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The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Matt’s Traditional American Values: President Trump’s annual report card

Matt's Traditional American Values

As Saturday marked the end of the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, I felt that now would be a good point to reflect on the first year of the administration to evaluate how we are doing and what could be done going forward.  To do this, I am going to give Donald Trump a grade on a variety of aspects of the presidency that will culminate in an ultimate presidential GPA.

Legislative Agenda: I have little to complain about in terms of President Trump’s legislative agenda.  He has pushed significant tax cuts and the repeal of Obamacare (which would also accomplish a major conservative goal in defunding Planned Parenthood).  The one criticism I do have is that he has been a little too anti-immigration for my tastes.  But, overall, he has done a solid job. A-

Legislative Success: Unfortunately, while the president’s overall legislative agenda has been strong and conservative, the results are not where they should be after Year 1.  It is a shame that Obamacare largely stands (apart from the individual mandate) and Planned Parenthood is still federally funded after an entire year of unified Republican government. However, his success rate began to improve towards the end of the year with tax reform getting done.  Two months ago, I might have given him a D, but tax reform gives me more optimism for 2018. C+

Executive Action: I am, generally speaking, not a fan of extensive executive action.  However, Donald Trump has done most of what he should do in this department, which is to overturn most of what President Obama implemented via executive action.  Federal agencies are also doing a strong job in fighting back on excessive regulation, and some terrible regulations (such as “Obama’s parting gift to Planned Parenthood”) have been repealed through the Congressional Review Act.  The only executive action that is a major negative for me is his decision to withdraw from the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Additionally, it should be a goal to make all of these changes permanent through legislation, so the next president cannot simply rescind them. A-

Judicial Appointments: In my opinion, judicial appointments wind up being the most important part of any President’s legacy because they can serve on federal benches long after the president leaves office.  Additionally, while the Supreme Court arguably has too much power, they often do represent the final say on numerous controversial issues.  The spotlight has been on President Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, which has been a home run for conservatives; however, he is also filling other federal court vacancies at an incredible pace. A+

Cabinet and Advisors: Donald Trump has mostly done a good job of surrounding himself with principled conservatives who will lead him in the right direction (towards Reaganite conservatism and away from populism).  I would particularly highlight the work that Ambassador Nikki Haley has done at the United Nations.  While sometimes clashing with the president, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been excellent as well.  There were a few situations in which his advisors have had a negative influence on him, such as with Anthony Scaramucci and Steve Bannon.  General John Kelly has done a good job, since becoming Chief of Staff, of ensuring that only the right people will be in the President’s ear, but I still do worry about Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s perceived support of socially liberal policies. A-

Rhetoric and Style: Donald Trump may owe his career to his ability to “tell it as it is,” but that also threatens to be his downfall if he is not careful.  The President of the United States should not be saying every thought that enters his mind, and he needs to be more careful with his words.  His reaction to the violence in Charlottesville was an example of this, when his statements failed to sufficiently condemn the alt-right and white supremacy.  As for Twitter, I do like that it gives him a way to directly communicate with the American people (without having to go through the often unfair media), but he is prone to misusing it to pick pointless fights as well.  His style has earned him a loyal base, but it has also overshadowed some of the successes of the first year.  D+

Economy: Any president’s influence on the economy is limited because it largely has to do with somewhat apolitical macroeconomic cycles, but President Trump has done what he needs to do to maximize growth in good economic times- which is to restore the free market.  It has been a priority of the federal agencies to remove regulation and create an environment where business can invest and grow.  Tax reform was also immensely important to all levels of society.  Yes, it is great that the DOW has risen from $18,000 before the election to over $26,000 today (and seemingly setting weekly record closes).  But, it is also great that tax relief has allowed corporations such as Walmart to give their employees bonuses and raises.  A

Commitment to Life: As protecting the lives of the unborn is the most important issue in politics, I felt that it was necessary to give this its own category.  For someone who described himself as “very pro-choice” in 1999, Trump has been surprisingly strong on life in office.  Despite campaigning on being pro-life, I questioned how strong those convictions were (especially in the primary campaign).  From day one of this administration, it has been clear that Donald Trump would honor the commitment that won him my vote and the vote of the vast majority of my fellow Christians.  Not only did he appoint Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, but he has also reinstated (and expanded) the Mexico City Policy, repealed regulations requiring employers to provide birth control (including abortifacients), overturned “Obama’s parting gift to Planned Parenthood,” addressed the March for Life, protected religious freedom for doctors and nurses and countless more.  While there are still goals outstanding, including defunding Planned Parenthood, passing the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and the ultimate goal of overturning Roe v. Wade, he has expressed willingness to sign any pro-life legislation that comes to his desk.  There is work to be done still, but he is following through on his commitment to the American people.  The only advice I would give him is to demand that the ultimate annual budget defund Planned Parenthood.  A

Effect on National Politics: Where Trump has not been as helpful is in his effect on the country as a whole.  Left-wing Democrats had a massive surge in enthusiasm in 2017 and saw nearly every off-year and special election swing massively in their favor.  Most dramatic was the Democrats gaining a Senate seat in Alabama, one of the reddest and least elastic states in the nation (to be fair Roy Moore’s controversies played a major role too there).  Some of this can be attributed to an enthusiasm gap in off-year, low-turnout elections (and the biggest Republican victory was in the relatively high-turnout race in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District), but there are worrying signs.  Normally, Republicans should be able to capitalize on a strong economy to avoid a damaging midterm election cycle.  That still may be the case (particularly as President Trump’s approval ratings have been rising over the last six weeks), especially in the Senate, where there are 10 Democratic incumbents up for re-election in red states (one of whom is my actually my second cousin once removed).  However, his style does ultimately threaten his successes. C-

Effect on the GOP: Likewise, there are a couple worrying trends in which the Republican Party is moving.  Simply put, we have become far too anti-immigration.  While I do not think it should be addressed in a government funding bill, it is a shame that we are even entertaining the idea of deporting the Dreamers.  We should focus on securing the border and deporting anyone who is a criminal, but we have a far better use of our resources than deporting 12 million people.  I hope we come to a compromise quickly in Year 2 so that we stop moving in the direction of being an anti-immigrant party.  On the other hand, it has not been all bad, as commitment to follow through on campaign promises has emboldened a lot of conservative activists, and even made some more willing to be vocal on their views.  Plus, his administration has showcased two potential great future conservative presidents: Mike Pence and Nikki Haley. B-

Overall GPA: 3.14 (B/B+).  If he can calm down on Twitter and refocus on the right priorities, President Trump may make Dean’s List in Year 2.  For Year 1, he will have to settle for “good academic standing.”

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About the Contributor
Matt Colleran, Former Author

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