As I have said before, every American President is owed the thanks and gratitude of U.S. citizens. It is a hard job, a lonely job and a often killing job. Nobody takes it on without suffering and sacrificing a great deal. Nobody takes it on and accepts the massive responsibilities the job entails without wanting to do a good job for his country and fellow citizens. Those who say or think otherwise are broadcasting their ignorance, and failing their own civic responsibilities.
Donald J. Trump was a fascinating President. All 45 have been different, but he is a true outlier, in background, experience, and orientation. I was never a supporter of Trump when he ran, nor an admirer before he ran, nor an enthusiastic adherent when he was in office. As an observer, a presidential history fanatic and a student of leadership and presidential character, I found him to be infuriating, surprising, troubling, and in the end admirable in some ways.
He was also surprisingly successful, though the news media would never give him credit, and though much of what he was successful at upset progressives, to put it mildly. President Trump was unlucky, but many Presidents are; a game I used to play was naming a period in U.S. history when a great President would have failed and another when a “failed” President would have been great. Trump was ultimately defeated by a worldwide pandemic that ruined the excellent economy that his policies had largely created. I doubt that the despicable effort by the AUC to blame the extent of the pandemic on him was ultimately the reason for his defeat; American Presidents usually get the credit when things are good, and get the blame when they aren’t, regardless of the reasons. One of the Big Lies wielded by Trump’s foes was that everything was terrible when in fact things were remarkably good. The pandemic ensured that much was terrible for many months leading up to the election. Few, if any, Presidents could have been re-elected under such conditions.
Americans owe this President an apology because he was never given a chance. Literally, never: he was never allowed to be the President of all the people, nor to have the automatic respect and good will the office itself carries, nor to enjoy and use the ceremonial and symbolic prestige of his office as every predecessor had as an automatic feature of being elected. This crippled his office and harmed the nation; it warped the functioning of the government, and placed the U.S. at a disadvantage internationally. He was savaged, libeled and slandered from the beginning of his term, and subjected to insults and mistreatment like no other POTUS. This was intentional, and in part designed to make him collapse or surrender. Amazingly, he did not, and that is to his credit.
It is undeniable that President Trump compounded his problems by his own intemperate words and behavior, his flat learning curve, his insecurity, his resistance to political realities, and his high-handed and chaotic management style. Add to that a near complete contempt for ethics, and you have enough to derail any President early and completely, but again, it almost worked for him. Early in his term, I wrote that Trump’s survival depended of his finding a Chief of Staff whom he was willing to entrust with managing him. Every President since Wilson has had such an advisor, best friend, or guru. Donald Trump never found one, and it was disastrous. His initial selection of Reince Priebus, a lightweight and weasel, and Steve Bannon, the rough equivalent of Rasputin, as his first staff chiefs was a bad portent. General Kelly did well for a while, but the President didn’t trust him, and Kelly was good soldier, not a fan.
Right now, the assessment of President Trump’s tenure at the White House is jaundiced by his meltdown since the election. He was always a bad loser, and had every reason to take this loss personally as well to feel cheated. But he was still President, and Trump never learned how to be Presidential. This time, it really cost him.
Eventually, I have no doubt, Donald Trump will be regarded as one of the two most influential and consequential one -term Presidents, the other being James K. Polk. Trump was right about a lot; his stand against illegal immigration was important and necessary, though it allowed his unscrupulous foes to brand him as a racist.. Perhaps the aspect of his term that was most remarkable and most unfairly ignored thanks to the vicious media bias against him. He should be proud if that is his legacy.