He is adored by his supporters and despised by other Americans. But what has President Donald Trump actually achieved? And how are we supposed to look back on the past four years?
Newssuur talks about his presidency with seven prominent Trump experts: from well-known journalists to senior (former) advisors and employees:
We look back on four years of Trump in four themes: Trumps style, his foreign policy, his promised and broken promises and the coronacrisis.
Even if he is only halfway through his presidency, it is already established that Donald Trump is one of the most unconventional presidents in the history of the United States. He never takes a leaf for his mouth and constantly seeks confrontation. Opponents blame him misogyny and nepotism and call him a liar and racist.
“ Weve had constant turmoil and chaos over the past four years,” says Dan Balz, the most important political reporter of The Washington Post. “That was fueled by the president and, to some extent, by his opponents.”
Govern by Tweet
Often, a new tweet from Trump triggers that unrest. There was a storm of criticism when the president retweeted a video last summer in which a Trump supporter cried the racist slogan “white power”.
“ Im not happy with the tone of Trump,” says K.T. McFarland, his campaign advisor in 2016. After Trumps victory, she was the deputy national security advisor for a short time. “Then I really got to know him. Even Trump knows that his tweets sometimes cause problems.”
Steve Bannon also experienced Trump up close. He was a campaign leader and during Trumps first year he was one of his most important advisors. “You have to learn to appreciate Trumps style. High drivers all have their own style. Some are doers, some want to go through 200-page reports. Trump has a completely different style.”
The Fox President
Trump seems to be doing mainly through the media. Through tweets, and through Fox News. “A president and a television station have never been so close,” says Brian Stelter, presenter of a CNN media program.
Stelter wrote a book, Hoax, about Trumps relationship with Fox News. “I dont think Trump would have been chosen without the power of Fox News behind him. For four years, Trump made a weekly call to Fox & Friends, Fox Newss morning show. He got to know the viewers and saw what was important to them. He taught Fox News to become president. That was crucial to him.”
Balz: “When something comes to Fox & Friends in the morning, we see that he often tweets things that were discussed there.”
Stelter: “His hard position on immigration clearly comes from Fox. His lies about electoral fraud come from Fox. He has appointed and fired people through messages on Fox.”
The ability to survive everything
The television station also helped Trump survive the investigation into Russian campaign interference, says Stelter. Thanks to Fox, Trump kept the trust of his constituents, he argues. “When Robert Mueller was appointed Special Prosecutor, Trump said, “This is the end of my presidency. Im the shaak.” But it wasnt the end of his presidency, because he had Fox.”
The Russia investigation and subsequent expulsion investigation surrounding the Ukraine affair were part of a witch hunt by his opponents, Trump invariably said. Fox went along with that. And his supporters, too. McFarland: “The Russia investigation was fake. There was no evidence that Trump was chosen only because of Russian help. The researchers have done the country a disservice.”
Michael Schmidt clearly thinks differently about that. The New York Times journalist won a prestigious Pulitzer Prize for his research into Russian interference. He emphasises that there were contacts between Russians and the Trump campaign. “Trump is a special president for several reasons. One of them is the ability to survive things that other politicians would perish.”
It was one of Trumps campaign slogans and one of his most important election promises, America First. The US would withdraw from conflicts and from international organizations.
Four years later, America is certainly not an isolated country, but its role on the world stage has clearly changed. The country is no longer the undisputed captain of the West. Bannon: “We havent had a war in four years, for the first time in decades. And we have redefined the international order.”
Trump renegotiated the Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, withdrew America from the Paris Climate Agreement and managed other countries to pay more to NATO. “He went to NATO, criticized them, embarrassed them and forced them to contribute more to thejoint defense,” says McFarland.
Strict against China
Against China, Trump acts a lot harder than his predecessors. “I think its crazy how he handled China,” says Bannon.
McFarland: “He realized that China has been abusing our economy for decades. He resisted it, he used a trade war to enforce negotiations. This was the last chance for the president or any world leader to oppose China. Im glad he did.”
A big boy
According to John Bolton, National Security Adviser in 2018 and 2019, Trumps goal was not just to reduce Chinas influence. “I think he wanted him to be as big a boy as Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. Then he can take justice into his own hands and do what he wants.”
Bolton doubts that Trumps foreign policy is a bigger idea. “His decisions are irregular, ad hoc and incoherent. They certainly do not follow any conviction or strategy.”
Despite this, Trump has been able to live up to his America First foreign policy, says journalist Balz. “That hasnt done much yet, but he has a clearly different approach.”
What about the other big promises Trump made during his campaign? Hes made quite a few things out there. As lowering taxes, perhaps the most important law he signed so far.
Rich Americans and business in particular benefit from this reform. Balz: “The tax reduction was not good for his voters.”
Under Trump, hundreds of environmental regulations were reversed to provide ample jobs for the oil and gas industry. Bad for the climate and nature, but a promise that has been fulfilled.
Another important theme: care. During his campaign in 2016, Trump regularly kicked off Obamacare, the care system, which his predecessor built up. Trump did not manage to abolish this or to set up a new system, as he had promised.
No wall, hard policy
And the wall between the United States and Mexico, perhaps Trumps greatest promise of all? Its not there yet. Hundreds of kilometres have been built in recent years, but that is largely the renovation of existing barriers. Balz: “And Mexico certainly didnt pay for it, as he promised.”
Trump did not put an end to illegal immigration, but he did “continue the hard approach”, says Balz.
The President also appointed three Supreme Court judges and hundreds of judges in lower federal courts. “Important to his conservative supporters,” says Balz. “Although he may not have made certain things happen, Donald Trump speaks the language of those voters.”
Whether a president does much or little is ultimately less decisive for many voters than how the economy stands. And with that, it went pretty well, until Corona came.
With more than 225,000 deaths and a collapsing economy, the United States has been hit by the pandemic. Perhaps even more than his style and policy, Trumps corona approach will define his presidency.
The question of whether the death toll had been lower under another president will be discussed for a long time. It is certain that Trump has long failed to recognize and is still trivializing the danger of the virus. He even complains that media “only talk about covid”.
According to former advisor Bannon, Trumps corona approach is the only right one. “He does what a leader has to do. Avoid panic. Its easy to provide mass hysteria, but its not good.”
Six out of ten Americans see that differently. “He wants the disease to go away and has been pretending that it hasnt been there since the beginning,” says Donna Shalala, Minister of Health under Bill Clinton and now Congressman. “As a result, literally hundreds of thousands have fallen ill.”
As a minister, Shalala worked closely with Anthony Fauci, the most important corona advisor to the US administration. “Ive worked with Tony Fauci for eight years, and I trust him completely.” She even named her dog after him.
Trump often overrides Faucis medical advice. “People are tired of Fauci and all those idiots. If I had listened to him, we would have had 500,000 deaths,” the President said in a conversation with employees.
Shalala: “This president doesnt believe science. Without leadership, more people will die.”