Since the earliest days of Donald Trump’s Presidency, we have attempted to catalog all of the harmful actions committed by his administration. Furthermore, by categorizing these actions by policy areas and scoring their relative impact, we have attempted to understand how the Administration operates and measure where it’s done the most damage.
In its second year we find an administration that basically operates in the same way as it did in its first, but which has focused its energies in very different ways. As in its first year, the administration largely approaches policy in a scattershot way, enacting policy more than brute force than finesse. However, the administration has shift its focus away from more conventional Republican policies focused on cutting taxes and social spending. Instead it’s focused far more on the types of issues central to Trump’s brand of politics, such as immigration and trade.
During the 2016 election, an issue arose surrounding Donald Trump and his brand of politics. While the candidate was obviously controversial and offensive to a large swath of the electorate, the sheer volume of controversies surrounding Trump’s candidacy, which broke nearly daily, made it easy for the average voter to lose track of them all and difficult for them sift through it all in any meaningful way. This made it easy for the electorate to become desensitized to Trump’s antics, and tune out his actions as so much white noise, even if what he was doing was highly consequential.
To rectify this, we endeavored to compile all the horrible actions of the Trump Administration into a single list itemize. This list, the Trump Omnibus, was intended to serve as a reference for opponents of the Trump administration in political debates, particularly in arguments which in some ways involved the phrase “c’mon, what has he done that’s that bad”. Likewise, it was hoped that the length of the omnibus would convey to observers a self-evident illustration of just what a disaster the Trump administration has been for the country.
One year into the administration the omnibus has expanded to include more than 1219 unique actions touching on virtually ever aspect of American life listed unbroken across 83 pages. We believe that this makes the omnibus successful in its original intent of conveying the sheer breadth of ways the Trump Administration is terrible.
However, as the omnibus continues to stretch to the point where it’s impossible for one to fully process, there’s a danger that it may fall victim to the same problem that it was intended originally intended to address. To that end, we wanted to go one step further and provide an overall analysis of all the actions recorded within the omnibus to put everything into context. This would also enable us to identify relevant trends or interesting patterns in terms of how the Administration operates. To that end, we’ve produced this report.
How The Omnibus and This Report Was Prepared
The actions recorded in the Trump Omnibus are compiled on an ongoing basis throughout the year. The Omnibus uses a variety of sources, including the mainstream media outlets, press releases from federal agencies, and reputable NGOs such as the ACLU. When actions added into the omnibus their source and date are recorded.
Once actions are compiled into the Omnibus they’re categorized into appropriate policy areas. First they’re sorted based on what they impact, namely civil liberties and human rights, physical and material well-being, the proper functioning of political institutions, and national security. They are then sorted into 1 of 13 policy categories, such as immigration, healthcare and social spending, environmental policy and so forth. They’re then sorted further into 1 of 23 subcategories.
Finally, the actions are scored relative to their impact. First actions are scored on a scale of 1-10 based on the scale/scope of their impact, their legal formality, and their permanence. Next actions are rated on a 1-4 based on how much of an “active” change they represent, as in whether an action is a wholly new action, or it represents rolling back a policy of the Obama administration or simply represents a failure act. Finally these scores are combined into a composite impact score.
With all the items in the omnibus categorized and scored, we can now begin to review all the worst things the Trump administration has done in the past year and identify notable trends and patterns.
The Top 10 Worst Initiatives of the Trump Administration
While each and every action of the Trump Administration has its own unique consequences, most fit within a broader set of initiatives or patterns of behavior. To this end, we’ve track how these initiatives have unfolded throughout the year, and using their combined impact scores attempt to determine which have been the most damaging. It was determined that the top 10 worst initiatives of the Trump administration are as follows:
1. The administration’s draconian immigration and deportation policy. Few things had as broad or far reaching effects as the administration’s immigration policies last year. The last year saw the reimplementation of the travel ban, the crisis over family separation policy and the deployment of the US military to the border to tear gas caravans of asylum seekers, to say nothing of deportation drive that saw tens of thousands of people at a time deported, crammed into unsanitary detention centers and stripped of their rights. Even the shutdowns were indirectly a consequences of the administration’s immigration policies.
