And Washington doesn’t seem to care
The imminent confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court highlights the divergence between the state of the Trump presidency and official Washington’s assessment of it. If you were to judge by the news coming from the television in my office, your inescapable conclusion would be that the Trump administration is a disaster, that the president lacks any achievement, that collusion with Russia put him in the Oval Office and the FBI is on the verge of throwing him out. But you could easily tell another and quite different story from the president’s daily schedule and the available empirical evidence: Trump is presiding over a surging U.S. economy, fulfilling promises made on the campaign trail, and rolling back the burdensome regulatory legacy of his predecessor.
I’m not saying Trump is a popular president, nor would I deny he’s had his share of embarrassments. What I am saying is that a Trump voter would have very little reason to be disappointed in this presidency so far. The negative poll numbers are in part a response to Washington’s unrelenting hostility to Trump. And his greatest misstep, the failure of his health care bill, was largely a consequence of him deciding for once to play by Washington’s rules. On those matters under his direct control, the president has delivered.
Above all, Trump pledged to be a jobs president, to restore growth and opportunity and ultimately to improve the standard of living of working people. While the relationship between any presidency and the infinite economic interactions of 6 billion people is tenuous at best, no one can argue that President Trump has slowed America’s economic recovery. On the contrary, his election coincided with a burst of economic activity and investor and consumer confidence: the Trump Trade that continues to this day. Last weekend’s Wall Street Journal carried on its front page a remarkable graph showing the liftoff, even accounting for the recent small drop, of the Dow Jones Industrial Average since last November. The market seems to have been elated at the prospect of a business-friendly president who would not cede authority to unelected and capricious regulatory bodies. Consumers and small businesses and manufacturers feel the same.
The jobs picture is also pleasing. In February the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent. The latest ADP survey showed a higher-than-expected 263,000 jobs added in March, continuing the record begun under President Obama. Not all of the data are positive. Median household income, which increased last year, has yet to reach its pre-crisis high, and the civilian labor force participation rate remains stubbornly low, including among prime-age males. What we can say is that Trump’s ascent has inspired confidence and perhaps even some of those animal spirits thought to be the source of economic activity. Good start.
The Trump voter outraged at more than a decade of unchecked illegal immigration would also be happy at the news that border apprehensions have fallen some 60 percent since the president took office. Trump’s presence in the White House, his plans for a border wall, and his policies against sanctuary cities and visa abuse appear to have had a deterrent effect on illegal immigration. The stories of illegal immigrants bypassing America for Canada suggest as much. Whether or not the revised travel ban survives court challenges, as it should, Trump has let it be known that he will govern by the principle that there is no universal right to enter the United States. This is a victory for those who believe in the reality and necessity of borders.
Other pledges have been kept. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was scuttled, the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines approved, ISIS on its way to the dustbin of history. Most important has been Gorsuch, selected from a list of conservative jurists, whose confirmation by a simple majority will make it easier for Trump to select another originalist when the next seat opens on the court.
Only the Associated Press seems to have noticed the steady and dramatic reshaping of the federal bureaucracy under Trump. “From abortion to energy to climate change and personal investments, Trump is keeping his promises in methodically overturning regulations and policies adopted when Barack Obama is president,” Darlene Superville observed not long ago. Trump has initiated a rollback of the Clean Power Plan, by which the Obama administration hoped to destroy the coal industry, as well as the Waters of the U.S. rule, an EPA power grab. He has lifted moratoriums on energy development in federal lands and instructed the EPA to review its strict fuel efficiency standards for autos. He has delayed a regulation that would have caused widespread disruption in the financial industry, the so-called Fiduciary Rule. He has reinstated the ban on taxpayer funding for international organizations that support abortions, has revoked a last-minute Obama rule forbidding states from defunding Planned Parenthood.
All of these things will affect Americans more directly than the news that GRU agents thought Carter Page too stupid to spy for Mother Russia. Yet the cable channels, the print and electronic media, the professional political class of which I am a member seem utterly transfixed by the Russia story, by Rep. Devin Nunes, by Susan Rice, by Jared and Ivanka and Bannon and Conway, by where Melania is living, by the latest silly thing Trump said or did, by the arcane minutiae of House negotiations and bureaucratic sniping. Interesting sideshows, every one, but the disconnect between what I am reading and seeing and what Trump seems actually to be doing is vast.
Makes me wonder if Washington is repeating its mistake during the campaign, when its obsession with Trump’s personality, with the drama and flamboyance and nuttiness of his circle, with his failure to live up to the standards of the Beltway, misled it into believing he had no chance, his goose was cooked, the jig was up, hello Madame President. Might it be possible that the hyperventilation and paranoia that seized the imaginations of so many when Trump became the Republican frontrunner never really went away, that he is doing about as well as one would expect from a political neophyte who has never held elective office? Behind the flurry of zany headlines and interviews and leaks and legislative foolishness is a president implementing his agenda and an America chugging along. My advice: Do not miss the forest for the tweets.