Alon Ben-Meir: Trump is the antithesis of American greatness
In at least 10 areas, Donald Trump has inflicted a severe injury on the American public, on the country as a whole, and on America’s reputation abroad. Unless measures are taken by a new President to reverse the consequences of Trump’s reckless actions and policies, they will permanently erode America’s global standing, degrade our democracy, tear apart our social fabric, and compromise our constitution that held the country together for two and a half centuries.
Donald Trump ran for office using the slogan “make America great again.” America was great before he came to office, but sadly three and a half years later under his leadership, America’s greatness appears to be in the distant past. In less than one term in office, Trump systematically chipped away brick by brick at America’s magnitude and made the office of the Presidency a laughing stock in the eyes of small and major powers alike. Whereas countries around the world used to show tremendous respect and admiration for America as a country, for its social and political values, cultural riches, scientific innovation, and commitment to human rights, under Trump America’s star has dimmed precipitously and ominously to a point from which it may take years to recover. Electing Trump for another four-year term in office will set America too far back, causing major damage on many fronts that may well be irreversible.
Diminishing America’s global leadership
On a number of occasions, Trump intensely criticized our European allies while praising our adversaries, and undermined the importance of NATO—an alliance that constitutes the security bedrock of the Western hemisphere while serving the US’ national security interests in the European continent. As such, Trump has played directly into the hand of Russia’s President Putin, which is precisely what Putin was hoping for. Trump’s withdrawal from the internationally-negotiated Iran deal only deepened the already adversarial relations with Tehran. He abruptly decided to withdraw American forces from Syria, and although some American troops remained behind, he has weakened the US’ influence in the region, which further strengthened Russia’s and Iran’s foothold in Syria to the dismay of our Middle Eastern friends and allies.
Furthermore, Trump failed miserably to denuclearize North Korea, naïvely thinking that he could use his “magical negotiating skills” to persuade its dictator Kim Jong Un to dismantle his nuclear arsenal. Instead, by meeting the North Korean despot three times, he legitimized him and left him free to resume testing nuclear warheads and ICBMs.
Trump’s trade war with China was defunct from the start, as it mostly punished American farmers who could not export their produce to China. He proposed the “deal of the century” presumably to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace without any Palestinian input, which died on arrival. Recently he gave Israel, through Secretary of State Pompeo, the green light by stating that it was up to Israel to decide on annexing more Palestinian territories, thereby scuttling any prospect for an Israeli-Palestinian peace based on a two-state solution.
By his actions or inactions on major foreign policy issues, by his misleading statements and failure to work closely and consult with our allies in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and by largely disengaging from world affairs, Trump lost his credibility. As a result, he squandered the US’ international leadership role, which had been central to the relative global stability since World War II.
Political polarization under Trump
Party polarization has certainly increased drastically under Trump. According to Gallup data, Trump faces the highest degree of political polarization than any post-WWII president, especially during his second and third years in office. He played a major role in dividing the country on a number of critical issues, including climate change, the appointment of hyper-conservative judges (some of whom have been rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association), and women’s reproductive rights. Political partisanship under Trump became the norm in Washington regardless of the issue at hand, which often led to Congressional paralysis.
“Us vs. them” became the mantra that governed nearly every encounter between Republican and Democrats. The saddest aspect is that political polarization seeped into the public domain, instigating intense personal loathing, often destroying friendships and even estranging family members from one another. The use of demeaning and dehumanizing language in Trump’s public rallies and disgraceful tweets has served to engender hatred and further polarize the nation, poisoning the atmosphere between many Democrats and Republicans.
However, given that this is an election year, he will remain a divisive figure because he still believes that dividing the country gives him the best chance of winning, through bolstering his base and sowing distrust of the Democrats. To be sure, Trump will deliberately continue to contribute to the social and political divide as a means by which to advance the Republicans’ conservative agenda. Notwithstanding the fact that some Republican Congressional leaders, especially those who running for reelection, will keep some distance away from him, the party as a whole has no choice but to continue to support him and to keep his base happy, irrespective of the harm being inflicted on the general public.
