In just about three weeks we will reach the midway point in the Trump presidency. For most of his first term, President Trump and key members of his inner circle have been under an investigation that threatens not only his legacy but his very presidency. Both cabinet members and staff have resigned or been fired. Some, like former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, dismissed after months of goading and personal insults.
Other major players, including Trumpís former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, along with former General Michael Flynn, the short-lived national security advisor, have been convicted and await sentencing. But, despite the daily calamity of this White House and depending on who you ask, his job performance is either praised or pilloried. There is very little gray in this presidency.
Call it bold or something else, but Trumpís recent announcement that he was ordering troops out of Syria got peopleís attention. Supporters cheered his unorthodox decision; most lawmakers and policy makers, not so much. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney dismissed the criticism on Fox News because ďordinaryĒ people love the move.
Someone who didnít was the Presidentís Secretary of Defense, General Jim Mattis who, when it was announced, immediately moved up his resignation. The wording in his letter of resignation was unambiguous and critical of the decision with special emphasis on how it might impact the nationís relationship with allies. Americaís withdrawal leaves some NATO forces battling ISIS. It also leaves Russia.
Trumpís foreign policy methods got further scrutiny only a day later when he announced a drawdown of 7,000 troops in Afghanistan. Again, the move seemed to be hastily considered catching even his staunchest defenders, including Senators Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio, off guard. In announcing his decision, the President said ISIS in Syria has been defeated. Graham characterized the withdrawal as ďpaving a way toward a second 9/11.Ē
For the first time in his presidency, Trump made a holiday visit to U.S. troops in Iraq. Presidents Bush and Obama also made surprise trips to war zones. What made Trumpís visit different was its uniquely political tone. Presidents ordinarily focus on thanking the troops for their service since they represent a spectrum of the country and not a single point of view. Trump deviated again, talking pointedly about the need to build a wall along the Mexican border while accusing soon-to-be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi along with other Democrats of being soft on border security. He also took the time to sign his ubiquitous red MAGA hats for some soldiers and posed for selfies with others.
But politics was not the only potential faux pas. There may have also been a diplomatic misstep when the President failed to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi instead sharing only a phone call and not a face-to-face visit. Iraqi lawmakers called out the diplomatic snub as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and demanded the expulsion of 5,000 American troops. The White House defended the Presidentís decision and announced it had issued an invitation for the Prime Minister to visit the Washington in 2019.
The end of 2018 has shown some cracks in the economy. While unemployment is at record lows and the stock market has soared to record highs, Decemberís roller coaster market has some economists whispering about a recession in late 2019 or early 2020. Uncertainty has also followed the Presidentís public scorn of the Federal Reserve for raising interest rates and his oftentimes hasty calls for tariffs which have had a particularly irksome response from China. December also had the marketís most volatile month since the Great Depression including a one-day thousand-point plunge.
With the New Year, environmentalists anticipate more Trump rollbacks of Obama-era policies and the implementation of more pro-industry ones. The reversals blunt efforts to slow down climate change and decrease environmental pollution.
The President has signed off on plans to ease restrictions on oil and gas drilling on millions of acres of protected lands in eleven western states, including Colorado. The President also continues to be the coal industryís biggest cheerleader with promises to bring back coal mining jobs in states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The recent deaths of two young children, both Guatemalan refugees, has raised the volume on immigration and the Presidentís desire to build a wall on the southern border. The children, ages 7 and 8, died while in the custody of U.S. authorities. While sympathetic to the tragedies, calling them ďdeeply concerning and heartbreaking,Ē Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen placed responsibility for the deaths on the childrenís parents and their decision to bring them on such a long trek. She also called it a failure of the nationís immigration policies.
President Trump has indicated no willingness to compromise on funding for a border wall, though he has changed his characterization and has lately referred to it a Ďfence.í He has also amended his desire for a continuous border fence and said 500 miles of fence would be acceptable. Unless and until he gets funding for some form of border barrier, the President said he has no plans to reopen the government.
As 2018 fades into history, it is a nation divided by fences, literal and political.