As Donald Trump gets ready to deliver his State of the Union address, the occasion has led many to reflect on the state of his presidency. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently told reporters, with a straight face, “I don’t think anyone can argue it is probably one of the most successful first years in office.”
Alternatively, I think nearly everyone can argue it wasn’t a successful first year at all. In fact, as the Associated Press noted, the president will deliver his remarks from “a remarkably weak position.”
Considering the strength of the economy, Trump will step before lawmakers Tuesday night in a remarkably weak position. His approval rating has hovered in the 30s for much of his presidency and at the close of 2017, just 3 in 10 Americans said the United States was heading in the right direction, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In the same survey, 67 percent of Americans said the country was more divided because of Trump.
At a certain level, it may be tempting to stop there. After all, at this stage, Trump is the least popular president since the dawn of modern polling, and it’s awfully difficult to make the case that he’s succeeding if the American electorate is rejecting him en masse.
But the president’s public standing is really just the start of the conversation. A variety of members of Trump’s campaign team, for example, are currently under criminal indictment, and his former White House national security advisor has already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
The president himself is under a federal investigation for obstruction of justice. Trump is also at the center of a serious scandal that may yet end his presidency prematurely.
His sole legislative accomplishment is an unpopular package of tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations, which were rammed through Congress with little thought and no regard for the fact that the plan was the opposite of what the American mainstream actually wanted.
On the economy, Trump’s promises of robust economic growth have turned out to be wrong; his first year in office led to the slowest job growth in six years; and the trade deficit he swore to shrink actually grew. On foreign policy, Trump has helped create a crisis with North Korea, while doing severe harm to the United States’ standing and credibility around the globe.
I imagine some of Trump’s supporters will point to a few conservative priorities that have been met – the confirmation of far-right judges, the demise of some regulations and environmental safeguards, some tinkering with the health care system that made the Affordable Care Act worse on purpose, et al – but it’s a stretch to consider these meaningful accomplishments. Indeed, they’re the sort of thing any generic GOP president would have done with a Republican-led Congress in 2017.
Trump heads to Capitol Hill as a president burdened by scandal, division, accusations of corruption, broken promises, and months of breathtaking dishonesty. He’s unpopular and distrusted the world over. His agenda – to the extent that he has one – faces poor legislative prospects, and his party is deeply concerned about this year’s midterm elections.
I heard a pundit suggest the other day that Trump “has some wind at his back.” The evidence to the contrary seems overwhelming.