The Donald’s personal failings make it hard to say nice things about his presidency.
Yet contrary to most inside-the-Beltway expectations, he’s having an impact.
Let’s start with abortion, something that divides the country in a visceral way, with one side seeing it as murder and the other side viewing its prohibition as the subjugation of poor women.
The Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v Wade ruling — which legalized abortion from the top down – took the issue off the legislative agenda.
But early on, Trump got the chance to name two new Justices and picked relatively young, relatively conservative men who are seen as possible votes for overturning Roe v Wade. So abortion is back in play. From today’s Wall Street Journal:
Sweeping state-level abortion restrictions present a direct test of whether the newly constituted Supreme Court is willing to revisit Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion-rights precedent that has spurred deep divisions for nearly 50 years.
States with antiabortion legislative majorities have long been weighing how to prompt a Supreme Court review of the 1973 ruling, but generally have preferred a strategy aimed at reducing the procedure’s availability through incremental restrictions that hamper providers, or by forbidding late-term abortions.
But following last year’s retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the key fifth vote on a nine-member court for preserving Roe’s central guarantee, that attitude has shifted. Since President Trump took office, he has appointed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, and had vowed as part of his 2016 campaign to appoint jurists who would overturn the Roe decision, though neither of the new justices has committed to do so.
During this state legislative season, lawmakers in several conservative-led states have proposed bills that are designed to challenge Roe in court, and governors have been more willing to sign them than ever before. The most dramatic example came this week in Alabama, which enacted a near-total ban on abortion, with an exception only when a woman faces a serious health risk; the Legislature rejected exceptions for victims of rape or incest. On Thursday, the Missouri Senate passed a ban on abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy.
Several states—Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio—recently passed bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks.
One or more of these cases will reach the Supreme Court before the 2020 presidential election, and it’s now at least conceivable that the Court will have something interesting to say.
And then there’s China. The developed world really, really wanted China’s billion people with their history of political instability and ideological insanity to morph into a peaceful quasi-capitalist country. So the US and Europe looked the other way as China developed at all costs – with those costs being born mostly by its trading partners.
Among the many ways China has been cheating are:
Extreme protectionism. China keeps foreign goods out with high tariffs and impenetrable regulations. And it subsidizes domestic industries with cheap energy, low-cost loans and lax environmental regulations.
Debt imperialism. It lends money to developing countries, then seizes collateral assets like mines and infrastructure when the loans aren’t repaid.
Forced technology transfer. If a foreign company wants to operate in China, Beijing requires it to take a majority local partner and transfer its technology to that partner – which then forwards it to the government.
Cyber- theft. The Chinese military runs an army of hackers who break into foreign networks and steal whatever business and military IP they find. This has allowed Chinese companies to produce copycat versions of major products, and its military to produce next-generation weapons, without all the expensive R&D.
This cheating — and the resulting hollowing out of American manufacturing — was just accepted as the price of having China inside rather than outside of the global trading system. Trump, as an obnoxious outsider himself, doesn’t seem to be constrained by this vision and is trying to force China to play by the same rules as Japan and France. He may or may not succeed, but he’s already shifted the debate, forcing mainstream pundits to preface their opinions with, “of course China cheats and of course we should do something about it…” That’s pretty consequential right there.
Immigration. Pre-Trump, elites on both right and the left loved open borders, the former because of all the cheap labor that couldn’t complain about bad working conditions, and the latter because new arrivals tend to vote for Democrat.
But of course open borders are a disaster for pretty much the entire taxpaying mainstream, so Trump is finding fertile ground here and might just engineer an immigration system that controls the border and lets in only the most valuable immigrants. In any event, as with China, he’s changed the terms of debate by forcing opponents to begin with “of course border security is important…”
War. This is the ultimate in “consequential.” And there’s a lot of it going around. See ‘Potentially imminent threat’ from Iran grips Washington.
Most of the above (with the exception of war) would not even be discussed under President Hillary Clinton, illustrating the impact, for better or worse, that Trump is having. Much of it will endure long after he’s gone.