President Donald Trump entered the election year as just the third commander-in-chief in US history to be impeached.
He was ultimately acquitted, in an impeachment trial that would soon become a distant memory amid a pandemic that's killed over 237,000 Americans and left millions unemployed.
Trump is just the 11th incumbent president who won their party's nomination but failed to win reelection. He was defeated by President-elect Joe Biden in an election he has baselessly claimed is fraudulent.
Though he's been to many the most controversial and divisive president in modern US history, Trump has had a remarkably steady approval rating thanks to his staunchly loyal supporters.
Even as polling has repeatedly shown that most Americans disapprove of Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, his overall approval rating has barely changed.
Here are Trump's biggest accomplishments and failures as president, measured by their overall impact and taking into account the general response from Congress, the public, and world.
Accomplishment: Reshaping the federal judiciary
Trump's most lasting impact on the country will be the reshaping of the federal judiciary.
So far, Trump has installed three Supreme Court justices and 220 judges overall to the federal bench — all for lifetime appointments. Amy Coney Barrett became Trump's third Supreme Court justice on October 26, barely a week before Election Day.
By December 2019, Trump nominees made up roughly 25% of all US circuit court judges, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.
He's appointed 53 judges on the 13 US circuit courts. To put this into perspective, former President Barack Obama appointed 55 circuit judges in his two terms in the White House.
The courts get the final say in US politics, setting precedents that can shape the country for years to come.
Even though Trump was not reelected in 2020, his presidency will continue to have an influence on the direction of the US because of the sheer number of conservative federal judges he's installed.
Accomplishment: Space Force
In signing a $738 billion defense spending bill just a few days before Christmas, Trump officially established the sixth branch of the US Armed Forces — the Space Force.
The Space Force is the first new military service since the US Air Force was created in 1947.
Despite its name, the new branch has not been established to protect the planet from extraterrestrial threats, but is tasked with protecting the US military's assets in space.
"This is not a farce. This is nationally critical," Gen. John Raymond, who Trump tapped to lead the Space Force, told reporters recently. "We are elevating space commensurate with its importance to our national security and the security of our allies and partners."
Many of the details surrounding the Space Force must still be ironed out. In many ways, the new branch is simply a more centralized version of military missions in space that already existed from the Air Force, Army, and Navy.
Todd Harrison, who directs the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, recently told NPR: "It will create a centralized, unified chain of command that is responsible for space, because ultimately when responsibility is fragmented, no one's responsible."
Accomplishment: Tax reform
Three years into his presidency, Trump's signature legislative achievement remains a Republican tax bill that made sweeping changes to the tax code — the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
- The law was the biggest overhaul to the nation's tax code in three decades, and the president pitched it as "rocket fuel" for the American economy.
- It permanently slashed the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35% while also providing temporary benefits for individuals and their families.
- Critics argued it was a windfall for massive corporations at the expense of the middle class. Meanwhile, supporters of the tax cuts contended it would unleash an economic bonanza. Businesses would invest in their operations, they said, resulting in improved worker productivity and higher wages.
- Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, among others, said the law would juice the nation's gross domestic product to 3% (or more, as Trump said 6%) and soon pay for itself and spread prosperity.
- But the law has achieved none of the ambitious goals that Republicans put forward — and there are scant signs they ever will.
Accomplishment: First Step Act
Trump signed the First Step Act into law in December 2018, marking the first legislative victory in years for advocates seeking to reform the criminal justice system.
The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress. It offers relatively modest changes to the federal prison system, but was praised as an important step forward by groups and activists seeking to end mass incarceration.
Business Insider's Michelle Mark summarized the key aspects of the legislation after it passed in the Senate last year:
- The passage of the bill ... marked the first major legislative win in decades to address mass incarceration at the federal level.
- The bill overhauls certain federal sentencing laws, reducing mandatory minimum sentences for drug felonies and expanding early-release programs.
- The bill also makes retroactive a 2010 federal sentencing law reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses.
- The bill also aims to lower recidivism by offering more rehabilitation and job-training opportunities, and it includes provisions intended to treat prisoners humanely — banning the shackling of pregnant inmates, halting the use of solitary confinement for most juvenile inmates, and mandating that prisoners be placed in facilities within 500 miles from their families.
Accomplishment: Defeating ISIS's caliphate and killing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
ISIS shocked the world in 2014 when it took over a large swath of territory across Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate.
The terrorist group's territorial holdings were the basis for its so-called caliphate, and provided it will a major base of operations to conduct attacks across the world.
After a five-year effort led by the US, ISIS's caliphate was finally defeated in March 2019.
Trump has at times falsely claimed that ISIS is totally defeated, embellishing the extent of the US military's success against the terrorist organization during his presidency. Though the terrorist group has lost its territory — its so-called caliphate — it's still estimated to have up to 18,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria.
In late October, a US raid led to the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Baghdadi was the world's most wanted terrorist up to that point and his death represented a major blow to the terrorist group.
"Last night, the United States brought the world's No. 1 terrorist leader to justice," Trump said at the time. "Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead."
"Capturing or killing him has been the top national security priority of my administration," he added.
Failure: Charlottesville and George Floyd
Trump's response to a deadly neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, remains one of the most controversial moments in his presidency.
It was emblematic of Trump's struggle to bring the country together after tragedies, and more generally. His response also typified his controversial record on race relations and white supremacy.
Trump blamed "many sides" for the violence at the rally, which resulted in the death of a counterprotester, Heather Heyer. He later said there were "very fine people on both sides."
The president was excoriated by Republicans and Democrats alike over his response and his failure to offer a swift and forceful condemnation of white-supremacist violence.
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, often one of Trump's fiercest defenders in Congress, at the time said the president's words were "dividing Americans, not healing them."
