Trump's legacy: He changed the presidency, but will it last?

President Donald Trump listens to supporters during a campaign rally at Des Moines International Airport, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Donald Trump, as the most improbable of presidents, has reshaped the office. His legacy includes shattering centuries-old norms and traditions while dominating the national discourse like no one before.

Posted: Dec 31, 2020 9:54 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The most improbable of presidents, Donald Trump reshaped the office and shattered its centuries-old norms and traditions while dominating the national discourse like no one before.

Trump, governing by whim and tweet, deepened the nation’s racial and cultural divides and undermined faith in its institutions. His legacy: a tumultuous four years that were marked by his impeachment, failures during the worst pandemic in a century and his refusal to accept defeat.

He smashed conceptions about how presidents behave and communicate, offering unvarnished thoughts and policy declarations alike, pulling back the curtain for the American people while enthralling supporters and unnerving foes — and sometimes allies — both at home and abroad.

While the nation would be hardpressed to elect another figure as disruptive as Trump, it remains to be seen how much of his imprint on the office itself, occupied by only 44 other men, will be indelible. Already it shadows the work of his successor, President-elect Joe Biden, who framed his candidacy as a repudiation of Trump, offering himself as an antidote to the chaos and dissent of the past four years while vowing to restore dignity to the Oval Office.

“For all four years, this is someone who at every opportunity tried to stretch presidential power beyond the limits of the law,” said presidential historian Michael Beschloss. “He altered the presidency in many ways, but many of them can be changed back almost overnight by a president who wants to make the point that there is a change.”

Trump's most enduring legacy may be his use of the trappings of the presidency to erode Americans’ views of the institutions of their own government.

From his first moments in office, Trump waged an assault on the federal bureaucracy, casting a suspicious eye on career officials he deemed the “Deep State” and shaking Americans' confidence in civil servants and the levers of government. Believing that the investigation into Russian election interference was a crusade to undermine him, Trump went after the intelligence agencies and Justice Department — calling out leaders by name — and later unleashed broadsides against the man running the probe, respected special counsel Robert Mueller.

His other targets were legion: the Supreme Court for insufficient loyalty; the post office for its handling of mail-in ballots; even the integrity of the vote itself with his baseless claims of election fraud.

“In the past, presidents who lost were always willing to turn the office over to the next person. They were willing to accept the vote of the American public,” said Richard Waterman, who studies the presidency at the University of Kentucky. “What we’re seeing right now is really an assault on the institutions of democracy.”

Current polling suggests that many Americans, and a majority of Republicans, feel that Biden was illegitimately elected, damaging his credibility as he takes office during a crisis and also creating a template of deep suspicion for future elections.

“That’s a cancer,” Waterman said. “I don’t know if the cancer can be removed from the presidency without doing damage to the office itself. I think he’s done tremendous damage in the last several weeks.”

Jeopardizing the peaceful transfer of power was hardly Trump's first assault on the traditions of the presidency.

He didn’t release his tax returns or divest himself from his businesses. He doled out government resources on a partisan basis and undermined his own scientists. He rage tweeted at members of his own party and used government property for political purposes, including the White House as the backdrop for his renomination acceptance speech.

Trump used National Guard troops to clear a largely peaceful protest across from the White House for a photo-op. He named a secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, who needed a congressional waiver to serve because the retired general had not been out of uniform for the seven years required by law. In that one example, Biden has followed Trump's lead, nominating for Pentagon chief retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, who also will need a waiver.

Trump’s disruption extended to the global stage as well, where he cast doubt on once-inviolable alliances like NATO and bilateral partnerships with a host of allies. His “America First” foreign policy emanated more from preconceived notions of past slights than current facts on the ground. He unilaterally pulled troops from Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Syria, each time drawing bipartisan fire for undermining the very purpose of the American deployment.

He pulled out of multinational environmental agreements, an action that scientists warn may have accelerated climate change. He stepped away from accords that kept Iran's nuclear ambitions, if not its regional malevolence, in check.

And his presidency may be remembered for altering, perhaps permanently, the nature of the U.S.-China relationship, dimming hopes for a peaceful emergence of China as a world power and laying the foundation for a new generation of economic and strategic rivalry.

While historians agree that Trump was a singular figure in the office, it will be decades before the consequences of his tenure are fully known. But some pieces of his legacy already are in place.

He named three Supreme Court justices and more than 220 federal judges, giving the judiciary an enduring conservative bent. He rolled back regulations and oversaw an economy that boomed until the pandemic hit. His presence increased voter turnout — both for and against him — to record levels. He received unwavering loyalty from his own party but was quick to cast aside any who displeased him.

“President Trump has been the person who has returned power to the American people, not the Washington elite, and preserved our history and institutions, while others have tried to tear them down,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere. “The American people elected a successful businessman who promised to go to Washington, not to tear it down, but to put them first.”

