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The 2019 “Everything Terrible Trump Has Done” 2nd Quarter Report

Since the Trump Presidency began back in January 2017, we have endeavored to maintain a comprehensive listing of all the administrations misdeeds in the Everything Awful The Trump Administration Has Done Omnibus (full list here), and have attempted to categorize and score them accordingly. Today is July 20th, which means that as of noon today we are now moving into month 30 of the Trump administration. To mark the occasion, we are releasing the Everything Terrible Trump Has Done 2019 2nd Qtr. Brief.

We already provided a thorough explanation of our methodology elsewhere, so we’ll just skip straight to the results. For anyone interested, an in-depth discussion on how we classified and scored actions can be found here. And excel version of the list can be found here.

Summary

The last three months saw the most significant developments of the Trump administration concentrated in either immigration and abuses of power through ignoring the law. Foreign policy was an area where the administration could have a big impact in the near future as it’s flirted with war and overthrowing governments, but for the most part it’s failed to follow through as of yet. The last few months also saw the administration increasingly go its own way as its focus changed from enacting typical Republican economic and social policies towards actions defined more by Trump’s own brand of politics, such as his trade war, personal corruption and particularly draconian immigration policy.

Overall Results

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In terms of the overall pace of activity, the 2nd quarter of 2019 was fairly typical for the Trump administration, and the rate at which it enacted harmful policies remained fairly consistent throughout the period. For that matter, the policies weren’t exceptional in terms of their scale or formality. This isn’t to say that the last quarter has been typical, all phases of the Trump administration are unusual in their own way and when you get into the details of this quarter there were some notable developments. It’s just to say the last quarter doesn’t stand out as being particularly dramatic by the standards of the Trump administration.

However, there has been a fair amount of rumbling just over the horizon. There are plenty of incipient political conflicts potentially heading for a showdown, with the prospect of impeachment seeming to become more real as time goes on. Similarly, the possibility of the administration instigating a war has become more imminent than ever. Likewise, the economy is still growing, but Trump’s trade war is taking its toll and a recession next year seems highly likely. This may simply be the lull before another storm.

Policy Area and Focus

The 2nd quarter of 2019 has mostly continued a trend that has been ongoing since 2018. The administration’s impact has been felt less in the realm of economic policy, however its corrosive impact on governing institutions has continued to escalate, particularly as conflicts with Congress ramp up. Meanwhile, its impact on Social Issues and Foreign Policy remain fairly stable, however there have been subtle changes in how its being carried out. A table with a full breakdown can be seen here.

In the realm of Civil Liberties and Human Rights the Trump administration’s impact was overwhelmingly concentrated in immigration enforcement and deportations. This is not surprising, the administrations draconian attempts to close of borders and deport immigrants has been one of its marquee efforts since day one, and the controversy over immigration detention facilities (i.e. concentration camps) has been roiling for over a year now, The administration’s attempts to curb gender rights, disenfranchise large swathes of the population and impose tough on crime measures through rule making remains insidious, but in terms of scale and immediacy of impact the cruelty of detentions and deportations is in a league of its own.

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On the economic front, the administration’s impact was split fairly evenly between environmental policy, healthcare  and trade. The consistent trend since Trump’s second year in office, has been to shift from issues related to healthcare and consumer protections in favor of Trump’s own program of economic protectionism. This shift is likely due to a number of factors. First, the administration has tended to be frustrated on enacting broad legislation on health care and other spending programs that require legislation, and so has shifted to the realm of trade where it has a freer hand. Second, the administration now defers less to congressional Republicans to set its policy direction in favor of Trump’s own program of trade protectionism and outright clientelism . And finally, the administration may have simply run out of economic regulations that can be easily reversed through executive actions.

The biggest developments in the last quarter arguably most affected government institutions, and these were overwhelmingly concentrated in the realm of legal and ethical abuses of power. There were two key drivers of this. First, the release of the Mueller report, while not explicitly implicating the White House, suggested extensive collusion in tampering in the election and suggested further investigation by congress. Second was the administration’s attempt to obstruct numerous investigations, related to both Mueller’s probe and Congressional requests for Trump’s financial records. To do this the administration has flagrantly violated the law and governmental checks and balances, with officials refusing to provide documents and failing to respond to Congressional subpoenas.  