Actions: 621, 625, 635, 646, 659, 663, 665, 669, 674, 686, 694, 697, 714, 716, 717, 723, 728, 740, 741, 750, 752, 759, 775, 778, 786, 788, 792, 795, 808, 812, 832, 837, 838, 845, 850, 854, 859, 860, 865, 866, 869, 872, 876, 877, 878, 887, 888, 915, 927, 931, 932, 959, 960, 977, 983, 985, 993, 998, 999, 1000, 1007, 1008, 1025, 1033, 1034, 1041, 1045, 1049, 1071, 1074, 1083, 1087, 1093, 1111, 1120, 1124, 1125, 1129, 1130, 1135, 1136, 1152, 1158, 1161, 1162, 1164, 1166, 1172, 1174, 1179, 1212, 1216
Combined Impact Score: 5290.5
2. General corruption. Many of the scandals of the Trump administration fit into broader issues, like the Russian scandal. However, even in isolation the sheer amount of corruption associated with the Trump administration is staggering. He has presided over what is easily the most corrupt administration since at least the Harding administration. It’s not just that that Trump has used his position to enrich his family, gives preferential access to his associates and regularly flouts laws, nor is it just that his advisors pilfer public funds to live in luxury. The whole enterprise is toxic on a basic human level. This is an administration where domestic abuse is willfully overlooked, doctors are pushed to hand out drug prescriptions like candy, mutual contempt runs through the staff, dissent is punished and a general air of distrust prevails. It’s like the grossest excesses of Caligula, but without the pageantry.
Actions: 645, 648, 658, 667, 672, 673, 677, 683, 685, 701, 715, 720, 730, 739, 744, 746, 748, 763, 767, 772, 776, 777, 782, 794, 796, 799, 811, 814, 833, 835, 867, 881, 882, 883, 895, 896, 933, 953, 956, 968, 989, 992, 1017, 1021, 1036, 1050, 1084, 1098, 1100, 1133, 1143, 1147, 1151, 1154, 1157, 1159, 1163
Combined Impact Score: 2518
3. The administration’s attempts to pack the courts with conservative judges. The most dramatic example of this was, of course, the appointment of Brett Kavanagh to the Supreme Court despite numerous allegations of sexual assault, a process which saw the administration seriously hobble any sort of due investigation. However, this was only one aspect of the administration’s attempts to reshape the courts, which they continued to pack with conservative judges in its second year. Meanwhile, the administration’s appointments in the first year, especially the stolen Supreme Court appointment of Niel Gorsuch, continued to bear bitter fruit. In the last year, the Supreme Court hobbled public sector unions, ruled that immigrants can be detained indefinitely, reinstated the travel ban and rolled back antitrust laws, among other things.
Actions: 674, 800, 853, 854, 855, 864, 896, 967, 994, 1010, 1013, 1024, 1067, 1089
Combined Impact Score: 2261
4. The administration’s trade wars. The second year of the Trump administration saw a drastic ramping up tariffs and general antagonism in international trade. Conservative estimates put the costs of these policies in the hundreds of billions of dollars, and has cost far more jobs than it has preserved. Moreover, Trump’s trade policy been a major source of economic instability in a year that otherwise might have
5. The Government Shutdowns. The Trump administration entered its second year with the government shutdown, and they continued to flirt with shutdowns throughout the rest of the year, briefly shutting down the government again in February and threatening to sabotage spending resolutions. But of course these were all trivial compared to the shutdown that Trump and Congressional Republicans caused near the end of the year. This shutdown smashed all previous records for shutdowns, left the Federal workforce stranded without pay and undermined countless public services.
