By Stephen Tuttle | Oct. 24, 2020
Every presidential candidate makes plenty of promises. Most are fantasy or folly — that pesky Congress often intrudes — some are absurd, and some can actually be accomplished.
During the 2016 campaign, according to an Associated Press count, candidate Donald Trump made 76 separate promises, and they fell into every category. Let's focus on a few highlights, and we'll start with promises pretty much kept.
He said he would get us out of the Paris Climate Accords, NAFTA, and trade deals with China. We are out of the Paris agreement, and we've made a new deal with Mexico and Canada, though we're still having a mini-tariff war with Canada. Deal-making with China has thus far proven futile.
He said he would nominate conservative judges, and he has; his appointees have changed the direction of the federal appellate courts for at least a generation.
He said he would cut taxes, and he has. According to the Committee for a Responsible Budget, the Trump tax cuts were, overall, the eighth largest in history; his corporate income tax cut was the largest ever. They have helped the bottom line of big businesses and boosted the stock market but have only nominally helped what's left of the middle class.
He said he would reduce government regulations by 70 percent, which he has not done, but he has hacked away at them by executive order. Most have reduced environmental restrictions and employment rules. That's a promise partially kept.
He's been less successful with some of his biggest promises.
He said he was going to “ ... build a big, beautiful, concrete and steel wall for every mile ...” of the border and that “ ... Mexico will pay for all of it ... .” Well, no. We have improved and/or strengthened 194 miles of barrier, but the government has constructed less than 10 miles of new wall. Mexico has not paid a peso; the money now being spent was taken from our own defense budget.
He said he would “... eliminate the entire national debt in eight years, or maybe 10 ... ” This falls into the absurd category. Most of us capable of thought, which excludes Qanon believers, knew that was impossible. The debt was about $19 trillion when he took office, has increased every year of his presidency, and has now ballooned to $27 trillion, thanks in part to a $4 trillion jump this year from pandemic stimulus and recovery spending.
One of his biggest promises was to “repeal and replace that terrible Obamacare, the worst thing ever that screws everybody ... ” Nope. Nearly 12 million Americans are participants in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and more than 12 million have taken advantage of the expanded Medicaid that was part of it. Despite multiple attempts to undo it legislatively and through the courts, the program remains largely in place.
He said he would increase defense spending to “... levels like you've never seen ...” While the defense budget has increased every year under Trump, it still lags behind the first four years of the Obama presidency when adjusted for inflation.
He said he would get our troops “... out of that mess in the Middle East ...” and “... bring them home my first year in office ...” We still have 5,700 troops in Iraq, soon to be reduced to 3,200; about 5,000 in Afghanistan; and 700 in Syria. When including Navy deployments, we have between 45,000 and 65,000 forces in the entire region at any given time.
He said he would eliminate the trade deficit with China because “... it's an easy thing to eliminate that; Obama should have done it ...” The trade imbalance with China actually increased in the first three years of the Trump presidency and could do so again this year. Instead of a trade deal, we are now engaged in a tariff war with China. We've collected about $63 billion in tariffs from China this year, but they pay none of it; tariffs are paid by the U.S. importers, not the Chinese exporters.
We'll finish with another absurdity. He said he would deport “... every illegal immigrant, and I don't care how long they've been here ...” The estimated undocumented population in 2016 was 11–12 million, about the same as today. We don't know who they are or where they live, so rounding them up and deporting them is a little tricky. In fact, annual deportations under Trump have never reached Obama's peak of 410,000 in 2012. (There's a reason immigration activists referred to Obama as the deporter-in-chief.)
As a campaign promise-keeper, Trump has been about average, hitting some, missing more, and having no chance to fulfill others. The argument, of course, is whether or not his promises kept were a good idea in the first place. That, at least in part, is what we'll decide Nov. 3.