signed an executive order withdrawing the US from the TPPImage: Getty Images/R. Sachs

Read moreOpinion: Donald Trump's policies have fed China's rise as world power

Business and Finance

Donald Trump's first year in office was a good year for shareholders and other investors in the stock market: The Dow Jones Industrial Index rose from 18,589 points on the day after Trump's election to more than 25,800 in mid-January. Compared to that, the Dow rose only moderately in President Obama's first year in office (in the middle of the global financial crisis), but Obama also saw the Dow more than double over his full eight years in office: from just over 9,000 to more than 18,000. Also, under Trump the unemployment rate decreased from 4.8 percent a year ago to 4.1 percent today (when Obama took over from George W. Bush though, the unemployment rate was at around 8 percent).

Trump's biggest legislative achievement, a tax reform signed into law at the end of December, reduces the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent, and reduces income taxes for individual citizens across the board while doubling standard deductions. By far the biggest share of those cuts, however, benefits companies and high earners: Taxpayers earning more than $700,000 (€574,000) a year, who make up 1 percent of all taxpayers, will receive 20 percent of the total tax cut. And while the tax cuts for businesses are permanent, the reductions for individual taxpayers will expire after 10 years. The tax cuts are financed on credit, leading to an increase in the federal budget deficit of about $1 trillion over the next 10 years, according to the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation.

Health and Social Security

Trump and the Republicans in Congress failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, the signature bill of Trump‘s predecessor in the White House. But in the 2017 tax reform, they did manage to repeal the "individual mandate," a provision that demands that every American has to have health insurance, or otherwise pay a penalty. Without the Individual Mandate, less young and healthy Americans will be inclined to buy health insurance, leading to higher premiums for everybody else. The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that, as a result, the number of uninsured Americans could increase by up to 13 million. Meanwhile, leading Republicans in Congress — including House Speaker Paul Ryan — are advocating reductions on future spending on social security and other so-called entitlement programs — partly to offset the increase in the federal budget deficit caused by the 2017 tax reform.

Public discourse/Newspeak

Book presentation
Trump has left his mark on public discourseImage: Reuters/C. Barria

What Donald Trump has done to public discourse is best summed up by stating that since his taking office it is generally no longer advisable to quote the president of the United States in the presence of children. Just in time for the first anniversary of his inauguration, Trump made sure to remind people, when he described Haiti and African nations as"s***hole countries," something he later denied.

But it is not just the fact that the president has coarsened public discourse and routinely utters falsehoods at a staggering pace, (according to the Washington Post, who tracks his remarks, he made more than 2,000 false or misleading claims since taking office) with one of his earliest erroneous claims concerning the crowd size following immediately after his inauguration.

At least as disconcerting is the fact that the Trump administration has apparently shunned various words and phrases from public websites. According to a new report from the EDGI (Environmental Data and Governance Initiative), an international group of researchers, "climate" is a key word that has been rephrased or scrubbed from Trump administration websites, especially from the pages of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While the scrubbing of words like "climate" from government websites has been confirmed, media reports that other agencies like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have banned the usage of certain words have been denied by officials.                                        

Shrinking the government

Under Trump the size of the federal workforce has been shrinking. At the end of September, according to official data, the US government had 16,000 fewer permanent employees than at the end of 2016. 

Beyond reducing the number of permanent employees the Trump administration has also still not filled many key governmental positions. In fact, according to the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service which tracks the confirmation process, the Trump administration has still not filled 245 of 633 key positions that require Senate confirmation, among them such important posts as that of ambassador to South Korea.

Appointment of judges

Probably one of the most lasting impacts — and certainly most irreversible since it is a lifetime position — of the Trump presidency is his appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. At 50, which is young for a Supreme Court judge, the conservative Gorsuch will likely remain at and shape the highest court for years to come. But Trump's success at appointing conservative judges to the bench extends beyond the Supreme Court. Trump has also managed to get 19 additional top level judges confirmed by the Senate, among them a record number of 12 circuit court judges, which will likely leave their judicial imprint on the country for decades to come.             

Foreign policy

While Trump continues to criticize NATO member states for not contributing enough, he has upped the money and American personnel dedicated to defend the alliance's Eastern flank. Beyond Europe, Trump has engaged in what is widely viewed as a dangerous name-calling game with North Korea's leader regarding the country's rapidly advancing nuclear weapons program and Pyongyang's aggressive behavior. By recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital as well as charting a tougher course vis-à-vis Cuba and the Iran nuclear deal, Trump has reversed decades of US foreign policy on the former and his predecessor's stance on the latter issues. Generally though, many observers find that the Trump administration led by a president who is deeply unpopular in many parts of the world, still lacks a coherent foreign policy strategy.

Read moreDonald Trump's presidency: Taking stock and looking ahead


Protests against Trump's DACA plans
Trump's immigration policy has sparked protests across the country Image: Getty Images/David McNew

With the number of illegal border crossings down by 40 percent at the US-Mexican border last year according to official figures and an ongoing crackdown on undocumented immigrants by the Trump administration, immigration is one of the issues where the president has had a deep impact affecting tens of thousands of people in the US and around the world. While Trump's travel ban against several countries is still tied up in the courts, the administration has signaled it will end the protected status that allows more than 200,000 people from El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua to remain in the United States. Trump has also ended the DACA program and repeatedly hammered the diversity lottery program that enables some 50,000 people from various countries to come to the US per year and wants to end it. And even though illegal border crossings have already dropped significantly, Trump still wants to fulfill his promise to build a wall along the US-Mexican border.    


One of Donald Trump's first decisions as President was to name Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A very controversial choice, as Pruitt is an outspoken climate-change skeptic who believes that the authority of the agency he now leads should be drastically reduced. As attorney-general in Oklahoma, he repeatedly sued the EPA. Since taking office, Pruitt loosened regulations designed to reduce pollution from coal and gas power plants, vehicle emissions, mining, landfills and oil and gas drilling. A new and controversial proposal by the EPA would also allow offshore drilling along most coastlines of the US. In addition, the Trump administration has given the Green Light to controversial projects such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline, oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and a review of the size of dozens of protected areas throughout the country; Last, but certainly not least, Trump also pulled the US out of the Paris climate change agreement. 

USA Nebraska Keystone Pipeline
By giving the green light for the Keystone Pipeline Trump reversed his predecessor's stanceImage: picture alliance/AP/N. Harnik

Consumer Protection

Reducing regulations for businesses is one of the main themes of the Trump administration not only with regard to the environment, but also when it comes to consumer protection. In a move mirroring Trump's approach towards the EPA, he appointed Mick Mulvaney, a fierce critic of the powerful Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as its new (temporary) director. The bureau, or CFPB, was established in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to protect consumers against malpractice from banks and other financial service providers. Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission, led by Trump-appointee Ajit Pai, scrapped the so-called net neutrality regulations that prohibited broadband providers from blocking websites or charging for higher-quality service or certain content. Pai argues that less regulation will increase competition, thus lowering prices for consumers and fueling innovation. But critics fear that broadband providers could favor big companies which can afford to pay for high-speed internet and better access for their products, while small businesses and start-ups would be disadvantaged, giving costumers less choice.

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