Actions: 621, 697, 1001, 1155, 1167, 1169, 1171, 1173, 1175, 1178, 1183, 1184, 1186, 1187, 1188, 1189, 1191, 1194, 1195, 1196, 1197, 1198, 1200, 1202, 1208, 1209, 1211
Combined Impact Score: 1445
6. The administration’s efforts to sabotage any attempt to combat climate change. Climate change represents an unprecedented and potentially existential threat to humanity, and while the Trump administration is obviously not totally responsible for it, it has gone to some pretty radical lengths to exacerbate the problem. He continued to press America’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords, attempted to bury and obfuscate reports the detailed the seriousness of the threat and rolled back countless emissions rules and other policies aimed at addressing climate change.
Actions: 706, 722, 753, 764, 768, 784, 830, 871, 910, 939, 940, 941, 970, 979, 1002, 1011, 1038, 1063, 1117, 1122, 1138, 1141, 1146, 1205
Combined Impact Score: 1346.25
7. The administration’s efforts to slash and undermine social programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid and other forms of assistance for the poor. The Trump administration’s assault on social programs tended to come in three varieties. First, there were attempts to impose direct cuts, such as those proposed in the President’s 2019 budget. Second, there were efforts to undermine access to these programs by imposing work requirements, or enabling states to impose them. Finally, the administration siphoned money from the funds used by these programs, or otherwise failed to disburse them, often using a contrived crisis like the immigration crackdown or the shutdown as a pretext.
Actions: 622, 627, 646, 650, 652, 654, 660, 687, 738, 742, 755, 762, 852, 876, 916, 954, 1000, 1048, 1123, 1137, 1144, 1165, 1173, 1175, 1209, 1218
Combined Impact Score: 1263.5
8. The various instances scandals that have emerged regarding the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia to manipulate the 2016 election. The second year saw a steadily escalating stream of revelations regarding possible collusion with Russian agents during the 2016 as a number of high profile people were indicted and convicted, most notably Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. The scandal hasn’t come to head just yet, but it seems to be getting closer to Trump himself as time goes on.
Actions: 634, 704, 737, 749, 839, 885, 891, 906, 917, 946, 947, 1128, 1142, 1168, 1193, 1201, 1213
Combined Impact Score: 1237
9. The effort to obstruct the Russian probe. As the Russian continued into its second year the Trump administration continued on to with its efforts to hobble the investigation through various means, firing certain people oversee the effort or pressuring them to resign, refusing to release data or threatening to pardon key people who have been indicted or convicted in the scandal. In the same way as it was ultimately the Watergate coverup that brought Nixon, these things have the potential to bring down the Trump administration. However, for the moment he has mostly refrained from doing anything too egregious.
Actions: 624, 628, 630, 633, 636, 640, 649, 702, 731, 773, 801, 806, 817, 819, 820, 857, 894, 900, 907, 913, 943, 952, 963, 973, 995, 1090, 1107, 1131, 1203, 1210, 1215
Combined Impact Score: 1169
10. The effort to undermine the Affordable Care Act. While the attempt to fully repeal Obamacare were mostly dead in Trump’s second year in office, they continued to try to undermine the law through various means. The administration cut requirements on the quality of insurance provided under the law, attempted to slash crucial funding, refused to defend the law in court and gave tacit approval to states to undermine the law. All told, it was estimated that the Trump administration’s efforts have been a key factor in 4 million people losing health insurance in the last two year and a double digit rise in premiums.
Actions: 624, 628, 630, 633, 636, 640, 649, 702, 731, 773, 801, 806, 817, 819, 820, 857, 894, 900, 907, 913, 943, 952, 963, 973, 995, 1090, 1107, 1131, 1203, 1210, 1215
Combined Impact Score: 991.5
By our estimates the Administration’s impact was still felt primarily in terms of its material consequences on people’s Economic and Physical Well Being, which is to say economic and environmental policy. However, compared to last year the focus on these issues was comparatively low, and the administration had a much greater impact on Civil Liberties and Human Rights, Institutions and National Security and Foreign Policy. This was mainly due to a greater focus on immigration, multiple government shutdowns and a greater focus on foreign policy.