Finally, the administration was fairly active on the foreign policy front, however for the moment most of its efforts have come to very little. First, the administration attempted multiple times to overthrow the government of Venezuela. Each time these efforts failed due to lack of support for the opposition. Finally Trump appeared to bored and decided to move on, validating our frequently stated opinion that Trump is usually too lazy and inept to see out a truly disastrous foreign policy blunder. It remains to be seen whether this will hold true with the administration’s numerous attempts to orchestrate a war with Iran, however with the internationally community immediately seeing through these efforts and refusing to go along with them they mostly likely won’t go any where either. However, that’s small comfort considering how disastrous a war with Iran could be if John Bolton gets his way.

Notable Developments

There have been a few notable developments in the Trump administration in the last few months. First, for the first time since Trump took office it seems that the impact actions unique to Trump and those which are typical to Republicans appear to be more or less equal. This is worth noting. While Trump has always been unique in terms of political aesthetics, in terms of his actually actions he’s usually been a fairly bog standard Republican. In terms of his active policies this is still largely the case, only trade stands out as an area where he’s initiated a significant break from past Republican policies, and even his harsh immigration policies fit within a pre-existing pattern, at least for a large segment of the Republican party.

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However the Trump administration’s corruption and willingness to break laws in order to get what he wants is relatively unique (but hardly unprecedented, mind you) and in the past few months these actions have become increasingly prominent as he comes into conflict with the Democratic House of Representatives. This has, in large part been due to the fact that the Russian probe come to its conclusion slightly before the beginning of the last quarter, and much of the consequences have only become apparent over the following months. As these things go, the continuing scandal over possible collusion with Russia was fairly eventful, particularly due to the administration’s obstruction. However, this obstruction extended far beyond the Russian probe to various other scandals, which Trump has steadily escalated. For their part, congressional Democrats have also gotten more aggressive in terms of enforcing their subpoenas considering impeachment as a potentially necessary next step.

In general, the administration’s focus could be considered a good deal more narrow than in the past. The top three policy issues, immigration enforcement, legal and ethical abuses of power and foreign policy, represented more than half the administration’s impact as we calculate it, the first time in the two and a half years we have been maintaining the omnibus that this has happened. In ways this is less a matter of the administration having a singular focus on those topics and more about a lack of activity elsewhere. Even within those areas the administration’s actions are better described as being a manifestation of wanton disregard for human decency, with the persistent tendency to ignore the physical well being of migrants and the prerogatives of congress being the main drivers. Even in foreign policy, where the issue is active war mongering, the effort has been surprisingly aimless and inconsistent.

Disrupting Checks and Balances

One of the biggest developments from the last quarter was the increasing tendency of the Trump administration to come into conflict with the other branches of government, ignoring their prerogatives or otherwise attempting to circumvent them altogether. This has mainly come in one of three ways. First, the administration has repeatedly flouted congressional mandates that it provide documents or testimony in relation to various investigations being conducted by the House of Representatives. Second, it has misappropriated funds in order to fund it projects or circumvented congressional approval on the grounds of phony emergencies, particularly in the case of funding their border wall and selling arms to Saudi Arabia. Finally, when the courts have ruled against various administration policies they have attempted to continue with them anyways, such as with the citizenship question on the census.

This is not totally new ground for the administration, which had disregarded checks and balances in the past. However, there has been a dramatic uptick in the past quarter. To put this into perspective, as we figure it the impact of policies violating checks and balances in some way are roughly 3 times greater in the 2nd quarter of 2019 than they were in the first.

This is mainly a consequence of the 2018 midterms, which placed a check on the administration through the Democratic House. Moreover, the administration had long been frustrated in the courts, which despite being stacked with conservative judges have tended to rule against its more contentious policies. The effect of this was somewhat delayed, as the Democratic House largely refrained from trying to rein in the President at the beginning of the term, but it was only a matter of time before the issue was forced. Inevitably the administration had to decide between seeing its powers severely curtailed or continuing on through questionably legal means, and they predictably chose the latter.

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