New Year’s Eve is rightfully a time for reflection on the year just past and a time to look ahead. We hope that for each Bahamian, and for our many seasonal visitors, this thoughtful pause brings both a smile at the recollection of joys and pleasures from 2018 and a renewed sense of optimism for what may lie ahead in the coming year.
And as we reflect on our personal and family circumstances, we may consider one blessing. However we may regard our current prime minister and his government, we can at least take some satisfaction in the fact that, unlike our American neighbours, we are not led by a reckless demagogue whose unmoored administration has led his nation into chaos and uncertainty.
Now as a year dawns, nearly one million American government workers remain furloughed due to Donald Trump’s stubborn adherence to a campaign promise to build a barrier wall along the southern US border with Mexico to deter illegal immigration from Central and South America into the United States.
Trump has demonstrated in this as in other matters a persistent disregard for the opinions and advice of experienced advisers, members of Congress and even sober political pundits. Most realise that illegal immigration into the US is more often a matter of visa violations by air travellers. So while Trump blathers on about his wall, it wouldn’t address the concern he identifies.
The unlikelihood of border wall completion begs the question of just what Trump has actually accomplished in his two years in office. There appear to have been four areas in which he has made a difference.
The first and probably the most consequential of these accomplishments is the massive 2018 American tax cut, certainly one of the areas where Trump and the Republican majorities in both houses of Congress could philosophically and politically agree. Derided by Democrats and liberals as a gift for the rich and the corporations they lead, the tax cut is nevertheless credited for helping to stimulate the dazzling and almost suspicious upward propulsion of the value of publicly traded stocks on the New York Stock Exchange.
It may be some comfort to concerned investors to recall that when Trump took office two years ago, the NYSE index stood just below 20,000. At the close of business on Friday, that index remained above 23,000. Of course the appreciation of stock values only benefits those whose wisdom or economic situation allow for the possibility of stock ownership. But the 15 percent rise has happened.
Trump has also placed on the US Supreme Court two avowedly conservative justices who fill vacancies created by the death of Antonin Scalia and the retirement of Anthony Kennedy. Conservatives exult in this development, and Trump characteristically boasts about it, but these changes may represent little of significance. Scalia and Kennedy were hardly liberals, and one can hope that the new justices remember their sacred oath to the American constitution and the rule of law. The key on the high court is likely to be its chief justice. John Roberts has consistently decried the actual or perceived influence of politics on the judiciary. Perhaps he will emerge as a voice of reason and moderation, though that is largely hope and not practice so far.
American trade policy has certainly appeared to change under Trump and to diverge from Republican orthodoxy in the president’s clear move toward tariffs and away from free trade principles. The NAFTA reset may or may not turn out to be significant, but the direct confrontation with China is real, meaningful and perhaps represents what may be Trump’s enduring contribution to the arc of world affairs. There is evidence that many nations do not really disagree with the pushback against China’s aggressive economic and commercial posture. As China deals with some internal issues in its own dynamic economy, this standoff among behemoths is one of the big stories for 2019.
Finally, there is Trump’s shifting foreign and military policy, tilting away from overseas engagement and in the direction of an isolationism that can benefit no one, especially the United States. Senate Republicans may yet restrain Trump’s foolish impulses in this area, but only if political benefits in doing so become apparent.