Looking back at Trump’s presidency

Phumlani Majozi contrasts the President's performance versus his personality flaws

Donald Trump’s first, and last term as President of United States of America (US) is coming to an end – after he was defeated by Democratic Party presidential candidate – now President-Elect Joe Biden.

During the past four years of his presidency, Trump was viewed by many in his country and around the world, as despicable, unethical, misogynist, racist, and all other kinds of name-callings and descriptions.

Look, no man is perfect – and certainly no politician is perfect. Trump was certainly not perfect. His egocentric, problematic character and rhetoric caused unnecessary controversies during his presidency. But I don’t believe the man was racist or is racist – in the sense that he hated or hates black people. I wouldn’t go that far. Going that far is ill-thought and senseless.

We ought to judge statesmen by their actions and consequences – not rhetoric that can easily be misinterpreted. Judging statesmen by rhetoric is utterly ludicrous.

Those who loathe Trump never saw any positives from his policies as President. His character and rhetoric blinded them from seeing any good from his presidency. Whenever I interacted with Trump’s detractors, I never heard them attacking his policies. They always pointed to his personality flaws and rhetoric.

This seems to have been true with US voters. For example, according to Gallup, 56% of Americans said that they were better off than four years ago – and yet, 56% believed Trump should not be reelected. It seems to me his character and personality flaws let him down during this last election – not really his policies. He got good approval ratings on the economy. And yes, COVID19 was a factor to an extent. But at this point I really do think his personality put people off.

Now let me highlight a few things that Trump got right on US public policy. First, of course, is the US economy as I’ve already alluded.

Intellectuals like Paul Krugman, and many others around the world, had anticipated a disastrous economy under Trump. There was no disaster. Instead, business and consumer confidence did very well. Economic growth became stronger – and unemployment reached record lows. Family income soared to record levels.

As the Wall Street Journal wrote the other day, Trump’s free market policies were instrumental in boosting the US economy. Trump slashed taxes and cut regulations when he took office – which – I think – was a great move from his part.

On law and order, I was impressed by Trump’s stance on riots that swept across America this year. The riots were disturbing to watch, and any rational person should have condemned them. Trump’s thinking was very right on this matter.

Because really, no country can have a genuine democracy when people vandalize, loot, torch other people’s properties. That is not a democracy we want anywhere around the globe. I believe in the right to protest. We all should protest when our leaders let us down. But no violent protest should be tolerated or excused.

On America’s foreign affairs, it’s a mixed legacy, in my opinion.

I don’t think it was wise to reverse some of Barack Obama’s Cuba policies. The US and Cuba have locked horns for decades – for sixty years actually. In that sixty years, the US never really achieved anything with Cuba – couldn’t even manage to dislodge or change the regime.

What’s the point of doing the same thing that has not worked for sixty years? There ought to be a change in the approach. I believed fully opening up to Cuba – allowing it to trade freely and productively engaging that country will help improve the lives of the people and institutions over the long-term.

To those who say that the US should press harder on Cuba – I ask: Until when? I mean, it’s been six decades now. And I doubt the US-Cuba tensions have any geopolitical value in this 21st century.

On Iran, honestly speaking, I’m not sure Trump’s maximum pressure achieves or achieved much. I guess the idea was that the Iranian regime was going to capitulate. No – they won’t. Iran’s history in the Middle East indicates they won’t capitulate. So, what’s the point of maximum pressure? Maximum pressure till when? The US and Iran need to go back to the negotiating table – that is my view.

On Israel and the Middle East, he must be lauded for his efforts to have Arab nations normalizing relations with Israel. But when it came to Israel-Palestine decades long conflict – he came out as more pro-Israel – and I don’t think that was right. He should have spent more time trying to bring the two parties back to the negotiating table. I care about Israel as much as I care about Palestine.

On North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Mr. Trump was right. Those European countries have to spend more for their defense. In fact, previous presidents, George W. Bush and Obama also raised their concerns about NATO not paying more for their defense. But of course, the previous presidents took no action – Trump did.

China has been abusing the global system for a long time – even Fareed Zakaria acknowledged this on his Cable News Network (CNN) foreign affairs show. Trump was right to confront the Chinese communists – and hold them accountable. I just wish he could have created an alliance with Europe in dealing with China, instead of doing it alone.

And then there’s our continent Africa, where the widespread belief is that Trump’s administration disengaged. That is not true. Yes, Trump showed little interest on Africa – but by not saying much about the continent– not by action. His administration was engaged; it’s just that the engagement wasn’t greatly covered by the mainstream media.

John Campbell, a senior fellow for Africa at Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) wrote a few months ago that Trump’s signature Africa policy was “Prosper Africa”. Prosper Africa aims to make it easier for American companies to invest in Africa – boosting investment and trade.

The administration also backed initiatives against violence in Cameroon and Sudan, Campbell wrote. So no, Trump wasn’t disengaged on Africa.

Having said all the above, my opinion is that Trump largely governed like a traditional Republican. His objectives on many matters were to do what his predecessors had promised to do and never did. Even the appointment of judges was very much Republican.

If you abhor Trump – and abhorred his presidency – you won’t like anything from what I have said above. If you admired him, you’ll commend me for my audacity to tell the truth.

I have only one question: Can’t we be rational as human beings, and acknowledge that some of the things were bad and some good during Trump’s presidency? Let’s get real.

Phumlani M. Majozi is a senior fellow at African Liberty. His website is phumlanimajozi.com Follow him on Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi.