|In 2016, The Globe envisioned a Pres. Trump.|
The conservatism Reagan espoused still continues to permeate our political culture. However, Reagan's leadership was, at times, surprisingly pragmatic and conciliatory. As such, his presidency's detrimental societal impact, on the liberal progress of the New Deal and Great Society, was mitigated. His administration ultimately fell short of the tremendous fear that Democratic figures like Carter exhibited in 1980.
Fast-forward over three decades later and another impactful election is held in 2016 between two candidates who also are dramatically different: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. During the campaign, liberals like Clinton (and I) warned of the frightening prospect of Trump's hand on the nuclear button, the possibility that he would succeed in undoing many of President Obama's policy achievements, and the likelihood that xenophobia would define his immigration approach.
Much of what Clinton and her fellow Democrats predicted about a Trump presidency has come true. Similar to the developments that took place after 1980 though, Trump's administration has, so far though, fallen short of the worst fears imagined. It should be noted that, barring Trump's removal from office or his unlikely resignation, there still remains over three years (at least) of the Trump presidency so I am sure the President will test our imagination.
Another distinction between the Reagan era and the Trump era thus far has also been that, unlike Reagan, Trump has shown virtually no willingness to work with congressional Democrats to advance scaled back versions of his agenda. From his perspective, he does not have to since Republicans control Congress (the Democrats held a large majority in the House throughout the Reagan presidency).
But in a striking similarity to the Reagan administration, the Trump administration, despite all of its repulsiveness, has been restrained by our institutions, political pressure, and other crucial external factors. Consequently, President Trump has been unable to or unwilling to carry out even more nightmarish policy. On election night 2016, as it became clear Trump would be the 45th President, I feared a war with Iran or at least the end of the nuclear agreement, a total ban on residents from Middle Eastern countries that would survive legal challenges because of presidents' broad authority in that realm, the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the bombing of North Korea, withdrawal from NATO, new surveillance measures (including a registry) targeting Middle Eastern immigrants, the elimination of the Legal Services Corporation and the Community Development Block Grant (among other domestic agencies), the reauthorization of torture, the addition of new detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, the prosecution of Hillary Clinton, and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.
Some of these outcomes may unfortunately still come to fruition particularly since, at least with regards to the legislative goals, Speaker Paul Ryan leads a defiantly right-wing House of Representatives and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell leads a Republican caucus that is usually mostly united. But so far, President Trump has not succeeded in these aims nor has he even tried in many cases to carry out these efforts. He has flat out failed in some instances and succumbed to the political tides, and other pressure, in other instances -- and has been dragged kicking and screaming into those relieving decisions that he detested.
Don't get me wrong: Trump has been horrid -- a disastrous president who has stoked fear among nonwhites and immigrants with his rhetoric and actions, tarnished our reputation in the world, and succeeded in squashing key Obama-era policies that protected our climate, public health and safety, and civil rights. That he has not been even worse should not obscure how dangerously effective has has been especially in quiet ways like reshaping Justice Department policies through his Attorney General, the retrograde Jeff Sessions. Nevertheless, beneath all of that, there is still the aforementioned unfulfilled that frustrates him and his allies.
The reason the absolute worst has not come about is because of the sustained pressure the public, courts, and the press have placed on Trump and elected Republicans. Our exceptionally proactive and rich civil society has demonstrated, through activist uprising and judicial wisdom and dogged journalism, that Trumpism can be restrained. Consequently, it is up to all of us to defend those time-tested institutions -- free speech, free press, checks and balances -- to protect all of our rights, liberties, and protections. We can't expect President Trump to emulate President Reagan in advancing pragmatism but we can expect him, or at least his GOP allies, to fold under pressure. As Joe Biden would say: "keep the faith."