Trends over Time
Overall the second year of the Trump administration was roughly as impactful as the first, perhaps slightly more so. However, the way events unfolded was slightly different. Whereas the first year of the Trump administration saw a downward trend throughout the year as its frantic early days gave way to dysfunction and frustration, the second year saw things oscillating around a more consistent mean.
The year started slow for the administration as it reoriented. Then things picked up in the Spring as the administration ratcheted up its immigration crackdown and setting off trade wars. Events reached a peak in the early summer when a combination of the family separation policy, major financial deregulation and a series of executive orders and supreme court rulings that significantly undermined labor rights. The pace of events slowed again in the fall, with the appointment of Brett Kavanagh to the Supreme Court being the main development. Finally, as the year drew to a close things heated up again with the government shutdown, which is now the longest in US history with no end in sight.
The second year of the Trump administration saw notable shifts in its focus. On the one hand, there was less focus on what might be considered typical economic policy as less action was taken on cutting social spending, cutting taxes and deregulation, including environmental regulations. This was also mirrored by less focus on what might be called typical social regulations, which is to say the various policies and rules which are used to promote civil rights and social equality. On the other hand the administration has focused significantly more on issues of trade, immigration and foreign policy.
To some extent this is typical of a pattern one tends to see with Presidents. Presidents frequently shift their focus from domestic policy towards foreign policy because they have a lot more latitude. This would certainly make sense given how the administration’s efforts to repeal Obamacare in its first year were frustrated. Meanwhile the administration is also running out of easy targets, as they had already passed a major tax bill and reversed many of the Obama administration’s executive policies.
But this can also be seen as a matter of shifting priorities. The first year arguably saw the administration acquiesce to the priorities of Congressional Republicans, which are still predominantly focused on pro-business economic policy, while at the same time Republicans were largely successful at preventing the administration from rocking the boat too much in terms of the US’s broader role in the world. By contrast, the second year saw a greater expression on the sort of parochial isolationism that informs Trumpism,
Using the formality score assigned to different actions as a proxy the Trump administration appears to have been about as effective as it was in its first year in terms of implementing its policies. About 65% of the impact score for Trump’s second year came through actions with a formality score of 4 or 5, which usually denotes agency rulemaking, executive orders and similar actions which tend to fall within the sole purview of the executive branch. This is more or less unchanged from Trump’s first year in office. For the most part, the administration still enacts most of its policies through its executive powers and is usually pretty ineffective at working through Congress.
A substantial number of the administration’s impact came through actions with a score greater than 5, which would typically indicate a major law, legislative action or other such action that more fundamentally changes the way the government operates. However, more often than not these represented Trump violating a major law or doing something potentially unconstitutional. There were some notable exceptions, though, such as the major rollback of financial regulations passed earlier this year, the appointment of Brett Kavanagh and numerous Supreme Court rulings.
If we needed a single way to describe the Trump Administration’s approach to policy making, it would be brute force. The administration doesn’t really spend a lot of time negotiating its way to success or crafting policies in a way that are going to allow them to smoothly pass through the system. Rather it relies on the substantial power Republicans have in all three branches of government to force through as much as it can get away with. This has largely been ineffective in congress, where this approach has sabotaged legislation that might have otherwise passed easily by alienating potential allies. It has also sometimes hampered executive policies, as many of the rules the administration has pushed have stalled or been blocked in court. However in these cases the administration tends to just try again and again, making minor alterations to the policy until they eventually pass. This is basically what happened with the Travel Ban, for example.
Strategy and Focus
One pattern that has tended to stand out about the Trump administration is the rapid, sporadic pace of developments. There seems to be a steady stream controversial policies and scandals coming out all the time that dominate everyone’s attention for a couple weeks, but then they dissipate almost as quickly as the next big controversy comes along.
