Donald Trump's presidency may be coming to an end, but he has changed the course of US politics — and his impact will be felt for generations.
After four tumultuous years, President Donald Trump's presidency ends on January 20, with a mixed legacy that will be studied for decades. Since he entered the White House, his administration has been riddled with controversy and scandal. His response to the coronavirus pandemic, his role in the violent attack at the US Capitol on January 6 and his subsequent second impeachment will all overshadow what he was able to implement during his one term as commander-in-chief.
Trump's legacy — perhaps more than that of any other US president — will be viewed through two starkly different lenses. Conservatives, the wealthy business class and the religious right might revere him as one of the greatest presidents of their time. But a majority of Americans hold him in disdain, as evidenced by a Pew Research poll that found he's leaving office with a 29% approval rating, the worst of his tenure as president.
Still, his supporters and allies laud him for shaking up the establishment and quickly implementing some of his 2016 campaign promises.
Trump's impact on the federal court system will certainly be his most enduring legacy and will be felt for generations, for better or worse.
He appointed three judges to lifetime tenures on the Supreme Court, cementing the high court's conservative bent, which could have implications for everything from issues facing LGBTQ+ communities to reproductive rights, health care, immigration and labor policies.
Trump also appointed more than 200 judges to federal courts who will likely rule in favor of Republicans and conservatives during their own lifetime appointments.
"That was the deal he cut with the evangelical right and with elites in the Republican Party, and he delivered these judges," said Michael Cornfield, an associate professor and the research director of the Global Center for Political Management at George Washington University.
According to a 2019 report, one in four circuit court judges were appointed by Trump, who has reliably chosen fiercely ideological conservatives, a campaign promise that he made to his supporters.
Trump ended his first year in office by signing a bill that made huge permanent cuts to the US corporate tax rate, from 35% to 21%. Individuals also saw their tax rates reduced, although those changes are temporary and smaller.
The Trump tax cuts have been a boon for the wealthiest people in the United States and big corporations, many of which used the extra money for stock buybacks and executive bonuses rather than raising wages for their employees.
The cuts have also left taxpayers on the hook. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the tax cuts will increase the country's deficit by $1.9 trillion over 10 years. And Trump's critics worry the lowest income earners and the most vulnerable might pay the price as conservatives eye cuts to social safety net programs to balance the budget.
Trump rode to power partly by promising to scuttle and renegotiate old trade deals between the United States and other countries. And he did, although it was at times chaotic, sparking trade wars with China and caused uncertainty for domestic businesses. But he managed to erase a crucial North American trade pact that went back to the Bill Clinton administration — the North American Free Trade Agreement — and replaced it with a renegotiated deal that even his critics conceded was better.
He had called called NAFTA "our country's worst trade deal." His replacement for it, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, signed by both of the US's neighbors, includes newer labor protections, as well as some of the environmental and labor provisions fought for by many of Trump's critics in Congress.
"There is no question, of course, that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA, but, in terms of our work here, it is infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat and one of Trump's biggest nemeses, said back in 2019. "It's a victory for America's workers — it's one that we take great pride in advancing."
'America First' agenda
The Trump administration's accomplishments are not always measured by his policies, but how he shifted the way Americans and the world view and relate to Washington.
Trump's "America First" policy agenda was at times vague, but he made the rest of the world pay attention. In the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump scoffed at the Obama administration's foreign and trade policies. In a 2015 op-ed Trump called them "rudderless and incompetent" and said that a "Trump administration will turn us into winners again." From that point on, Trump governed in an unconventional and unpredictable fashion.
"President Trump has antagonized a lot of institutions," said Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, DC. "He has broken the norms of prior administrations."
Trump took his unconventional methods to the world stage, challenging long-standing diplomatic norms. In 2017 he pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement calling it "unfair at the highest level to the United States." He severed the Iran Nuclear Deal, moved the US Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and attempted to develop diplomatic ties with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
Trump did much of that through his now-suspended Twitter account.
Even with his famed Twitter account now blocked, Trump has had an undeniable impact on how social media can be used to campaign and govern. He used social media to build his political brand, and used it throughout his tenure to attack political adversaries, fire administration officials, and directly interact with his loyal supporters. He was the tweeter-in-chief.
"President Obama used social media in a way that was more traditional," Jason Mollica, a professor with the School of Communication at American University, told DW. Trump, however, "disrupted how we look at social media."
His bombastic approach and his frequent tirades endeared him to a voting bloc made of mostly white and evangelical voters who argued they'd been disenfranchised by the so-called Washington elites. That brought new support to the Republican Party.
"Politically he has been able to bring a coalition together that they have never seen before," Laura Merrifield Wilson, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Indianapolis, told DW. "He brought his own niche of support."