Nearing one year under Trump: Two reviews

Flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, President Donald Trump delivers his Joint Address to Congress at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. PHOTO BY SHEALAH CRAIGHEAD

Americans in a quandary about trust and truth

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — When truck driver Chris Gromek wants to know what’s really going on in Washington, he scans the internet and satellite radio. He no longer flips TV channels because networks such as Fox News and MSNBC deliver conflicting accounts tainted by politics, he says.

“Where is the truth?” asks the 47-year-old North Carolina resident.

Answering that question accurately is a cornerstone of any functioning democracy, according to none other than Thomas Jefferson. But a year into Donald Trump’s fact-bending, media-bashing presidency, Americans are increasingly confused about who can be trusted to tell them reliably what their government and their commander in chief are doing.

Interviews across the polarized country as well as polling from Trump’s first year suggest people seek out various outlets of information, including Trump’s Twitter account, and trust none in particular.

Many say that practice is a new, Trump-era phenomenon in their lives as the president and the media he denigrates as “fake news” fight to be seen as the more credible source.

“It has made me take every story with a large grain, a block of salt,” said Lori Viars, a Christian conservative activist in Lebanon, Ohio, who gets her news from Fox and CNN. “Not just from liberal sources. I’ve seen conservative ‘fake news.’”

Democrat Kathy Tibbits of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, reads lots of news sources as she tries to assess the accuracy of what Trump is reported to have said.

“I kind of think the whole frontier has changed,” said the 60-year-old lawyer and artist. “My degree is in political science, and they never gave us a class on such fiasco politics.”

Though Trump’s habit of warping facts has had an impact, it’s not just him.

Widely shared falsehoods have snagged the attention of world leaders such as Pope Francis and former President Barack Obama. Last year, false conspiracy theories led a North Carolina man to bring a gun into a pizza parlor in the nation’s capital, convinced that the restaurant was concealing a child prostitution ring. Just last week, after the publication of an unflattering book about Trump’s presidency, a tweet claiming that he is addicted to a TV show about gorillas went viral and prompted its apparent author to clarify that it was a joke.

Trump has done his part to blur the lines between real and not.

During the campaign, he made a practice of singling out for ridicule reporters covering his raucous rallies. As president, he regularly complains about his news coverage and has attacked news outlets and journalists as “failing” and “fake news.” He’s repeatedly called reporters “the enemy of the people” and recently renewed calls to make it easier to sue for defamation.

About 2 in 3 American adults say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current affairs, according to a Pew Research Center report last month. The survey found that Republicans and Democrats are about equally likely to say that “fake news” leaves Americans deeply confused about current events. Despite the concern, more than 8 in 10 feel very or somewhat confident that they can recognize news that is fabricated, the survey found.

Victoria Steel, 50, of Cheyenne, Wyoming, said it’s important for people to invest time in finding reputable media sources or even friends to get the most information they can.

“You’re probably not going to get enough information out of sound bites, and you’re certainly not going to get it in a tweet,” said Steel, who says she voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Two-thirds of Americans get at least some of their news from social media, Pew found.

“I think part of the problem is that now people are getting too much information and it confuses them and they don’t know how to decipher the true and the fake,” said Trent Lott, a former Senate Republican leader from Mississippi who’s worked in Washington for nearly half a century. He isn’t fond of Trump’s Twitter habit, but also says he sees bias in the coverage of Washington by the mainstream media.

There’s been no love for the media for decades. The percentage expressing a great deal of confidence in the press has eroded from a high of 28 percent in 1976 to just 8 percent in 2016, according to the General Social Survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago.

“Trump didn’t invent this. He didn’t cause people to start feeling this way. He’s tapping into a vein that already existed,” said Gary Abernathy, publisher and editor of the Times-Gazette of Hillsboro, Ohio, one of the few daily papers that endorsed Trump. People, he added, “are nodding their heads right away because that’s how they’ve felt.”

Nicco Mele, director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard, views Trump as a symptom of long-term trends. “Now, can he accelerate them and make them worse? Almost certainly.”

When Trump labels something “fake news,” ‘’I just have started assuming ... whatever he’s talking about must be true,” said 46-year-old Joseph Murray of Mustang, Oklahoma, a registered independent. “I feel like that attitude didn’t start until he took office.”

Trump tends to inflate the significance of what he’s done. He claims his tax cuts are the biggest in history, his accomplishments surpass those of all previous presidents, and his election victory was a “landslide.” None is true.

He still insists there were millions of illegal votes cast in the 2016 election, even though there’s no such evidence.

Even on matters existential, Trump makes things up.

Taunted on Twitter by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump responded Jan. 3 that his own nuclear button “is a much bigger and powerful one than his, and my Button works!” There is no such physical button.

Trump often bypasses the vast information-gathering apparatus that reports to him in favor of getting his reality from TV, or sometimes just his gut. That has led him to conclude wrongly that a rare riot in Sweden over a drug crime was instead linked to refugee extremism. He also falsely claimed that Obama tapped his phones at Trump Tower in the campaign.