And the Trump administration looks about as scattershot as it ever was in its second year. As we’ve noted earlier, the administration’s focus was a lot more evenly spread among social, economic and institutional issues than it was in its first year. However, we have noted that there are points where the administration’s focus was surprisingly intense. For example, over the summer there were points where almost a third of the administration’s actions were related to immigration.
In contrast to its first year, the Trump administration tended to focus more on narrow subcategories of different issues rather than the issues as a whole. For example, they will focus on deportations and enforcement actions specifically rather than immigration policy generally. This suggests Trump and his advisors only takes an interest in certain aspects different issues, and doesn’t have a broad systematic approach.
One final thing we can note is the rapid pace which the administration jumps from topic to topic. We can see this pattern bourne out if we compare how focused the Trump administration seems in different time frames. Generally speaking, when you look at the administration’s actions in the period of less than a month it looks pretty focused, but the more you broaden the window the less focused it appears. So a given issue will dominate the administration’s focus for maybe a few weeks, but it will rarely stay focused on that issue.
One of the more significant developments of Trump Administration’s second year was its greater tendency to break with Republican orthodoxy. Last year we estimated that more than two-thirds of the Administration impact came through actions any Republican President might have done. This year it was less than half.
This was not due to a change in the way the Trump Administration approached different issues, but rather it reflected a change in the issues the Administration chose to approach. As noted previously, the first year was far more focused on slashing healthcare and social spending, tax cuts and deregulation, issues Trump and mainstream Republicans tend to be in. On the other hand the Administration’s second year saw it focus on issues that are more of a priority for Trump and where is more at odds with some Republicans, such as trade and immigration.
There were two other factors that is driving this divergence. First is the unfolding scandals and increasingly erratic behavior of the administration. The second is the Administration’s more active role on trade foreign policy, which has tended to skew more isolationist. It’s arguable how much Trump’s foreign policy really breaks from Neoconservative orthodoxy, since the ultimately goals are basically the same: unilateral American predominance in the global order. But whereas the Neoconservatism of the Bush Administration consisted of imposing American influence abroad, the Trump administration has mainly tried to exercise influence by essentially boycotting the rest of the world until they comply with their objectives. This does represent a significant break that many in the national security state, such as Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have clearly take issue with.
During the first year of the Trump administration Trump experienced a sustained decline in his approval ratings over time. The initial honeymoon phase ended very quickly in the face of controversial policies like the travel ban. It declined even further in the spring as the scandal over possible Russian collusion gained steam. Trump’s approval hit its lowest point in the fall at the height of efforts to repeal Obamacare, before recovering somewhat when things quieted down.
By contrast, the second year has been surprising in just how stable Trump’s approval ratings have been over time. Trump’s approval ratings remained consistently in the range of 40-43%. Periodically, a controversy temporarily might temporarily drive down his approval ratings, but rarely more than a few points and usually for no more than a few days or weeks. The year ended with Trump’s approval rating nose diving once again due to the shutdown, but it seems likely that this will revert to the norm once the shutdown ends.
As in the first year, the rapid pace and scatter shot approach of the Trump administration has tended to make it difficult for different controversies to gain traction among the broader public over a long period of time. This means that the administration has been immune to the sort of mounting collapse in public confidence that might bring down his administration. This, along with scandal fatigue, seems to have led many to a conclusion that Trump will probably be able to finish his term.
However, the flip side of this is that all the controversies of the administration have coalesced into a general understanding of what the Trump administration is. People have generally formed their opinions regarding Trump, and very little seems able to shift these views one way or another. This could change in the event of something truly shocking, like a war or an economic collapse, but otherwise opinions will probably remain static.
Throughout the year we’ve also noticed several other trends regarding the Trump administration.
The identitatrian politics of the Trumpism are somewhat less alienating to voters than the third rail politics of slashing healthcare, while scandals rarely gain traction long term. However, they still make Trump really unpopular
As noted many times earlier, the second year of the Trump administration saw its focus shift from things like the effort to repeal the ACA to issues that hued closer Trump’s brand of parochial nationalism like trade and immigration. Similarly, the nomination of Brett Kavanagh turned into something of a referendum on the MeToo movement, as the main objection to Kavanagh tended to revolve around revelations of past sexual misconduct. And while all this was happened, various scandals continued to break regarding Trump’s tax evasion, possible collusion with Russia and so forth.