At times, Trump acted like a bystander to his own presidency, opting to tweet along with a cable news segment rather than dive into an effort to change policy. And that was one of the many ways Trump changed the way that presidents communicate.

Carefully crafted policy statements took a back seat, replaced by tweets and off-the-cuff remarks to reporters over the whir of helicopter blades. The discourse hardened, with swear words, personal insults and violent imagery infiltrating the presidential lexicon. And there were the untruths — more than 23,000, according to a count by The Washington Post — that Trump tossed out with little regard for their impact.

It was that lack of honesty that played a role in his defeat in an election that became a referendum on how he had managed the COVID-19 pandemic, which has now killed more than 300,000 Americans.

Day after day during his reelection campaign, Trump defied health guidelines and addressed packed, largely mask-less crowds, promising the nation was “rounding the corner” on the virus. He admitted that from the beginning, he set out to play down the seriousness of the virus.

He held superspreader events at the White House and contracted the virus himself. And while his administration spearheaded Operation Warp Speed, which helped to produce coronavirus vaccines in record time, Trump also undermined his public health officials by refusing to embrace mask-wearing and suggesting unproven treatments, including the injection of disinfectant.

“We have seen that Donald Trump’s style was one of the contributing factors to his failure as a president,” said Mark K. Updegrove, presidential historian and CEO of the LBJ Foundation. “His successor can look at his presidency as a cautionary tale.”

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 489116

Reported Deaths: 6614
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1014901592
Ramsey43327810
Dakota36619394
Anoka33496391
Washington22208262
Stearns18822202
St. Louis14887265
Scott13403107
Wright12609116
Olmsted1185990
Sherburne878574
Carver787641
Clay695588
Rice677691
Blue Earth601035
Kandiyohi581274
Crow Wing523582
Chisago501745
Otter Tail486071
Benton450990
Winona419749
Mower410831
Douglas394568
Goodhue389069
Nobles387247
Polk345063
McLeod341250
Beltrami338951
Morrison327747
Becker314842
Itasca314646
Lyon313845
Isanti309456
Steele303611
Carlton300449
Freeborn286424
Pine283216
Nicollet262441
Todd249730
Brown248237
Le Sueur238120
Mille Lacs229447
Cass221224
Waseca210417
Meeker208134
Martin190829
Wabasha18733
Roseau181017
Hubbard161041
Houston158214
Dodge15404
Renville152640
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Fillmore13969
Pennington138716
Chippewa136935
Cottonwood136020
Wadena131420
Faribault124917
Aitkin119133
Sibley118310
Watonwan11828
Rock116314
Kanabec108820
Pipestone101824
Yellow Medicine97717
Murray9548
Jackson94610
Swift87818
Pope8165
Marshall78615
Stevens7478
Lake74218
Clearwater72014
Lac qui Parle68716
Wilkin67711
Koochiching62111
Big Stone5173
Lincoln5122
Grant4928
Norman4798
Unassigned44768
Mahnomen4437
Kittson41021
Red Lake3615
Traverse3115
Lake of the Woods2221
Cook1190

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 337676

Reported Deaths: 5494
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk52087560
Linn19512317
Scott17167212
Black Hawk14970293
Woodbury13847214
Johnson1317075
Dubuque12450196
Dallas1022593
Pottawattamie9897146
Story965045
Warren514976
Clinton502684
Cerro Gordo501383
Webster495788
Sioux480369
Marshall465273
Des Moines428461
Muscatine426393
Buena Vista413237
Wapello4059110
Jasper387767
Plymouth368978
Lee354653
Marion341571
Jones285155
Henry279837
Bremer270555
Carroll266948
Crawford253635
Boone244330
Benton241154
Washington239547
Mahaska215746
Jackson210339
Dickinson204240
Tama203065
Kossuth198655
Delaware186240
Clay184425
Winneshiek183628
Fayette179335
Page178119
Buchanan177829
Wright174531
Hamilton173942
Cedar172723
Hardin170239
Harrison167670
Clayton160254
Butler159331
Mills148520
Floyd148141
Poweshiek148030
Cherokee146236
Lyon145741
Allamakee144848
Madison143218
Iowa140723
Hancock138030
Grundy132430
Winnebago130531
Calhoun129611
Cass129651
Jefferson128634
Appanoose123247
Louisa122644
Mitchell120740
Chickasaw119915
Union119331
Sac118818
Shelby117634
Emmet115340
Humboldt113725
Franklin109719
Guthrie109628
Palo Alto101721
Howard99722
Unassigned9720
Montgomery96936
Clarke95120
Keokuk92429
Monroe90028
Ida81832
Adair81630
Pocahontas80919
Davis76623
Monona76527
Greene73110
Lucas72221
Osceola68315
Worth6678
Taylor64112
Decatur5719
Fremont5619
Van Buren53718
Ringgold50620
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Wayne47221
Adams3194
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