Presidential legacies are not confined to the time spent in office. Jimmy Carter, regularly maligned as our worst modern President by many on both sides of the aisle, has spent the last three decades carrying out large-scale humanitarian efforts. Herbert Hoover, whose Administration was rocked by the great Depression, went on to make key military decisions, including encouraging President Truman to align with the Soviets to defeat the Germans during the second World War. He was also a noted philanthropist.
These examples, and the others like them, all went on to lead impactful lives following their presidencies. Their time in office is certainly checkered, but they still managed to affect the lives of many for years following their time in office. As the U.S. has transitioned to the Trump Administration over the past few weeks, many have speculated on what the Obamas will do in their post-White House lives. While pieces of the Obama Administration’s in-office legacy are being dismantled with every passing hour, it remains to be seen what they will do with their coming years.
We’ll find out about the Obamas in the near future, but what about the current sitting President? What will Donald Trump’s post-Presidential years look like? More importantly, what will America look like following the Trump Administration?
Trump’s In-Office Legacy: Care-Free Action
Americans have been offered a glimpse of what Trump’s time in office will look like. He has already begun follow-up on his campaign promises to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., dismantle the Affordable Care Act, and build a wall that very few people actually want, to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist. But something Trump frequently overlooks are the secondary and tertiary effects of his decisions.
It doesn’t appear that he has appropriately considered the foreign policy consequences of his immigration ban, or the economic implications of his wall proposal. His tweets suggest that he has, on multiple occasions, put forth his agenda immediately following what he has learned on cable news, without discussing the matters with Congress or his advisors. These types of rash decisions will almost certainly have negative repercussions, either for the Trump Administration, or for the American people. These consequences will most certainly frame his time in office, but there are more consequences that will frame the years following his presidency.
The day after he was inaugurated, people across the country gathered in the largest demonstration in U.S. history. More protests are in the works, aimed at protecting the American institutions at stake in a Trump America. Whether he likes it or not, Trump is inadvertently rallying people behind the American institutions and ideals that he is trying to destroy. It’s rain-on-your-wedding-day ironic that President Twitter is igniting people to move their protests from social media to the streets, and into the voicemails of their elected officials. The apathy that will come to define the 2016 Election has largely vanished, and it took no more than two weeks of Trump for the American people to remember that Democracy is neither perfect, nor guaranteed.
Is There a Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Less than 1/5 of Americans voted for him. That doesn’t mean he won with only 19% of the vote, but he did win with less than 50%, and one of the most important demographics in getting him elected was the 65+ population, whose impact will be diminished by a growing young electorate in the next two election cycles. With young voters (18-29), Trump lost by a much wider margin than he won the older vote, and that was even with the young voters not having one candidate to reach consensus on. These marches, which are originating on social media, are being organized by those young voters. The caricature of the millennial as someone too self-obsessed to actually get out and make change, is quickly being debunked thanks to President Trump.
The data suggests that people weren’t exactly excited to vote for Trump, and more so, that the shifting demographics over the next four years will mean even worse news for him. His approval rating, which started off lower than any of our previous 13 Presidents, has only gotten worse since he took office. Remarkably, the approval rating of Congress is nearly half that of Trump’s. Since Republicans took the house in 2011, a noteworthy point of demarcation during the Obama Administration when Republican leaders like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell stalled any hope of bi-partisanship in governing, the approval rating of Congress has not gone above 25%.
In 2018 and 2020 when people turn out to vote, they will be looking at an historically unfavorable President, and a Congress who aided and abetted him as he undid decades of social progress and fundamentally changed how America is viewed in the world. The GOP leadership, who spoke openly against Trump during his campaign, could not have acted more quickly to support the policies that they decried less than a year earlier. With even a semblance of leadership in the Democratic party, these points will be engrained into the public and will have a lasting impact on American Democracy.
Trump has often called President Obama the most divisive President in history. It’s a cable news talking point that is largely a dog whistle for Tea Party racists, but perhaps it will also be the ultimate serving of irony. The man whose campaign and presidency are defined by xenophobic division, will ultimately be one of the most unifying Presidents in American history. Unfortunately for him, his legacy will be that he was the evil that unified the American people.
Perhaps Trump will break from his 70+ years of pettiness and insecurity to continue the tradition of Presidents before him doing humanitarian work. But more than likely, he will return to being a Twitter celebrity espousing conspiracy theories and vanish back to the B-list where he started. The man who so desperately needed to be liked, will never get what he desired. The faux-populist who enlisted the help of more billionaires than any other administration, will be remembered as the man who brought the people together.
Trump almost-certainly will not be the humanitarian that past presidents have been. But his impact will likely be even larger than those that came before him.