The United States of America has chosen a new president. Democrat Joe Biden is set to take office after defeating his Republican rival, incumbent President Donald Trump, in a narrow election in November 2020. But while Mr. Trump may be leaving office, his legacy will live on following what was perhaps one of the most turbulent and chaotic presidential administrations in the nation’s history. Mr. Trump, an outspoken outsider with a blunt tone and no prior political experience, made sure to leave his mark on history.
Mr. Trump’s road to office was fuelled by populist rhetoric and divisive statements which garnered him a fierce, near cult-like following across the US. He is direct, brash, and abrasive, personally mocking his opponents with crude and offensive remarks, eschewing traditional diplomacy, and calling for uprising when needed. His controversial and polarising policies, assertive tone, and “saying it like it is” nature helped give him an unwavering fanbase. Even after his defeat, the most loyal Trump supporters remain committed to the baseless theory, pushed by Mr. Trump himself, that the election was fraudulent and rigged, a claim proven to be false. After losing the election, Mr. Trump roused his followers into rejecting and pushing against the results.
The massive mob of several hundred vandalised offices and desecrated their iconic surroundings, aiming to overturn the election results.
This came to a dangerous head earlier in January when a violent, pro-Trump mob raided the Capitol building in Washington DC on the day Congress was to certify the election results. They had been urged by Mr. Trump to march to the Capitol and “stop the steal”. The massive mob of several hundred vandalised offices and desecrated their iconic surroundings, aiming to overturn the election results and threatening deadly force against both those involved in ratifying the results and law enforcement. Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress were present in the building. 5 people died because of the attack, which has in turn led to another impeachment case against Trump for inciting a deadly riot and threatening democracy. The incident led to fears of further, deadlier uprising. Even in his final days, Mr. Trump possessed the same support he had throughout his run.
Mr. Trump appeared unbeatable prior to this past year, echoing his infamous words in the lead up to the 2016 election that he “could shoot somebody and not lose any voters”. At the time, it was hard to argue with that assessment, and his contentious actions and views seemed to strengthen his support. However, his disappointing response to the coronavirus pandemic, with him repeatedly downplaying and ignoring the danger posed by the virus and disregarding the advice of the country’s scientists and medical professionals, may have contributed to pushing people further away from him and towards the opposition. But only barely. Like the end of his presidency, the start was marked by similar division.
Mr. Trump began his tenure with what was seen as blatant discrimination. A week after being sworn in on 20 January 2017, he signed an executive order stopping all refugee arrivals in the US for four months, and banning entry into the country for three months from seven Muslim-majority nations, namely Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia. “I am establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America,” Mr. Trump said during the order’s signing. Many attacked Trump for targeting Muslims and called the order a “Muslim ban”. The order has undergone several revisions since.
This act caused widespread condemnation and chaos, with many detained at airports across the US and refused entry into the country as confusion and panic spread across citizens from the affected nations. Widespread protests ensued, and a joint statement from the Attorney Generals of 15 states in the country denouncing the order followed. Democrats and Republicans alike criticised the order.
Under Mr. Trump, the US did not invade any new countries.
This order remains a polarising aspect of Mr. Trump’s presidency, with president-elect Joe Biden vowing to overturn it in his first day in office. But while this may be seen as a bad foreign policy move, credit must be given to what is perhaps the single most laudable and significant foreign policy accomplishment of his presidency. Under Mr. Trump, the US
did not invade any new countries or instigate any new wars, a sharp contrast to his immediate predecessors. Mr Trump’s administration is in fact the first presidential administration since President Jimmy Carter’s from 1977-1981 to not involve the US in a new foreign war. Mr. Carter considers this his proudest achievement as president. Mr. Trump has a similar claim to fame.
Mr. Trump, who came to power on a fierce “America First” and anti-war slogan, promised to pull out US troops and end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, started during President George W. Bush’s tenure in the early 2000s. He is aiming to do good on that promise, having ordered troop withdrawals in Afghanistan and Iraq. Earlier this month, he told the Pentagon to speed up the drawdown and bring the number of troops in the two war-torn countries down to 2500 each. Mr. Trump sharply criticised the military and prior administrations in September for waging endless wars for their own gains. “They want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy,” Mr. Trump said of the Pentagon and the military.
