Whether you’re a Trump supporter or opposer, you can’t deny that he’s changed the landscape of U.S. politics considerably. But with an increasingly divided public and widespread mistrust of the media, it can be hard to understand exactly what’s going down in Washington D.C.
With Congress split between Republicans and Democrats, it’s harder than ever to pass meaningful legislation. Because of this, President Trump has operated largely through executive action, and also thanks to a Republican-majority Senate. It’s important to examine these actions — and both their short-term and long-term consequences — before voters cast their ballots in the 2020 presidential election.
As the race for the Democratic nomination heats up, let’s take a look at the biggest things Trump has done since his inauguration over three years ago.
1. Changed the Tax Code
Have you heard of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017? Well, even if you haven’t, you’ve likely experienced the results. It’s some of the biggest tax legislation passed in decades. Basically, it decreased taxes — not just for poor people, rich people, or the middle class, but for everyone. Let’s take a deeper look.
Here’s how rates changed in the seven federal tax brackets:
- 39.6% to 37%
- 35% (no change)
- 33% to 32%
- 28% to 24%
- 25% to 22%
- 15% to 12%
- 10% (no change)
These rates expire after 2025. Here are some other big changes:
The corporate tax rate was sliced from 35% all the way down to 21% — meaning that companies are paying a lot less taxes on their business profits, which benefits big business owners and executives the most. It also allows “pass-through” companies like partnerships and LLCs to deduct around 20% of their income tax-free, saving wealthy business owners an estimated $17 billion in 2018.
The GOP tax bill also increased standard deductions. In 2020, standard deductions will rise again to $12,400 for single filers ($24,800 for married filing jointly), essentially eliminating any desire to take itemized deductions. And with the increased child tax credit, parents are allowed to deduct $2,000 per child if they make under $400,000.
Deductions for state, local, and property taxes were limited to just $10,000, which primarily affects high-tax states like California. However, the estate tax was cut so that $11 million can be passed on tax-free ($22 million for married couples).
Although this impacts everyone’s wallets, the federal wallet took a particularly big hit. Republicans hoped the tax cuts would boost the economy enough to offset the loss in revenue, but the deficit has grown alarmingly fast. It’s now nearing $1 trillion, an increase of 68% since 2017, making Trump’s promise of eliminating the federal debt less of a plan and more of a pipe dream.
2. Cut Social Programs
One of Trump’s biggest goals heading into the presidency was to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. While Republicans haven’t been able to accomplish this, they’ve made cuts to other social programs instead.
First, Trump allowed states to put work regulations on Medicaid. Arkansas and Kentucky decided to implement these regulations, and though they’ve since been blocked by a federal judge, around 20,000 people lost their insurance. For context, Medicaid is a joint federal-state program that provides health insurance to qualifying low-income Americans, including children, pregnant women, elderly people in need of care, and disabled people.
This contributes to the larger issue of the underinsurance rate, which has risen steadily since Trump took office. Despite unemployment rates dropping, more and more people are underinsured or simply don’t have health coverage at all. This could be due to Trump’s pushback on upholding the Affordable Care Act, and his legalization of insurance plans that won’t cover things like prescription drugs.
And in a country where the average American spends $4,500 on health-related costs every year (a mere 30% of the total cost — their employer pays 70%), the exorbitant price of healthcare is only rising.
Additionally, Trump has:
- Limited government spending on SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps low-income families afford healthy food). He’s also tightened regulations on eligibility, resulting in 3 million people losing this benefit.
- Proposed a budget that would decrease federal spending on Medicare by $450 billion and Medicaid by $920 billion. This budget plan would also make major cuts to Social Security, but not to monthly retirement checks — instead, it targets the Social Security Disability Insurance Program and Supplemental Security Income, which provide benefits to around 8.5 million disabled Americans.
3. Decreased Environmental Protections
The EPA has seen a lot of changes since Trump took office. In a nutshell, Trump has scaled back environmental protections while scaling American fossil fuel production to levels never seen before.
The New York Times recently reported a total of 95 environmental rules that Trump is rolling back; 53 of which he’s successfully rolled back, and 32 in the process of rollbacks. He’s focused most on reducing regulations around air pollution, drilling, and infrastructure. So what does this mean?
Well, with less rules and regulations, Trump has been able to massively increase American oil output — which means we’re less dependent on crude oil and petroleum products from regions like the Middle East. It also means we could become a big exporter of these products in the future. The U.S.’s natural gas production has seen a big spike as well.
While this may translate to higher government revenue and lower gas and oil costs, it does have major consequences for the environment. Carnegie Mellon researchers reported that 9,700 more Americans died because of air pollution in 2018 than 2016, partly due to these rollbacks. And aside from the more immediate effect on Americans’ health, this marked increase in greenhouse gases like methane is warming the earth’s atmosphere at a dangerous pace.