Deregulating climate change
The scientific evidence of climate change is incontrovertible as it manifests itself in massive forest fires, rising sea levels, unprecedented hurricanes, the destruction of coral reefs and marine life, and growing contamination of air and water resources. Leave it to Trump and company, however, to deny the clear signs of anthropogenic global warming and claim that “occasional” severe change of “weather” is not a new phenomenon. Trump mistakenly conflates the weather and the climate, which are not the same. While weather fluctuations are natural, the severity of climate change which we are now witnessing is not normal, and is directly tied to human activities. Sadly, Trump remains oblivious to the long-term repercussions of the climate crisis, which will make the coronavirus pandemic and its terrible toll pale in comparison.
Trump’s willful blindness to the reality of climate change led to the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, citing economic concerns. Although he promised to negotiate a new deal, he never followed through. He claimed disingenuously that “The United States, under the Trump administration, will continue to be the cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth”, but then he removed a significant number of environmental regulations in the United States.
He dismantled the 2015 Sage Grouse Conservation Plans to open up more habitats for fossil fuel extraction, issued an executive order to increase logging of forests on federal lands, and allowed offshore gas and oil wells to be drilled in the Arctic. In 2018, he disbanded the EPA’s Particulate Matter Review Panel, which could make it easier to roll back pollution standards, and ended NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System, which dramatically weakened auto emissions standards. He weakened the Endangered Species Act by decreasing the amount of habitat they need to survive. He dropped climate change from the list of national security threats and finally, his proposed 2021 budget calls for a 26 percent cut to the EPA, eliminating 50 EPA programs and massively cutting research and development.
Trump will be criticized for years if not decades to come for many of his failings on multiple fronts, but the most intense criticism and condemnation he deserves will be about his dismissive position on climate change and its effect on generations to come, which diminishes America greatness rather than makes it great again.
Trump has sought to change how the federal poverty level is calculated, which will reduce the number of individuals and families eligible for government benefits—the poverty level is used to determine eligibility for over 40 government social programs, including SNAP and Medicaid. Trump decided to close a “loophole” whereby in most states, families that qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) automatically qualify for SNAP, without having to go through a separate application process. This puts another hurdle in the path of struggling families that need assistance.
Moreover, Trump’s tax cuts, touted to benefit all Americans, actually benefited the wealthiest Americans the most. More than 60 percent of tax savings went to only the top 20 percent of earners. Trump claimed that because of the tax cuts, working families would receive on average $4,000 more per year, but according to census data, those families only received on average $500. Now Trump is proposing a 10 percent tax cut on the middle class as part of his “Tax Cuts 2.0” plan, which will be released in September—a blatant ploy to pander to voters close to the election, as he well knows how unpopular his first round of tax reform was.
To be sure, poverty in America has increased over the past four years from which children in particular have suffered the most. It is estimated that over 11 million children face hunger on a daily basis, with an increasing number who drop out from school, as prolonged hunger causes developmental impairment and leads to behavioral problems. While Trump did not create the problem of poverty, he has done nothing to address it—he cannot “make America great” while allowing this kind of pervasive poverty to destroy an entire generation.
A whole generation that could have a brilliant future is being completely neglected, which is a terrible loss of human resources for America. That these disheartening if not tragic conditions are to be found in the richest country on earth does not make America great. Trump’s claim rings hollow, as he could not demonstrate in any starker terms his indifference toward the poor and the despondent, which puts America to shame under his morally bankrupt leadership.
Inspiring the rise of racism
Racism in America is not a new phenomenon, as over the years African Americans, Hispanics, and other non-white citizens suffered from discrimination. Under Trump though, racism is on the rise because his bigotry is constantly on display, infecting millions of his followers who blindly emulate him with pride. He misses no words to express his disdain against people of color. In January 2018 he said: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.”
