Rosemary Westwood: Sure Trump exaggerates, and golfs, but don't take your eye off the ball
It’s the strong undercurrent of conservative change — not Trump’s most famous unkept promises — that will be most consequential.
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It was a very Trumpian Christmas Twitter greeting.
“I hope everyone is having a great Christmas,” Trump tweeted on Dec. 25, “then tomorrow it’s back to work in order to Make America Great Again (which is happening faster than anyone anticipated)!”
Trumpian not just because it was his fourth in two days on a dearly-held topic — the first of which declared his victory over “the assault” against the “cherished and beautiful phrase. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!”
But because the President of the United States, per usual, mixed Oval Office procedure with a bit of his own branding, a dash of self-congratulations, and a commitment he did not keep.
Instead of getting back to work, on Boxing Day (and again on Wednesday) Donald Trump reportedly went golfing.
The Trump administration, however, can’t be accused of a lack of work ethic.
For much of 2017, Trump’s bravado and unfulfilled declarations (health care repeal and replacement would be passed “simultaneously,” the border wall and infrastructure spending were imminent), plus the simmering Russia investigation, had threatened to cover his administration with a patina of inaction and distraction.
But while the president has been over-promising, his administration is actually delivering on some fronts. And it’s the strong undercurrent of conservative change — not Trump’s most famous unkept promises — that will be most consequential.
The sweeping tax bill and attached undermining of the Affordable Health Care Act has been his largest accomplishment. But Trump’s administration has achieved a variety of other goals: a record number of conservative federal appeals court judge appointments, a re-making of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) towards the goals of industry, and a dramatic increase in undocumented immigrant deportations and instability for those brought to the U.S. as children.
The last year has also seen a hollowing out or slowing down of numerous federal departments, most notably at the vastly understaffed State Department, but also the Agriculture Department, which is responsible for food stamps and school lunch programs; and the Department of Energy, which is responsible for nuclear power, among many other things. Vanity Fair reports operations at the Department of Energy have “ground to a halt.”
Across the government, there’s been a general move away from science-based decision making and towards political and ideological preferences, most transparently in Trump’s move to restrict the Centres for Disease Control from using “science-based” and similar phrases.
His administration's indifference to climate change has been felt in its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and moves to repeal the Clean Power Plan and expand oil drilling to the Arctic and Atlantic.
There’s been a 180-degree swing away from Obama-era police reform efforts at the Justice Department and a 180-degree swing towards the so-called “law and order” approach: directing prosecutors to seek maximum penalties, supporting private prisons and the fines and fees charged to poor defendants.
Internationally, in the declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Muslim-majority country travel restrictions, Trump has pushed back against global integration.
The president, it seems, can golf more often than Barack Obama, watch, as the New York Times reported, hours of TV news a day, and still re-make American into his version of “great.” His heavy doses of exaggeration shouldn’t distract from the quieter, yet dramatic changes taking place under his leadership.
“We are doing well - nobody is going to beat us,” Trump tweeted this week, a promise of more to come in 2018, slathered, as usual, with a superlative.
Rosemary Westwood has relocated from Canada to the U.S. She chronicles her observations in a weekly column with Metro.