Donald Trump: the Bad and the Good

Stephen H. Unger
January 6, 2019 [The 2 paragraphs on E-Verify and Ref. 8 were added 1/20/2019]

Donald Trump is the first person elected president without ever having served previously in any public office; excluding George Washington, and professional soldiers Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower. Trump is also the wealthiest president in history, after adjusting for inflation. His net worth is said to exceed 2 billion dollars.

His behavior is very different from that of conventional politicians. Nothing smooth about him. He frequently fires off blunt statements on various topics that contradict what he said previously. His statements often contain factual errors.

Bad examples

Sadly, Trump's predecessors in the White House, tho experienced politicians, did not set very good examples for him. For instance, Harry Truman ordered the use of the A-bomb against the advice of the top military officers including General Dwight Eisenhower, Fleet Admiral Nimitz, Major General Curtis E. LeMay, Henry H. "Hap" Arnold (commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Force), and Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. [1]. Then he got us into the undeclared Korean War, which cost the lives of about 35,000 American soldiers, 300,000 Korean soldiers, and a million Korean civilians.

John Kennedy launched the Bay of Pigs invasion, and then played a major role in starting the Vietnam War, in which over 55,000 Americans and several million Indo-Chinese were killed.

Under George W. Bush, the US invaded Iraq in 2003. This was justified by a claim that Iraq had nuclear weapons. But subsequent investigations and inspections discredited this claim (which, even if true, did not justify an attack). [2]

Barack Obama came into office when the US was at war with 2 countries. When he left office, we were still at at war with these 2 countries--and with 5 more.

Under the administrations of all previous presidents, a total of 3 people were prosecuted for disclosing secrets to reporters. Under the Obama administration 8 people were prosecuted for this "crime" [3] [4]. On the other hand, President Obama refused to take action against those responsible for the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

Trump abuse of the environment

Donald Trump's views and actions concerning the environment are terrible. He rejects the notion that the use of fossil fuels is harmful and that our pollution of the atmosphere has dire effects involving global warming, floods due to rising sea level, and extreme weather. He shows no interest in preserving our great national parks.

Champion of the rich

President Trump's policies on taxes clearly benefit rich Americans at the expense of the rest of us. He supported the reduction of capital gains taxes. He has supported cuts in welfare programs, including those providing medical services and other financial aid for poor people.

But it is important to understand that the current situation is by no means attributable to the policies of Donald Trump. While Trump is a crude character, with virtually none of the skills of the typical politician, his predecessors, as indicated above, used their superior political skills, and funding by the super-rich, to get us into numerous wars, cause great environmental damage, waste vast sums of taxpayer money on a bloated military, dismantle our industrial base (eliminating large numbers of good American jobs), and magnify poverty in the US.

The good side of Donald Trump

Bad as Trump is in some very important areas, he has made some very good moves in some other very important areas. A recent example is his announcement that he will withdraw US troops currently in Syria: somewhat over 2000. It is interesting that, instead of being applauded, this statement has been widely condemned. The NY Times called it "alarming" [5].

President Trump also initiated negotiations to relax dangerous tensions with North Korea, involving their having become a nuclear power. The North Koreans (and the South Koreans agree) would like to see the formal end of the Korean War, steps toward the reunification of Korea, and the resumption of normal trade relations with other countries. Altho the problems have not yet been resolved, Trump, North Korean President, Kim Jong-un, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in appear to be serious about finally ending the Korean War and normalizing relations among the countries involved [6].

China has, for perhaps 2 decades, been enjoying a large trade imbalance with the US. In 2017 imports from China were $508 billion, exports to China were $130 Billion [7]. This imbalance is a major factor in the decline of American manufacturing, which has eliminated large numbers of good jobs in the US. President Trump has addressed this large trade deficit with tariffs to pressure China into importing more American goods, with only limited success so far.

Perhaps the strangest critical issue is that of immigration. Three of the 4 principal political parties: the Democratic, Libertarian, and Green parties, in effect, oppose any significant restrictions on immigration. They oppose all practical measures for preventing people from entering and remaining in the US. Incredibly, only President Trump and the Republicans favor strong restrictions on immigration, and are implementing strong measures to prevent illegal entry into our country.

There are 2 important reasons for limiting immigration. One is that by bringing in large numbers of people from poor countries, who are willing to work very hard for very little pay, we are forcing many millions of poor American to accept the same conditions, or be unemployed. The other is that our population is already too large for the environment, and is continuing to grow rapidly due to immigration. Over my lifetime, so far, the population of the US has increased from about 125 million to over 325 million.

The principal advocates of open borders are the owners of large businesses, who profit from cheap labor. Unfortunately, Trump's arguments for greatly restricting immigration are often based on insulting claims that the immigrants are often criminals, or are otherwise undesirable.

His proposal to erect a wall along the US-Mexican border, which is estimated to cost $5 billion, is not very sensible. Roughly half of those moving to the US illegally, arrive here initially as legitimate visitors and then simply do not return. A very effective way to stop illegal immigration is the use of E-Verify, a computerized system that all employers would be required to use to determine if a prospective employee is legally eligible for employment. A number of states are currently using E-Verify. Those illegals rejected by E-Verify, or who know they would be rejected, would, in the great majority of cases, leave the country (or not come here to begin with). [8]

There is no real basis for claiming that those trying to cross our borders are generally bad people in any sense. The problem is that, even if they were all very nice, hard working, law abiding people, they would still be, in effect, taking jobs away from poor Americans.

Claims that Americans don't want the jobs that the immigrants take are deceptive. Americans don't want such jobs for the pay acceptable to desperate people accustomed to terrible working conditions. If not for the immigrants (legal or illegal) pay and working conditions would have to be improved to satisfy Americans.

We can, and should, help poor people in other countries without hurting poor Americans. Our traditional policy of undermining decent governments and supporting oppressive governments in the Americas should be ended [9]. We should greatly beef up the Peace Corps to help improve the lives of poor people in their own countries.

There are individuals in some countries who, for political reasons, are being unjustly persecuted to a serious extent. If such a person manages to get to the US border, and can make a good case, then he or she should be admitted. The number of cases of this type is not likely to exceed a few thousand annually, so that the effect of such admissions on jobs for Americans would not be significant.

In conclusion

Donald Trump is quite different from other government office holders. He has many serious faults, and has taken very bad positions on some very important matters. But he also has taken some very good positions on other very important matters. He should be supported when he "does the right thing", and opposed when he does otherwise.


[1] Wikipedia, "Debate over the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki"

[2] Wikipedia, "Iraq and weapons of mass destruction"

[3] Scott Shane, "Former C.I.A. Officer Released After Nearly Two Years in Prison for Leak Case", NY Times, Feb. 9, 2015

[4] Rashed Mian, "Obama's Legacy: A Historic War On Whistleblowers", Long Island Press, Jan 14, 2007

[5] Editorial, "Trump's Decision to Withdraw From Syria Is Alarming. Just Ask His Advisers", NY Times, Dec. 19, 2018

[6] Wikipedia, "Korean Armistice Agreement"

[7] , "The People's Republic of China, U.S.-China Trade Facts"

[8] Wikipedia, "E-Verify"

[9] Wikipedia, "Contras"

Comments are welcomed and can be sent to me at unger(at)cs(dot)columbia(dot)edu

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