How Trump Changed America, World in 2018

December 31, 2018 Updated: January 5, 2019

News Analysis

President Donald Trump has had a bustling year, pushing his agenda on almost every front and reshaping the world in the process. Be it the economy, domestic issues, or foreign policy, Trump has left his mark on it over the past 12 months.

Economy

While Trump’s tax cuts and deregulation started in his first year in office, it was in 2018 when he reaped his rewards. Unemployment has dropped to the lowest levels since the 1960s, while wages increased by 3.1 percent, a decade’s record. There are about a million more job openings than there are people who are considered unemployed.

The economy grew at an annual pace of 3.5 percent in the third quarter, after the blockbuster 4.2 percent in the second quarter. Only twice since 2006 has the gross domestic product increased faster over half a year.

The optimistic record is stained somewhat by a dramatic slump in the stock market at the end of the year, which Trump blamed on the Federal Reserve for raising interest rates too fast.

Supreme Court

Trump’s perhaps most significant victory was also one that was most bitterly opposed. In July, he nominated prominent conservative jurist Brett Kavanaugh for a Supreme Court seat vacated by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was considered a swing vote. Aside from some hecklers and dispute over documents, he cruised unscathed through his four days of confirmation hearings in early September. Then, all hell broke loose.

One after another, several women came forward, accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assaults dating back to his student years. None of the allegations was supported by evidence, and Kavanaugh categorically denied them all. Yet, legacy media filled the airwaves with breathless coverage of the accusations, with barely any airtime devoted to the contradictions in and outlandishness of some of the claims.

CNN used the word “rape” in association with Kavanaugh 191 times in 18 days, the Media Research Center reported.

Trump didn’t yield in his support for Kavanaugh, though. After the Senate confirmed the nomination on Oct. 6, Trump apologized to Kavanaugh and the new justice’s family for how they were treated.

On Nov. 3, the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee released a 414-page report that cleared Kavanaugh of the allegations.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) referred three of the accusers for criminal investigation over making potentially false claims to Congress.

With two justices in their 80s, Trump may get a chance to fill yet more Supreme Court vacancies. For the next two years at least he’ll face a more favorable landscape for confirmations thanks to a stronger Senate majority.

Midterm Push

Trump made an extraordinary effort to aid GOP candidates in the midterm elections, holding 26 rallies between Oct. 1 and Nov. 5, and nine in the final four days before the election. Of the 11 candidates he campaigned with over the last week, nine won.

Republicans still lost the House of Representatives, but by a smaller margin than Democrats in the first midterms of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

On the other hand, the GOP strengthened its majority in the Senate and weeded out through retirements some of the lawmakers most opposed to Trump. That’s expected to make for smoother confirmations of his judicial and other appointments.

Judiciary

Speaking of appointments, Trump had 66 of his federal court picks confirmed in 2018, compared to 49 in Obama’s second year.

So far, Trump has had confirmed 30 appointees to circuit courts, more than any president in recent history. He’s also delivered on his promise to nominate conservative jurists.

North Korea

Trump made world-changing progress with North Korea in 2018.

In the second half of 2017, North Korea launched three ballistic missiles and tested a nuclear weapon, demonstrating the capability to potentially hit the U.S. mainland. After Trump matched the threats and insults of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and reversed the “strategic patience” strategy of his predecessor, The New York Times editorial board declared itself scared by Trump’s tactics in December 2017. It called his rhetoric “disturbingly reminiscent of the George W. Bush administration’s propaganda campaign that prepared America for war against Saddam Hussein.”

But, far from warmongering, Trump pushed Kim in 2018 to negotiate on denuclearization, getting credit from South Korean President Moon Jae-in for jumpstarting the peace process on the peninsula.

While the denuclearization talks progress slowly, the communist dictatorship ceased to launch missiles or detonate bombs. Instead, it has started to open up to its neighbor. Both sides have dismantled their military outposts in the demilitarized zone along the border—each keeping one, disarmed, as a memento. In November, the first South Korean train in a decade crossed the northern border. U.S. hostages were released, and the remains of dozens of U.S. soldiers from the Korean War were returned home.

Syria

Speaking of returning home, Trump in December announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, declaring done their task of defeating the ISIS terrorist group in the country.

Trump campaigned on ending the seemingly endless U.S. military interventions around the world. He’s argued the United States should defend its national interests rather than spread its governance model by the sword. Aside from delivering on the campaign promise, the Syria pullout also put Trump’s opponents in the awkward position of defending war.

Also in the Middle East, Trump used 2018 to put unprecedented pressure on the Iranian regime, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, restoring sanctions, and urging other nations to stop dealing with Iran, which the U.S. blames for a variety of malignant behavior, including support of terrorism and various militants, toward destabilizing the region.

Also in 2018, Trump’s then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions set up a team of prosecutors to go after the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah.

Immigration

Trump’s opposition to illegal immigration was repeatedly tested in 2018. After a dramatic decline in apprehensions of illegal border crossers in 2017, the number began to pick up. Moreover, migrants from Central America, the main source of the inflow, started to group into more organized caravans, openly declaring they planned to storm the border en masse.

Though mostly men traveled in the caravans, women and children were mixed in too, making for a potential PR disaster if they were to violently clash with Border Patrol personnel. Trump responded by ordering the military to the border, strengthening the existing barriers with razor wire, and warning the migrants that they must go through the proper channels, otherwise they wouldn’t be allowed in. After the first group failed to overwhelm border security, the caravans gave up on storming the border again.

With the illegal crossings on the rise, Trump demanded from Congress more money for border wall construction—his signature plan. But the request failed in the Senate due to Democratic opposition, leading to a partial government shutdown. That’s how Trump enters the new year, betting the Democrats will come and negotiate.

“I’m in the Oval Office. Democrats, come back from vacation now and give us the votes necessary for Border Security, including the Wall,” he said in a tweet on New Year’s Eve.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab
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