A study from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at CSU San Bernardino found that hate crimes had increased by 12.46 percent in 2017 from the previous year in an analysis of the 10 largest US cities; 2017 was also a record high in their 7-year analysis. In its 2019 report, it notes regarding antisemitism specifically that “Jews were the direct target of half of the bias/extremist homicides in 2018, in the worst year ever for anti-Semitic killings in the United States.”
White nationalists have become more active, and more violent, with 17 instances of white nationalist/far right-motivated homicides in 2018 (up from 13 in 2017). The Center’s 2019 report states: “Hate crimes overall have spiked over the last decade around political events and rhetoric. The expansion of white nationalism has created a coalesced movement and a violent extremist fringe.” It further states that “August 2017, the month of the violent Charlottesville rally…was tied for the second worst month since November 2008, even though the homicide and assaults there were not reported as hate crimes.”
While the overall percent of hate crimes based on anti-black bias dropped (from 50.2 percent in 2016 to 47.1 percent in 2018), the total number of hate crimes motivated by race/ethnicity/ancestry has increased (4,426 in 2016 to 5,155 in 2018), with black victims facing the largest share of targeted violence.
In short, Trump is a racist through and through, and could never hide his penchant against non-white Americans regardless of their positions and daily contribution to the wellbeing of the country. What he said about a federal judge overseeing class-action suit against Trump University sums up his bigotry: “He’s a Mexican. We’re building a wall between here and Mexico. The answer is, he is giving us very unfair rulings — rulings that people can’t even believe.” A president who promotes racism is not making America great again, he is debasing the greatness of America, and for that he will be remembered with scorn and contempt.
Impairing immigration policy
Since entering office, Trump proposed or implemented policies against immigration which run contrary to the US’s history as a country made up of immigrants. Initially Trump called for massive deportations to “remov[e] the millions of illegal aliens” from the US “as fast as they come in.” To stop illegal immigration, Trump insisted on building a wall along the Mexican border that so far has cost over $11 billion, regardless of the fact that such a physical wall will not stop a determined migrant from entering the US—in fact, most undocumented people in the US are those who overstayed their visas (typically traveling by plane), not those crossing the southern border (700,000 visa overstays in 2017, versus 300,000 crossing the Mexican border, which was also a record low).
To inflict severe pain on immigrants, in May 2018 Trump instructed the separation of more than 2,500 children from their parents, who were held in cages unfit to domestic animals. In January 2020, the Trump administration further expanded its “Muslim ban”, targeting in particular people of color. Furthermore, he refused to provide a path for citizenship to nearly 800,000 DACA recipients and to the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants, the majority of whom have been living in America for decades with children born in the US. Finally, he insisted that asylum seekers should remain in Mexico while stopping pregnant women from entering the US to prevent them from giving birth on American soil, which would automatically make the newly born child an American citizen.
What Trump has sadly forgotten is that this country was built by immigrants from all over the world. Millions of immigrants came to the US to realize the American dream, from the workers who built America’s railroads to the millions who today farm American land, the tens of thousands of scientists, artists, and writers, and many others from all walks of life that have made far-reaching contributions to the advancement of America, which made the country the forerunner in just about every field of endeavor.
It is the tradition of generally welcoming and embracing these immigrants that made America great in the first place, but leave it to Trump to stop the flow of immigrants in the name of making America great again, when in fact his immigration policy is depriving the US from attracting the talents needed to sustain America’s greatness.
Violating human rights
Human rights violations under Trump have crossed many red lines, raising serious questions about the US’ commitment to human rights, an area that America has historically championed the world over. Trump’s violations of human rights are too long to numerate; it will suffice to mention only a few to demonstrate the seriousness of these offenses. To begin with, in June 2018 Trump withdrew the US from the UN Human Rights Council, the world’s most important human rights body, in protest of its frequent criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
He worked to roll back protections for LGBTQ individuals. One of his first acts as president was to revoke Obama’s transgender student guidance for schools; not long after, he declared that transgender people could no longer serve in the military. His administration on the whole generally refuses to recognize gender identity as a protected class under the Civil Rights Act, and particularly Title VII.