“I’m a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right,” he told Time magazine. Besides, “I’m quoting highly respected people from highly respected television networks.”

He’s kept many promises during his first year

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump often brags that he’s done more in his first year in office than any other president. That’s a spectacular stretch.

But while he’s fallen short on many measures and has a strikingly thin legislative record, Trump has followed through on dozens of his campaign promises, overhauling the country’s tax system, changing the U.S. posture abroad and upending the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrants.

A year in, Trump is no closer to making Mexico pay for a border wall than when he made supporters swoon with that promise at those rollicking campaign rallies of 2016.

He’s run into legislative roadblocks — from fellow Republicans, no less — at big moments, which is why the Obama-era health law survives, wounded but still insuring millions. His own administration’s sloppy start explains why none of the laws he pledged to sign in his first 100 days came to reality then and why most are still aspirational.

Nevertheless, Trump has nailed the tax overhaul, his only historic legislative accomplishment to date, won confirmation of a conservative Supreme Court justice and other federal judges, and used his executive powers with vigor to slice regulations and pull the U.S. away from international accords he assailed as a candidate.

Courts tied his most provocative actions on immigration and Muslim entry in knots, but illegal border crossings appear to be at historic lows.

The upshot? For all his rogue tendencies, Trump has shaped up as a largely conventional Republican president when measured by his promises kept and in motion.

The Twitter version of Trump may be jazzed with braggadocio about the size of his (nonexistent) nuclear button and his “very stable genius.” But the ledger of actions taken is recognizable to Washington: mainstream Republican tax cuts, pro-business policy (with exceptions on trade), curbs on environmental regulation and an approach to health care that’s been in the GOP playbook for years.

That’s as of today and this moment. With Trump, you never know about tomorrow.

A look at some of his campaign promises and what’s happened with them:

Taxes

Trump and congressional Republicans delivered on an overhaul that substantially lowers corporate taxes and cuts personal income taxes, as promised. It’s sizable but not everything Trump said it would be, and it is more tilted to the wealthy than he promised or will admit. He promised a 15 percent tax rate for corporations and settled for 21 percent, still a major drop from 35 percent. He promised three tax brackets; there are still seven. He did not eliminate the estate tax or the alternative minimum tax as he said he would. Fewer people will be subject to those taxes, however, at least temporarily.

“Everybody is getting a tax cut, especially the middle class,” he said in the campaign. Most will; some will pay more.

Trade

Trump made good on his promise to withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and to reopen the North American Free Trade Agreement in search of a better deal.

He’s let China off the hook, though, on his oft-repeated threat during the campaign to brand Beijing a currency manipulator, a step toward potentially hefty penalties on Chinese imports and a likely spark for a trade war.

“We’re like the piggy bank that’s being robbed,” he said of the trade relationship, which has tipped even more in China’s favor since. Trump now threatens trade punishment if China does not sufficiently cooperate in reining in North Korea.

Trump promised to impose a 35 percent tariff on goods from U.S. companies that ship production abroad. He’s not delivered on that. Instead, his tax plan aims to encourage companies to stay in the U.S. with the lower tax rate and to entice those operating abroad to come home by letting them repatriate their profits in the U.S. at a temporarily discounted rate. His approach so far is all carrot, no stick.

Immigration

Candidate Trump rocked the political landscape when he proposed a temporary ban on all non-U.S. Muslims entering the country. While he’s long backed away from such talk, Trump has worked since his first days in office to impose new restrictions on tourists and immigrants, signing executive orders that would have made good on his anti-immigration promises had those orders not been blocked by courts.

He’s now succeeded in banning the entry of citizens from several Muslim-majority countries and in severely curbing refugee admissions. He’s tried to deny certain federal money for cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Trump is now deep in negotiations over an immigration deal that could deliver on other promises, including money for the border wall with Mexico and overhauling the legal immigration system to make it harder for immigrants to sponsor their families. That’s in exchange for extending protections for hundreds of thousands of young people brought to the country illegally as children. They are protections he once slammed as an “illegal” amnesty and pledged to end.

Mexico still isn’t ponying up money for the wall.

Energy and the environment

Trump promised aggressive action on the energy front and has pursued that.

He announced his intention to take the U.S. out of the Paris climate-change accord. He gave swift approval to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines stalled by President Barack Obama, moved to shrink protected national monument lands in Utah and Arizona, and acted to lift restrictions on mining coal and coastal drilling for oil and natural gas.

A provision in the new tax law opens the long-protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

As other countries turn harder toward green energy, Trump is making fossil fuels the centerpiece of his drive toward energy independence — a benchmark that Obama closed in on during an era of surging natural gas development.

Health care

Probably nothing exemplifies frustrated ambition more than the Obama health law Republicans have been trying to dismantle ever since it was enacted in 2010. Trump has declared it dead many times — he just never got around to killing it.

