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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Is Trump the Most Honest President?

Marc A. Thiessen started off an interesting discussion by contending that Trump could be the most honest president in history.

Don’t get me wrong, Trump lies all the time. He said that he “enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history” (actually they are the eighth largest) and that “our economy is the strongest it’s ever been in the history of our country” (which may one day be true, but not yet). In part, it’s a New York thing — everything is the biggest and the best.

But when it comes to the real barometer of presidential truthfulness — keeping his promises — Trump is a paragon of honesty. For better or worse, since taking office Trump has done exactly what he promised he would.
Not surprisingly, Paul Waldman, another Washington Post columnist took issue with this:

what I really want to address is Thiessen’s claim that Trump is perhaps “the most honest president in modern American history” because of his unparalleled record of promise-keeping. Trump has now endorsed this assessment, and it is a claim he will probably continue to make for, well, the rest of his life.

It’s a sweeping historical claim, and it would therefore require some grounding in history. Are the promises made in presidential campaigns usually kept or not? How did other presidents do at keeping their promises? Did they keep more or fewer than Trump has so far?
Remarkably, Thiessen doesn’t seem to have asked any of these questions. The only reference he makes to any previous president is to slap at Barack Obama for the way he sold the Affordable Care Act. Instead, he offers a list of things that Trump has done that he said he would do
But who keeps track of these things? In this internet age, there are people who seem to keep track of anything.  From Waldman again:

PolitiFact tracked 533 promises Obama made, and judged that 48.4 percent were completely kept, another 27.4 percent were partially kept through a compromise, and 24.2 percent were broken, though “broken” is defined rather expansively. There are different kinds of broken promises: Some a president never intends to keep (such as Trump’s promise to make Mexico pay for a border wall), others he tries to keep but fails, usually because he runs into opposition in Congress (such as Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo), and others he makes a clear decision to break (such as George H.W. Bush’s promise not to raise taxes).

So according to PolitiFact, Obama kept about three-quarters of his promises in part or in full.
And Trump? It has been tracking his promises too, and there the numbers are not quite as spectacular as Thiessen would have it. Trump has kept 13.7 percent of his promises and partially kept another 6.9 percent through compromise. Another 39.2 percent of the promises are “in the works,” meaning they might happen or might not, while 7.8 percent of the promises have been broken and 32.4 percent are “stalled,” meaning that if nothing changes, by the time he is done, those too will be “broken.”
You can disagree with PolitiFact’s judgment on what to include or what has happened, but its record for being nonpartisan is pretty solid, and at the very least, it provides a point of comparison, because it uses the same methods for assessing each presidency.

 And how were those promises kept?

Thiessen notes: "Trump vowed to pass historic tax reforms and signed the first major overhaul of the tax code in three decades."
 
 Yes, that promise was kept.  But the reforms are partly of historic interest because so much of the tax reductions went to those who were already rich, and because of the large amounts of deficit spending that will result from them -- deficit spending increases at a time when the economy is doing well, so we would expect to run lower deficits.

Thiessen notes: "On trade, he kept his promise to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and impose tariffs on steel and aluminum. He also committed to renegotiating NAFTA and the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement — and recently signed new deals with Mexico, Canada and South Korea. He committed to imposing tariffs on China to force it to open its markets and stop its theft of intellectual property — and is following through on that pledge. Whatever one thinks of Trump’s trade policies, he is doing exactly what he said."

But Trump promised "Trade wars are good, and easy to win" -- i.e. he promised the process would be relatively painless to Americans. It seems likely that the current trade war with China will hurt both countries, with the winners likely to be the noncombattants.

So, if this is keeping promises, we might have been better off without them being kept.

Missing a few


Waldman offers up a long list of promises not kept that Thiessen didn't mention.

  • Repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with “something terrific.”
  • Provide Americans with “insurance for everybody.”
  • Allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices.
  • Build a wall on the southern border and make Mexico pay for it.
  • Eliminate the “carried interest loophole” that benefits hedge fund managers.
  • Pass a massive infrastructure plan.
  • Officially declare China a currency manipulator.
  • Bring back the use of torture.
  • Sue the women who accused him of sexual misconduct.
  • Release his tax returns.
  • Appoint a special prosecutor to target Hillary Clinton.
  • Provide six weeks of paid leave to women who have children.
  • Eliminate the deficit and pay off the national debt.
Those are just a few of the promises Trump hasn’t kept — there are literally hundreds more, depending on what you want to include. And that only covers specific policy promises, not things such as Trump saying “I’m going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people,”
Some of these are also best not kept, e.g. bringing back the use of torture.