Human rights violations are also manifested in the behavior of police officers and immigration agents toward minority and vulnerable populations, influenced by how Trump addresses these transgressions. As of April 30, police reportedly shot and killed 1004 people in the US over the past year. Black Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate – twice the rate of white Americans, while only making up 13 percent of the population. He has endorsed police brutality, and his enthusiastic pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt related to his treatment of immigrants, highlights his vicious streak.
More than 2,500 children were forcibly separated from their parents at the US border by Customs and Border Patrol, under an explicit Trump policy. Staff of the Office of Refugee Resettlement was found to be giving psychotropic medication – sometimes forcibly – to migrant children at a Texas facility.
Human rights abuses, however, are not limited to deliberate acts that violate any individual’s given rights. Millions of American children going to sleep hungry, inaccessibility of medical treatment, homelessness, inequity in pay, and racial discrimination are all human rights violations, which Trump has only aggravated because of his policies. Indeed, no matter how many times he repeats his empty slogan of making America great again, the precise opposite is occurring.
Violating women’s rights
As a womanizer and adulterer, Trump has shown little respect for women, treating them as second-class citizens at best. Trump ended an Obama-era rule that required companies with more than 100 employees to report how much workers are paid by race and gender, which was intended to close both gender and race wage gaps through greater transparency in pay.
Trump does not believe that women have the right to determine their own reproductive plans or family planning, and his administration even called for the elimination of discussion of sexual and reproductive health from United Nations documents. His administration claims that the terms promote abortion, saying “there is no international right to an abortion.” In this regard the US was joined by Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, and others—all infamous for their attitudes against women.
Trump reinstated the Global Gag Rule, which prevents international aid groups that receive US funding from even educating people about safe abortion. Clinics must make the impossible choice of giving safe and accurate information to their clients but lose US funding, which makes it extremely difficult to keep operating clinics and providing services; or keep US funding but deny essential services to the communities they serve. However, in this regard, Trump simply followed precedent, as the Global Gag Rule is repealed under Democratic presidents and reinstated under Republican presidents.
For a President who brags about making America great again, exhibiting this much disrespect and disregard for more than 50 percent of the population is a return to the medieval era which certainly defies greatness—a legacy that Trump is cursed to live with.
Depriving millions of healthcare
Whereas in every advanced country health care is considered a human right, Trump has attempted numerous times to undermine or outright end Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), which he has pledged to do. Republicans removed the individual mandate penalty in 2017 in an attempt to undermine the health bill.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump refused to instate an open enrollment period for healthcare under the ACA at a time when many people lost health insurance, which in the United States is usually tied to one’s employment. While people can still apply under special enrollment due to losing their jobs (and thus their employer-provided health insurance), creating a special open enrollment period would have eased the burden for millions of Americans whose need for health insurance is critical at this time, especially when up to 40 million Americans are expected to be uninsured (an increase from the 29 million uninsured from before the pandemic).
Although states who run their own health exchanges can and, in many instances, did run their own special open enrollment, nearly two thirds of states’ health exchanges are run by the federal government. Furthermore, in another appalling decision, Trump ended funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) in the midst of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
In his proposed budget for 2021, he called for nearly $1 trillion in cuts to the ACA and Medicaid over the next 10 years. This includes $150 billion in Medicaid cuts due to imposing work requirements, which would cause people to lose coverage. In 2015, Trump had promised: “I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid. Every other Republican is going to cut it.”