He made this overpromise in the campaign: “My first day in office, I’m going to ask Congress to put a bill on my desk getting rid of this disastrous law and replacing it with reforms that expand choice, freedom, affordability. You’re going to have such great health care at a tiny fraction of the cost. It’s going to be so easy.”

That hasn’t happened.

Republicans took several runs at repealing and replacing the law last year, only to fall short. The December tax law, though, is knocking out a pillar. As of 2019, the requirement to carry health insurance or pay a fine will be gone.

Trump has come out with a proposed regulation to promote the sale of health plans across state lines. The goal is to make it easier for associations to sponsor plans that are cheaper than Affordable Care Act policies but don’t have to meet all consumer protection and benefit requirements of that law.

Insurance industry groups, patient groups and some state regulators are wary of the idea and see little chance it can make more than a dent in the ranks of the uninsured (nearly 30 million). Easing restrictions on the sale of health insurance across state lines has been a longtime mainstream conservative goal.

He also promised to authorize Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices. It hasn’t been done.

‘America first’ abroad

Trump promised swift victory over the Islamic State group. Over the past year, U.S. and coalition-backed local forces in Iraq and Syria did deal a crushing blow to IS, ousting the militants from most of the territory they once held. The success built on the strategy of the Obama administration to work with and through local forces.

Trump did relax restrictions on the number of U.S. troops who could be deployed both to Iraq and Syria, and that aided the final push.

U.S. commanders, however, stop short of saying IS is defeated, pointing to remaining militants and fighting in Syria. They also note the group has spawned affiliates in other countries, such as Afghanistan and Yemen, where they routinely attack U.S. forces and allies. While reeling as a territorial force, the IS group has inspired terrorist attacks in the West.

The Pentagon has yet to see the massive increase in military spending that Trump has promised. That still might come, but the protracted struggle to pass a Pentagon budget of whatever size has hurt U.S. military readiness, defense officials say.

More broadly, Trump’s “America First” ethic has been reflected in his pressure on member NATO countries to step up their own military spending, in his wariness of international accords and in the seeming drift from a diplomatic tradition of promoting U.S. democratic values abroad.

Past presidents made common cause with authoritarian figures, and their promotion of values could be cursory. But Trump has lavished praise on select strongmen, from the Philippines to China to Russia and beyond.

Despite railing against the Iran nuclear deal as a candidate, Trump has so far passed up opportunities to get the U.S. out of it. On the other hand, he rolled back part of Obama’s opening to Cuba. He also moved forward on recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a goal that both parties have embraced in their platforms for decades but never acted on.

Infrastructure

Trump pledged a $1 trillion effort to rebuild the country’s airports, roads, bridges and other infrastructure. As with his tax plan, it’s shaping up to be less ambitious than promised, though it still might be significant. Placed behind the failed effort to repeal the health law and the successful one to cut taxes, infrastructure may or may not emerge as a proposal in coming weeks. Trump’s idea appears to involve using federal tax dollars to leverage state government and private spending, not to mount a New Deal-era explosion of federal projects.

Veterans

Having previously criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs as the “most corrupt,” Trump delivered on one campaign promise by signing legislation to make it easier for VA employees to be fired for misconduct.

At least for now, its impact in bringing accountability to the department remains unclear. The pace of VA firings during Obama’s last budget year was higher than during Trump’s first, which covered the first nine months of his administration.

Other Trump initiatives announced with fanfare in 2017 remain far from complete or have been limited because of questions about rising government costs: a multibillion-dollar overhaul of electronic medical records, expanded access to doctors to reduce wait times and a goal of hiring 1,000 additional mental health counselors in the first year. The VA has been clouded by a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA hospital in which employees manipulated records to hide appointment delays.

...And more

Despite his promises, Trump hasn’t pushed for a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on Congress members or worked to end birthright citizenship, and he hasn’t made good on his pledge to drop “dirty, rotten traitor” Bowe Bergdahl out of an airplane over Afghanistan without a parachute.

Trump, who spends nearly every weekend golfing at one of his properties, most certainly hasn’t fulfilled his promise never to take a vacation while serving as president.

Indeed, Trump has visited properties he owns nearly one of every three days he’s been in office, raising a tangle of ethical questions about whether he’s profiting from his presidency.

The Big Boast

Trump didn’t wait for his first 100 days to expire before boasting that his presidential achievements thus far surpassed anything in history, and he hasn’t let up since. He’s bragged of having signed more than 80 pieces of legislation into law, but there’s little of consequence in that pile.

He’s signed laws naming federal buildings after people, appointing a Smithsonian Institution regent and other housekeeping steps that all presidents do but tend not to make a fuss about.

In contrast, Obama signed an enormous stimulus package into law in his first month while also achieving a law expanding health care for children and other policy steps.

Then there’s Franklin Roosevelt, credited by historians Alan Brinkley and Davis Dyer with achieving “the most concentrated period of U.S. reform in U.S. history,” starting immediately with emergency legislation to stabilize the Depression-devastated banking system and setting in place the New Deal with 14 pieces of historic legislation in 100 days.

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