|What Will a Successful Trump Legacy Look Like?|
By Timothy H. Lee
Thursday, January 19 2017
As eight long years under Barack Obama finally come to an end, we instinctively return in time to January 2009 and take an accounting of his legacy.
With rare exceptions such as the execution of Osama bin Laden, we survey a vast field of domestic stagnation, global weakening, wasted potential, broken promises, record racial division and scandal concealed by a compliant media.
With Obama now in our collective rear-view mirror, it's also natural to anticipate how we might survey Donald Trump's own legacy four or eight years from today. What will success look like when we take an accounting of his leadership?
To a significant degree, success for President Trump will entail quantifying the degree to which he makes good on his promises to reverse Obama's legacy, particularly in the field of executive branch orders and regulations. Voters repelled by Obama's performance failures chastened him with historic Republican gains in both houses of Congress as well as state legislatures and governorships. An embittered Obama responded with his infamous "pen and phone" habit of attempting to impose through illegal executive action what he had no chance of achieving legitimately through bipartisan consensus and legislation in the manner of Ronald Reagan on the Republican side or Bill Clinton on the Democratic side.
While that executive overreach challenged our constitutional system of checks and balances and undermined the rule of law, the good news is that to a significant degree Obama's actions can be just as easily reversed. From immigration to healthcare, from global diplomacy to military supremacy, Trump can cement the foundation of a successful legacy simply by undoing what Obama did.
Reversing Obama's executive malfeasance, however, would simply reestablish the preexisting status quo, corrective as that may be.
Trump can advance even more toward a strong legacy in the realm of judicial appointments.
When Justice Antonin Scalia passed away unexpectedly last year, we lost one of the most influential and pivotal judicial figures in our nation's history. The author of such decisions as the Heller v. D.C. ruling affirming the individual Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms left an enormous vacuum that Obama and leftists hoped to fill with a liberal to tilt the Court in their favor.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R - Kentucky), however, demonstrated praiseworthy fortitude against allowing Obama to fill Scalia's seat. In turn, the American electorate considered his replacement one of the most important issues in last November's presidential election.
Majority Leader McConnell's strategy ultimately succeeded, and now it's time for Trump to justify the Senate's effort and his voters' faith. During the campaign, Trump released an impressive list of potential nominees, each of whom would appear likely to continue Scalia's jurisprudential legacy on the Supreme Court. Any among the list would also likely prove an invaluable component of a successful Trump presidency.
But there's an important caveat.
As critical as it is to replace Justice Scalia with another textualist, that again would simply reestablish the preexisting status quo of four conservative justices, four leftist justices and a swing vote in Justice Anthony Kennedy. Where Trump can truly cement a successful legacy will come with any additional Supreme Court vacancies that might occur.
This year, Justice Kennedy turns 81 years old, Ruth Bader Ginsburg turns 84 in March and Stephen Breyer turns 79 in August. Accordingly, the likelihood of at least one more vacancy during the next four years appears high. Replacing any of those justices, particularly Ginsburg or Breyer, with another from Trump's list would significantly shift the Court's ideological composition and commence a significantly more conservative and libertarian era.
Hopefully, we can look back eight years from today and credit Trump with shifting the Supreme Court and the remainder of the judicial branch as he promised.
In an era of increasingly hyperactive administrative agencies, however, Trump's executive branch appointments will prove critical as well. Fortunately, we've already seen many of his appointees in that realm, and his performance is highly encouraging.
It also goes without saying that unforeseen events may play a pivotal role in defining Trump's success or failure, of course. And beyond the people whom he appoints within the judicial and executive branches, Trump's success or failure will depend upon how he employs his distinct personality and gift for the controversial.
Will his famed bombast intimidate government officials and foreign counterparts toward a better course, or trigger resistance, breakdown and chaos? Will he make good on his stated pro-growth policy preferences on taxes and regulation, ignite our economy that has stagnated for a decade, or will even he waver and fail to tame the federal leviathan?
With a string of impressive appointments to date and economic optimism jolting upward since his election, the indications so far are good. If the nation can confirm at the end of his term that he made good on his promises and continued his current pattern of appointments, then his presidency should at least prove vastly superior to his predecessor's.
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