In fact, if it were not for Democrats who sternly objected to any cut in Medicare or Medicaid, Trump would have certainly gone along with the Republican Congressional leaders. Trump kept calling for repealing and replacing the ACA, but he failed miserably to find a replacement. Millions of Americans must choose between paying the high cost of healthcare insurance or putting food on the table. Healthcare is not a luxury, it is a necessity, and no country can claim greatness when millions of its citizens fall sick and cannot meet the cost medical treatment and end up financially bankrupt. Indeed, in which way can Trump reconcile his campaign slogan of making America great again with the reality that tens of millions are without accessible healthcare?
Mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic
By all accounts, had Trump took the coronavirus seriously and employed all the necessary measures to tackle it at the onset, instead of deliberately dismissing its potential deadly spread, he could have dramatically minimized the horrifying consequences that we are witnessing today. In his first year in office, he dismantled the task force responsible for pandemics, and in his 2018 budget request to Congress he proposed a massive 17 percent cut ($1.2 billion) for the Centers for Disease Control.
As early as January 2020 Trump was briefed regularly about the virus and its potential dreadful spread, but he simply ignored the warning. On February 25th, Trump said that “We have very few people with it, and the people that have it are … getting better. They’re all getting better. … As far as what we’re doing with the new virus, I think that we’re doing a great job”, which of course could not have been further from the truth.
Obsessed with the stock market and the health of the economy which, from his perspective, are central to his reelection, Trump missed no opportunity to make light of the virus. On February 28 he stated that “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” Sadly for him, as of this writing there are over one million confirmed cases and 67,000 deaths, which continue to increase, while over 30 million Americans lost their jobs and many millions joined the poverty line.
Recently, in one of his infamous press conferences, Trump mused about potential “cures” for COVID-19 using things which are not meant and were never meant to be consumed by a human person — like disinfectant. Injecting disinfectants, as Trump pondered, would cause a very painful death. What is so sad is that our so-called president is stupid enough to voice that proposition aloud. Indeed, this is so grossly irresponsible that it staggers the imagination.
As the economy continues to decline, Trump wants to reopen the economy, but in the absence of adequate testing and without an available vaccine, he will be putting American lives at risk simply so he can boost his chances for re-election. His decisions have already led to thousands of American deaths, his irresponsible and reckless comments and musings have brought embarrassment, shame, confusion, and danger into American homes. And now in his desperation to keep the office, Trump is preparing to sacrifice potentially tens of thousands more American lives on the altar of his ego.
To this day, whereas experts say the US may need to do 20 million tests per day to combat the spread of the virus, only 6 million have been run during the entire period of the pandemic. Moreover, there is still not enough PPE to protect medical personnel who are putting their lives on the line to save the lives of others. If Trump reopens the economy, as he is so eager to do, in the absence of adequate testing and without an available vaccine for all Americans, he will be putting millions of American lives at risk for no reason other than to boost his chances for re-election.
To be sure, the US was entirely unprepared to provide health care workers with the equipment they need to fight this deadly disease, and faced a complete failure to take charge on the federal level; instead Trump left states hanging with little or no help from the administration.
The present crisis has revealed that Trump is simply unfit to be president; he is utterly incompetent and fails consistently to meet the challenges of the office of the presidency. His decisions have already led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans; his irresponsible and reckless comments and musings have brought embarrassment, shame, confusion, and danger into American homes.
The greatness of any country is measured by the moral principle it stands for – including its protection of human rights, its adherence to the rule of law, the equitable treatment of its citizens regardless of ethnicity, religion, or race, the ingenuity and creativity of its people, and the opportunities the government provides its citizens to grow and prosper.
The one thing that can harness the country’s human and material resourcefulness to meet any challenge for the good of the multitude is leadership. Leaders who are enlightened, visionary, courageous, selfless and above all honest and fully dedicated to the wellbeing of the country. These are the hallmarks of what make a country great. Trump betrayed the principles on which this country was founded. He is the antithesis of American greatness, and America will not be great again as long as Trump occupies the office of the presidency.
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.