In his inauguration address one year ago Saturday, President Trump described a bleak America of failing education, rusting factories and free-roaming gangs. The speech was a vast exaggeration, or as former president George W. Bush was overheard calling it, “some weird s--t.” But Trump was adamant, declaring: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
A year into the Trump presidency, this American carnage is not hard to see. Unfortunately, most of it is of his own making.
The carnage — in the form of damage to the reputation of the United States abroad — is visible when global confidence in U.S. leadership plunges from a median of 48% in 2016 to 30% in 2017; when the president concludes he can’t visit London, the capital of America's closest ally, without setting off widespread protests; when the U.S. is the only nation to withdraw from the Paris climate accord; and when the 55-nation African Union demands an apology for the president's vulgar comments disparaging certain countries.
Carnage — in the form of damage to the rule of law — is impossible to ignore when the president tampers with the FBI; blithely dismisses evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election; and relentlessly attacks the free press.
Carnage — in the form of damage to the cause of competent government — is painfully obvious in the president’s asinine tweets, his unreliability as a negotiating partner, his questionable hires and the record turnover of his staff.
And carnage — in the form of damage to America’s race relations — is unavoidable when the president takes seemingly every opportunity to push a narrative of white grievance and "unleash the ugly" in public discourse.
This record helps explain the paradox of Trump's first year: How could a president have such low approval ratings amid such a strong economy and a surging stock market? According to Gallup, Trump is 10 points below President Reagan, 15 points below President Clinton and 11 points below President Obama at the one-year mark.
Another explanation is that, aside from the appointment of a conservative Supreme Court justice and the rollback of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, little of consequence was accomplished. Trump’s one major legislative “victory,” a law that lowers the nation’s uncompetitive corporate tax rate, was so larded with giveaways to wealthy heirs, passive investors, real estate interests, hedge funds and more that it was rightly dismissed by many voters as a payoff to the Republican donor class.
Still another reason for Trump's low approval rating is that he has reduced the office of the presidency to a poorly executed, though oddly compelling, reality television show. Lacking the experience and focus to be effective as a normal president, he lashes out at rivals while forcing supporters into ever more humiliating forms of debasement.
No, "this American carnage" hasn't been stopped in its tracks. It is, in fact, spreading from the White House across America's institutions and democratic values.