4. Loosened Regulations on Banks
As the U.S. enters the twelfth year following the Great Recession, many communities are still seeing the impacts. But with the way we’re treating big banks, you wouldn’t know it.
In 2018, legislation driven by Republican Sen. Mike Crapo released many banks from the tightest of federal regulations. Before, any banks with assets totaling $50 billion or more were subject to high scrutiny, but the bill changed this standard to banks worth $250 billion or more.
Trump has also relaxed the rule that banks have a contingency plan in case of collapse. They now have to update these plans once every four years, as opposed to once a year before. In a similar vein, the “stress tests” that banks endured to ensure their financial security are now easier to pass and less frequent.
Overall, under Trump banks are able take on more risk, which has in turn increased stock market performance. Many Americans consider this a big win, while others are concerned that it could lead to another recession.
5. Increased Military Spending
In 2018, Trump approved a defense budget of $700 billion; then in 2019, he upped it to $716 billion. His current budget proposal includes $750 billion toward defense, which equals over half of the government’s discretionary spending.
The term “defense” is a bit of a misnomer here. While the overall intention may be to defend America, this money realistically goes to a large number of things, including the VA, homeland security, base operations, weaponry and advanced fighting technology, American military involvement in foreign affairs, military personnel, and much more.
While active duty troops did just receive a 3.1% pay raise in January, they saw higher pay raises under the Obama administration.
6. Made Judicial Appointments
Trump has appointed GOP-sympathetic judges at an astounding rate. He’s been helped by a supportive Senate, as well as a new rule where the minority (Democrats, in this case) cannot filibuster judicial nominees.
Overall, 50 courts of appeal judges have come to power under Trump, as compared to 55 across Obama’s entire presidency. And while Obama and Trump have both appointed two judges to the Supreme Court, Trump’s nomination of the controversial ultra-conservative Brett Kavanaugh tipped the highest court into a decidedly Republican majority.
Trump has had much less success than Obama across the district courts — appointing 112 new judges versus Obama’s 268 — but these courts are at the lowest level of law and don’t measure up to Trump’s other appointments.
7. Tightened Immigration
From a controversial travel ban to a big-budget border wall, Trump has changed the face of immigration in America. One of the biggest changes we’ve seen is how it’s now nearly impossible to seek asylum in the U.S. — especially if you come from south of the border.
Before, immigrants who were fleeing violence in their home countries were able to enter the U.S. legally and wait for a court date to try to obtain a visa and create a path to citizenship. Now, however, many are denied access at the border, and those who make it through are placed in detention centers that have been widely criticized for their inhumane conditions and exorbitant costs.
A particularly controversial part of these detention centers was the act of family separation — or taking children from their parents after they reached the border and detaining them in separate facilities. Although Trump reportedly ended this practice in June 2018, critics claim that it’s still happening.
It’s also an unforgiving system for those who do enter the U.S. legally. For example, if someone travels to the U.S. to attend college on a student visa, this visa expires six months after their graduation date. In order to stay, they must either obtain a work visa or a green card through marriage to a citizen. Work visas are difficult to obtain because many employers won’t hire non-citizens — since it’s a hassle to sponsor them — and even if an employer does choose to sponsor an immigrant, the visa system works like a raffle and there’s a limited number of visas. Since you need to be a permanent resident for at least five years before applying for citizenship, the path to citizenship for many immigrants is a long and hard one.
Besides the costs of building up parts of the border (Trump hasn’t been able to fund his initial idea for a giant concrete wall) and detaining immigrants, we’ve also had to pay for mass deployments of military personnel to the border. A New York Times estimate in July placed the number of deployed troops around 6,600.
Right now, the Trump administration is working on ending DACA, a policy that allows people who were brought to America illegally as children to defer deportation while they seek a path to permanent residency and eventual citizenship.
In short, Trump has shifted several key things on a large scope:
- He’s decreased taxes for everyone, but the biggest benefactors are corporate execs and the ultra-rich. However, there is a cost to these tax reductions. Under the Trump administration, the federal debt has increased by $3 trillion.
- He’s prioritized defense spending and taken emphasis off of social programs like Medicaid, SNAP, and disability insurance.
- He’s boosted the economy by deregulating banks and giving breaks to the fossil fuel industry, but at the cost of the environment.
- He’s cemented himself as one of the most controversial presidents in American history, as evidenced by the fact that he’s also only the third to be impeached.
Voters draw their own lines as far as what they will accept and what they won’t in a president. However, Republicans might have to get creative come election time, as Trump tends to poll low nationally and is currently projected to lose to each of the six most popular Democratic candidates, according to RealClearPolitics. Of course, he was projected to lose in 2016, as well.