All this created a natural experiment where we can compare Trump’s approval in his first year with that in his second to determine what types of issues are most likely to undermine Trump’s support. And generally speaking, it seems issues like Healthcare are bigger vulnerability than social issues like immigration. They also had a more durable impact than the various scandals that periodically hit the administration.
This makes sense. Healthcare was an issue which had the potential to impact a broad cross section of people in immediate material terms. This was obfuscated during the backlash against Obamacare, but when Trump and Republicans seriously pressed the issue it became unavoidable. On the other hand, things like immigration only directly affect a relatively small number of people in a very intense way. The broader impact of such issues are abstract for the majority of people who aren’t directly affected by them, so it’s easier for them to insulate themselves behind rationalizations of a fictional border crisis or overzealous “SJWs” destroying free speech.
At the same time, scandals can puncture the administration’s approval ratings for a time. After Paul Manafort was convicted in September, for example, the administration saw its net approval drop by somewhere between 3-5 points. However, it bounced back pretty quickly when the news faded and it looked like Trump himself would probably not be implicated.
However, this should be kept in perspective. A 40% approval rating still means he and his politics are horribly unpopular. This often gets lost in political commentary, which tends to focus on obsessively about the solid support of Trump has retained within his limited base. This narrow focus led a lot of people to initially underestimate just what a disaster the 2018 midterms were for Trump and Republicans. But they were a disaster, and if Trump and Republicans lose in 2020 like they did in 2018 they may find themselves out of power for a decade.
Mainstream Republicans are extremely reluctant to break with Trump, and appear ready to follow his direction
There has been a running discussion since Trump took office about whether or not Republicans would ever be willing to seriously turn on Trump. Trump was an interloper in Republican politics after all, and between his heterodox policies and personal indiscretions there was a lot for them to object to. And with Republicans still controlling most of the levers of power Republican defections would be the quickest way to check the Trump administration.
To some extent these questions were preempted in Trump’s first year as he and Republicans tended to be on the same page on the vast majority of things they worked on. However, as we’ve noted, the last year has seen the Trump Administration breaking with mainstream Republicans more boldly than ever.
And through it all Republicans have pretty much always gone along with it. There have been occasional protests from people like Jeff Flake and Susan Collins over things like the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh. Others have suggested they’d resist Trump on trade. But at the end of the day, Kavanagh was still appointed and Trump was still given a free hand on trade. There seems to be very little hope that Senate Republicans would go along with impeaching Trump. They’ve refused to challenge Trump on things like the shut down, and so on and so forth.
Republicans voters haven’t been any more likely to abandon Trump either. Exit polls after the midterms indicate that Republicans voted for Republican candidates at a rate of around 95%, the same as previous elections. This was crucial in allowing Republicans to retain control in the Senate. Meanwhile, Republican primary voters have tended to support Trump’s preferred candidates.
The most straight forward explanation for this is that Republican voters like Trump’s policies more than they like mainstream Republicans. Republican politicians, on the other hand, don’t have many serious differences with Trump. Many also doubtlessly figure, probably correctly, that breaking with Trump would be a tactical mistake that would hurt them more than it would hurt him. Alternately it may just be simple partisanship. For good or ill, Trump is the nominal head of the party, and if he does anything party loyalty the rank and file will follow.
Unfortunately, there is no conclusion at this time, and there can be no conclusion until the Trump Administration is ended, preferably in massive electoral defeat, and the last remnants of its toxic legacy are undone and those it has harmed are made whole. For now, we will continue to maintain and analyze the omnibus; periodically releasing progress reports, in the hopes that doing so will help galvanize public opposition and aid in the task of long term movement building.