Trump’s First Year in Office: the Impact Is Profound and Controversial
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Robert Legvold

Professor Emeritus at the Department of Political Science, Columbia University, New York, USA

Edward Nicolae Luttwak

Senior associate, Center for International and Strategic Studies (CSIS)

Valdai Discussion Club

Valdai Club experts Robert Legvold and Edward N. Luttwak share their quite different views on Donald Trump’s first year as the United States President.

Donald Trump enters the second year of his presidency as one of the most controversial politicians in the US history. Opinions vary greatly, but one thing is clear: the past year has been marked by fundamental changes in the United States’ domestic and foreign policy, with many results of the previous administration virtually wiped out.

Domestically, he has executed a traditional conservative political agenda, says Valdai Club expert Robert Legvold, Marshall D. Shulman Professor Emeritus at Columbia University and Director of the Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative. It includes tax cuts, which have fundamentally altered the US tax structure, reducing government regulations, appointing conservative judges, and other measures. In addition, according to Legvold, “a critical range of regulations on everything from environmental protection to immigration; from pharmaceutical pricing to consumer protection has been transformed” with consequences which are hard to predict.

As Trump has promoted this conservative agenda, he has failed to deliver on the populist promises made to his electoral base, Legvold says. The wall, expelling undocumented immigrants, improving the economic situation of the worker, revitalizing dying industry – none of these has materialized.

Meanwhile, another expert asked by valdaiclub.com to comment on Trump’s first year in office, is upbeat about the significance of his policies for the American economy. “Trump has been the most effective president in history when it comes to the economy,” believes Edward N. Luttwak, Senior associate at the Center for International and Strategic Studies. “The hard numbers show unprecedented growth in stock market valuations – which have saved under-funded municipal and state pension funds all over the US – and employment growth, with significant growth in real wages net of inflation,” he wrote in comments sent by email.

Luttwak also lauded the way Trump deals with his predecessor’s legacy, saying that he “has been very successful in eliminating a jungle of bureaucratic regulations that Obama had added during eight years.”

Conversely, Legvold believes the impact that Trump’s policies have had on the US economy and society is mostly negative, rolling back progress made over the last twenty years. According to him, in some respects this impact “will accentuate problems, such as income inequality and environmental degradation, to name but two areas.”

America’s foreign policy under Trump is widely characterized as unpredictable and antagonistic. According to Legvold, the incumbent president has done enormous and perhaps lasting damage to the United States’ foreign policy position by “eroding alliances, alienating and disgusting populations in a majority of countries, increasing the mistrust of China, destroying trade-strengthening agreements, threatening the Iran nuclear deal, heightening tensions on the Korean peninsula, etc.”

Luttwak, for his part, accentuates Trump’s loss of control of policy vis-à-vis Russia. However, he blames Russia for not making “goodwill moves”, like “some demonstrative disengagement gesture in Ukraine” immediately after Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017, which would have empowered Trump as a “deal maker. “Instead, there was a cunning silence from Moscow. It is not smart to be cunning with the un-cunning Americans,” Luttwak concludes.

Valdai Discussion Club