President Donald Trump’s first year in office has been more consequential than many of his detractors have understood. It’s important to acknowledge that, whether one admires his presidency or not.
It’s true that Trump has had an unusually blank slate when it comes to legislation. His early stumbles and the chaos within the White House have slowed his agenda and help explain his historically low approval ratings.
But Trump has kept promises in three key areas. His success there helps explain why so few Republican politicians who aren’t headed for the exits have clashed openly with him. They are hoping to keep quiet and let his administration advance certain long-held conservative goals.
That calculus was on full display late last month, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke outside of the White House while standing next to the president.
“The single-most significant thing this President has done to change America is the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court,” McConnell said. “But it’s not just the Supreme Court. There are a lot of vacancies at both the circuit court and district court level.”
Already, Trump has sought to fill 18 vacancies on the nation’s influential Court of Appeals. The Senate, where a simple majority suffices to confirm a judicial pick, has already approved eight judges. That’s more than any president in his first year since Richard Nixon.
Like Gorsuch, these eight judges have been extremely conservative, comparatively young and strongly credentialed. A few of the judges not yet confirmed are unusually unprepared. And sadly, among the 18, all but four are men and only two are not white.
Despite our concerns in some of these areas, it’s impossible to conclude Trump hasn’t kept his word to voters that he’d waste no time in reshaping the court with younger and more emphatically conservative judges.
Trump also promised to scale back the nation’s regulatory regime. Many call these regulations job-killers, and we have called for a better balance in some areas. Others have called them a needed defense of the nation’s water, air and workplace safety.
But Trump promised they’d be scaled back, and so far he’s made significant progress in seeing that they are, especially at the EPA, and at the Labor and Interior departments.
How enduring these changes will be is another matter, however. Trump’s efforts have come through edicts and executive orders, rather than through legislation. That leaves them open to revision or outright reversal by whomever is elected to serve as president next.
Trump has kept much of his promise on immigration, too. He hasn’t built a wall, but he has made America less hospitable for immigrants who are in the United States illegally. And he continues to narrow the grounds many immigrants and refugees have relied on in the past to come here legally.
Trump has kept his word on these efforts, whether we like it or not. Not recognizing that makes it easy to under-estimate his allure. Refusing to acknowledge it is a mistake for Republicans and Democrats alike.