The possible implications of a US exit elicited concerns of greater instability, and threats of terrorist groups like ISIS or the Taliban taking over. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg worried that the “price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high.” He said, “Afghanistan risks becoming once again a platform for international terrorists.” However, Afghanistan Defense Minister Asadullah Khalid told the Afghan parliament that there was little concern about a complete withdrawal of foreign troops. Afghan forces head 96% of operations across the country and only 4% of those need foreign air support, according to Mr. Khalid. The Trump administration said that Defense Secretary Christopher Miller had been in touch with NATO allies and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, saying that the conditions for the drawdown had been met. Whatever his other shortcomings may have been, an argument could be made of Mr. Trump having less blood on his hands than his predecessors.
But while Mr. Trump received praise for avoiding foreign wars, his Middle Eastern endeavours in relation to Israel and Palestine garnered much backlash. His administration released a “Peace Plan” earlier this year in January which was widely condemned for overtly favouring Israel and side-lining Palestine; the plan’s negotiations shut out any participation from Palestine and it was drawn up by the US and Israel. The plan recognised the sacred and bitterly contested city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with Mr. Trump moving the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, recognised a large portion of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory as part of Israel, and allowed Palestine a chance at statehood but with several restrictions including no army and Israeli control in some areas.
Palestine immediately rejected the plan, with President Mahmoud Abbas denouncing it as a “conspiracy”. Nicholas Burns, a former senior US state department official, said the plan “forfeits any presence of fairness and consigns the Palestinians to live as stateless people on their own land. It will deepen, rather than resolve, this seven-decade conflict”. While some governments including the British and French welcomed the plan, the announcement led to protests in the West Bank, and resentment among Palestinians increased, with many feeling wronged and alone.
Mr. Trump wanted to show he was ready to take on the challenge of bringing peace to the Middle East and took a more active, albeit misguided, approach to resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict, while blatantly taking sides. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who stood bedside Mr. Trump during the plan’s announcement, said: “You have been the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.”
He frequently and publicly lied and made misleading statements, presenting a dangerously distorted picture of himself far from the truth.
But perhaps Mr. Trump’s most distinctive trait remains his direct assaults on the media and his critics, attacking news outlets he disagreed with and branding them unreliable and fake for their reporting. In his first news conference after he was elected, he chastised a CNN reporter who asked him a question and called him “fake news”. Mr. Trump often downplayed negative press coverage of himself and his administration while seeding doubt in the nation – and the world – on the impartiality and authenticity of the country’s news organisations. He frequently and publicly lied and made misleading statements, presenting a dangerously distorted picture of himself far from the truth. A report in July this year found that he had made about 20,000 false or misleading claims during his tenure, with the number increasing in the coming months.
Mr. Trump’s frequent denial of news reports against his policies and behaviour contributed to the animosity between him and the media. His statements attacking the press, for example calling the media the “enemy of the people”, mirrored words used by dictators like Joseph Stalin, and contributed to threatening press credibility in the nation, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The report mentioned Mr. Trump’s actions, including repeatedly bashing news outlets and reporters, discrediting accurate reports, and encouraging a boycott of news organisations, as dangerously undermining media credibility and press support in a democratic nation. While some previous presidents also had their own problems with the press, none engaged in such repetitive and blatant attacks as Mr. Trump. Of course, it is hard to deny that the media was at times unfair in their reporting on Mr. Trump’s personal and professional life, focusing sometimes on excessively negative coverage ranging from topics like the president’s daily habits and diet to his leisure trips. But with most of the nation’s media attacked and considered the enemy by the president, increased scrutiny, albeit at times too much, was bound to ensue.
However he is viewed in the coming years, President Trump will be considered a president unlike any other. Mr. Trump may be leaving, but his legacy remains.