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What will be Trump’s legacy?


Whether or not he wins a second term, Donald Trump will have a presidential legacy.

Every president does, whether it’s a do-nothing legacy (Warren Harding, James Buchanan) or a legacy so massive it defines politics for decades if not centuries (FDR, Washington, Lincoln, JFK). So what will Trump’s legacy be?

We have first to look at what he has actually accomplished. There was the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which essentially lowered taxes on the top 1% of the wealthiest Americans, and provided little relief to anyone else, except for corporations like Amazon, which now pays nothing in taxes. That is a legacy, of sorts, and Republicans make much of it. But it’s not particularly innovative and in fact is a bit stale. Tax cuts are what every Republican president does. Trump joins Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush in that regard. Trump is merely the latest tax cutter, at a time when our deficits and debt are exploding and Republicans don’t give a damn.

Anything else? Trump brags about the economy, but the fact is (and I’ve pointed this out many times), the recovery after the George W. Bush Great Recession actually began in the Fall of 2009, shortly after Obama took office. At that time, the stock market began a steady climb (and continues to do so today), while unemployment began a steady fall (resulting in the historically low jobless figures we see today). No Republican will ever credit Obama for presiding over the Recovery. Hell, Republicans won’t even acknowledge that recoveries happen by themselves; given time, any recession or even depression will self-correct. In this case, according to Republicans, the Great Recession was caused by Obama–or Hillary–or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez–who knows? And we’d still be in it if Donald Trump hadn’t been elected.

What else has Trump accomplished in a positive sense? We have to give him credit for packing the courts with conservatives. However, it’s too early to say how this will play out. Predictions about how courts will rule are notoriously imprecise; all those Republican judges and Justices may well turn out to be not as bad as we thought, now that they have lifetime appointments and don’t have to answer to, say, the Koch Brothers. At the level of the Supreme Court, SCOTUS has always been unpredictable: Eisenhower’s “conservatives” turned out to be pretty liberal, and the ultra-conservative John Roberts approved ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and also enabled same-sex marriage.

The Border Wall? As the French say, c’est a rire: a joke. Hasn’t been built, won’t be built, despite Trump’s repeated claims otherwise. Relations with our allies? Wrecked by Trump’s foolishness. Is the world safer because of Trump? Not by a long shot. Wars and threats everywhere; allies who no longer trust us. Climate change? Trump obviously is missing in action. Domestic tranquility? Shattered by the most partisan, hated president in modern history.

This latter catastrophe—the shredding of bipartisanship, the mortal wounding of our collective will, the destruction of our common amity—is going to be Trump’s legacy: Trump the Destroyer. Under this president, historians will record, the U.S. came the closest to civil war since 1860—and we don’t yet know if he actually will inspire or provoke a real one. Under this president, the traditional norms of American society, which have held us together in war and peace, good economic times and bad, have shattered. The trust of Americans—in the media, in their leaders, in education, in science, in truth, in each other—has been eroded, possibly beyond repair anytime soon; and the proximate cause has been Donald J. Trump. With his litany of lies, his catering to the most ignorant elements of the culture, his absolute refusal to cooperate with Democrats, Trump has systematically dismantled the foundations of America, the bedrock principles upon which our country has existed and thrived. History will record that Donald J. Trump came along and demolished America. The only question historians will long debate is: Why?

We can’t really know Trump’s motives. I think no one believes he has a political philosophy, beyond Republican talking points like cutting taxes and building up the military. These aren’t his own, developed views: they’re the bullet points of the Republican National Committee and the Heritage Foundation. Does Trump have pecuniary motives? For example, does he have real estate deals pending in Turkey? In Russia? (We know he longs to build a Moscow Trump Tower.) In Ukraine? We might uncover these things in years to come but it won’t be easy because Trump will do, say and spend anything in order to conceal them. Or does Trump perhaps have psycho-pathological motives that would explain his recklessness?

Most likely his motives are combinations of all the above. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter why he does the things he does. What matters is that he does them. And that will be his legacy. Trump destroyed the America of history, the Founders’ America, JFK’s New Frontier, LBJ’s Great Society, Reagan’s shining city on a hill–the country most of our ancestors came to in order to live free.

Trump may not live long enough to witness this rendering of his legacy, or to feel shamed by it. But his descendants will. One day, Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka, Eric and various other spawn and in-laws will be in the same position as the children of Nazi chieftains after the war and the Nuremberg trials. Many of them had to change their names and go into hiding, afraid or embarrassed to admit they were the child of Hermann Goering, or Josef Goebbels, or Heinrich Himmler. Let it be the same for Trump’s seed.

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