What Trump Achieved—And the Way Forward

November 14, 2020 Updated: November 17, 2020


As we approach Thanksgiving in a time of turmoil, it’s good to reflect on how much we have to be grateful for. In some situations, personal and political, it’s harder to do than in others.

And there are many blessings to count. In the political, social, and economic spheres, there’s much on which to build. Here, I’ll mention a few of the positive ways in which President Donald Trump has changed the Republican Party and the world.

From Dread to Relief

In 2016, I was filled with dread. I thought that Trump couldn’t win and that social conservatives would abstain and open the way for a Clinton landslide, as nearly all polls predicted.

I expected a new administration in which religious freedom would come under increasing attack, and the ideology of political correctness, now called “woke,” would continue its imperious rule on campus and would spread to other areas of the culture. Abortion, which had become a sacrament of the Democratic Party and a sine qua non of any leadership position in it and of appointment to the Supreme Court, would continue its path from being sometimes a regrettable necessity in Democrats’ eyes to being celebrated. The devastation of the country’s heartland, with the uncontrolled export of jobs and import of cheap labor that had been occurring under both parties, would continue.

So my response to the election returns as they came in, as the faces of the media’s experts and professional Trump-haters fell in disbelief, was a wave of relief. I was never happier to have been wrong. Not that I expected it to last. I was simply grateful for the respite.

I knew that populists and demagogues arise out of wide frustration with the exclusion by bureaucratic elites of ordinary people and their interests. They may succeed for a time but seldom last. Elite control of the leading institutions is too strong and entrenched. Trump would have a hard time filling key positions, as most federal civil servants were liberals who despised him and considered working for him in a senior position would be an ignominious form of career suicide.

I even underestimated the extent of disloyalty within his own leadership team, as former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley alleged, as well as the “resistance” of the permanent administrative state.

What Trump Achieved

To see how Trump’s presidency has changed the GOP, consider some of the extraordinary achievements of the past four years, accomplished in the face of unprecedented obstacles placed in his path, not only by the media, academia, and Big Tech, but even by his own administration.

Trump won an election on the opposite of what the party had decided should be its direction in its “autopsy report” on the disastrous 2012 election. The conventional wisdom of the dominant neoliberal globalist wing of the party was that it needed to ditch its social conservatism and reject economic nationalism, and to have more or less open borders and tariff-free trade.

Instead, Trump supported social conservatism—the right of the unborn not to be killed, and judicial appointments that upheld the principle that judges should interpret the law as written rather than make it up according to the ethos of the time and their own personal preferences.

Trump pursued policies that protected and promoted civil society—the family and parental choice; faith-based organizations and voluntary associations; religious freedom and rights of conscience. He pursued the interests of his own country, as he thought other national leaders do and should do, as against anti-labor, wage-depressing policies of exporting jobs from the American industrial heartland to China and importing cheap labor from other countries without regard to the interests of American jobs.

He rejected the policy of international labor arbitrage, which labor has traditionally opposed but both parties had supported. He sought to restore the right of the United States, as of all countries, to control its own borders.

When Trump pursued an “America first” policy, it was the opposite of one that sought to impose America’s will, or beliefs, or system on the rest of the world. He wasn’t trying to “export democracy” or engage in “nation-building” in other countries. He opposed a kind of globalism in which national sovereignty was subordinated to the will of unelected bureaucrats in transnational organizations.

He wanted to trade on equal, fair terms with other countries, not give away the store. He wanted an end to “endless wars of choice” that the United States had been fighting with no direct national interest and no clear way out. He thought and told other leaders, such as those in NATO, that they needed to pay their share in defending themselves and not depend so completely on the United States. He wanted to trade with China and other countries, but not on asymmetrical terms that enabled the theft of intellectual property rights.

In the Middle East, the president brought his negotiating skills to look anew at the stale pieties of the previous half-century. He rejected the assumption that peace and progress were unattainable in the region unless the Israel–Palestinian conflict was resolved first. The received wisdom of diplomats and foreign policy “experts” everywhere outside the region called for Israel to sacrifice its own security and interests to a corrupt Palestinian cabal of terrorists who used their resulting veto to quash any and every peace deal that left standing any kind of Jewish state of any size.

Within the region, Trump’s initiative, which produced three peace agreements in six weeks, has stimulated a profound rethinking. As one Israeli-Arab journalist, Khalid Abu Toameh, put it, “We were wrong, wrong about Israel.”

The Way Forward

Whatever its immediate outcome, the election, as well as Trump’s achievements over the past four years, have clarified and helped create a way forward that could reorient the Republican Party or pave the way to a conservative alternative.

The election, with its clear rejection of a race-based politics of division, wokeness, and extremism, showed that the Democrats won, to the extent they did, in spite of, not because of their policies and politics.

Contrary to the polls and projections, it appears that Trump achieved record numbers of votes from all demographics—including from blacks and Hispanics—except white men. It put to rest the “demography is destiny” line that conservatives were doomed because of the declining proportion of white voters. It showed the vacuum in politics for a party that is multi-ethnic and awake to the interests of the working-class, to family, faith, and place, and to community and nation.

As the philosopher and legal scholar Robert P. George (no personal fan of the president) discerns, Trump has changed the GOP into a different kind of party: socially conservative and economically populist. It was already moving in that direction, as the Democrats also realigned and developed their new base and brand, becoming a party of the very rich and the very poor, of the credentialed and the affluent. It’s now a party of woke ideology and social and sexual liberalism, of the decline of marriage and family, and of rejection of the country and its history, and the interests of its citizens.

The GOP will remain a coalition, but it’s increasingly a party of multi-ethnic and working class conservatism, as Oren Cass says, a real alternative that reflects the views and interests of most of the people.

Paul Adams is a professor emeritus of social work at the University of Hawaii and was a professor and associate dean of academic affairs at Case Western Reserve University. He is the co-author of “Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is” and has written extensively on social welfare policy and professional and virtue ethics.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.