"President Trump took a step backward by again suggesting there is moral equivalency between the white supremacist, neo-Nazis and KKK members," Graham added.
In the wake of the brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and the nationwide protests that followed, Trump also failed to rise to the occasion. He's done far more to divide the country than bring it together.
The president had peaceful protesters tear-gassed near the White House so he could pose for a photo with a Bible at a nearby church. He's consistently demonized anti-racism demonstrators, and controversially sent federal agents into US cities to squash unrest and intimidate the local population. Trump has elevated conspiracy theorists and people who've threatened protesters with guns.
Historians have warned that Trump's tactics mirror those of authoritarian regimes.
Trump has frequently employed racist rhetoric during his presidency, but especially during times of heightened racial tensions.
Polling shows that the vast majority of Black Americans believe Trump is a racist, and his approval rating with this demographic stands at 8%, according to Gallup.
Failure: America's global image is in shambles
America's global image has declined significantly under Trump, who has repeatedly insulted key US allies while cozying up to dictators.
The president's tendency to push important allies away and isolate the US, including by pulling out of landmark international agreements like the Paris climate accord, has had a palpable impact.
People across the world have expressed negative views on Trump. Pew Research Center in January 2020 released a survey of 32 countries that showed a median of 64% said they do not have confidence in Trump to do the right thing in world affairs, and just 29% expressed confidence in the president.
Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic has also left the US embarrassed on the world stage, and created a void in global leadership that China has rushed to fill.
Failure: Family separations and the deaths of migrant children
Trump in 2016 campaigned on reducing undocumented immigration, pledging to take a hardline approach.
He made good on that promise when coming into office, but has been accused of human-rights abuses and violating international law by the UN.
The Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy on illegal border crossings led to the separations of at least 5,500 families and saw children placed in cages. Lawyers say they are still struggling to findthe parents of 545 children who had been separated at the US-Mexico border.
The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics at the time described the practice as "nothing less than government-sanctioned child abuse."
After widespread backlash, Trump issued an executive order in June 2018 to halt the family separations, and a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to reunite all those it had separated. But the fallout from the separations is ongoing.
Trump has falsely blamed his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, for the policy that saw thousands of children separated from their parents.
Meanwhile, at least six migrant children have died in US custody since September 2018, leading to widespread condemnation of conditions in detention facilities.
The UN human-rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, in July said she was "shocked" by the US government's treatment of migrant children and the conditions they faced in detention facilities after crossing the border from Mexico.
"As a pediatrician, but also as a mother and a former head of state, I am deeply shocked that children are forced to sleep on the floor in overcrowded facilities, without access to adequate healthcare or food, and with poor sanitation conditions," Bachelet, the former president of Chile, stated.
Failure: Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan
Trump's decision to unilaterally withdraw the US from the 2015 nuclear deal in May 2018 has induced chaos throughout the Middle East.
It remains one of Trump's most unpopular decisions in the global arena, and has been condemned by top US allies who were also signatories to the deal.
The president has failed to thwart Iran's aggressive behavior in the region through a maximum pressure campaign, meant to squeeze Tehran into negotiating a more stringent version of the pact.
After a series of incidents in the Persian Gulf region in 2019, tensions between Washington and Tehran reached historic heights and sparked fears of war. This fears were exacerbated after Trump ordered a strike that killed Iran's top general, Qassem Soleimani, in early January. The strike led Iran to retaliate and fire on US troops in the region, and dozens were seriously injured.
Iran has essentially abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal, which was designed to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Trump's decision to pull US troops out of northern Syria in October is also among his most disastrous foreign policy moves. In doing so, Trump effectively abandoned US-allied Kurdish forces who bore the brunt of the US-led campaign against ISIS to a Turkish military invasion.
The withdrawal induced a humanitarian crisis and created a security vacuum that Russia, Iran, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an accused war criminal, all benefited from.
Trump has repeatedly pledged to end "endless wars," zeroing in on Afghanistan. He wanted to remove all US troops from Afghanistan by the November election, but that didn't happen. The US is engaged in ongoing but tenuous peace talks with the Taliban that have occurred in concert with ongoing violence in the country.
Meanwhile, The New York Times in June reported that US intelligence officials determined Russia has paid bounties to Taliban-linked Afghan militants to kill US troops.
The Trump administration has taken no known responses. Though the White House has claimed Trump was not initially briefed on the matter, reporting from multiple outlets suggests otherwise. Trump in a recent interview said he has not confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin on the matter.
Failure: Replacing the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare)
The late Sen. John McCain's iconic "thumbs-down" vote denied Trump a full congressional repeal (even a "skinny repeal") of former President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law.
But Trump has had success in dismantling parts of the law. His tax bill included a rollback of the tax penalty for those who did not enroll in healthcare, and the Trump administration has had some success in the courts regarding the individual mandate.
In December 2019, a federal appeals court struck down a core part of the law — the individual mandate. It did not overturn the entire law, sending it back to a lower court, and leaving the fate of Obamacare uncertain as an election year focused on healthcare intensifies.
What Trump has not done in his first three years is offer a replacement for the Affordable Care Act. As the Associated Presspoints out, as a candidate Trump promised "insurance for everybody" and a more immediate replacement to the nearly decade-old ACA.
The president said he would introduce a "phenomenal healthcare plan," during an interview with ABC News in June.
Trump was impeached in the House of Representatives on December 18, 2019.
The House approved two articles of impeachment against Trump, one for abuse of power over his dealings with Ukraine and one for obstruction of Congress over his efforts to stonewall the impeachment inquiry.
Trump urged Ukraine to launch investigations into his political rivals as he simultaneously withheld about $400 million in congressionally approved military aid from the country, which is fighting an ongoing war against pro-Russian separatists.
The president was acquitted in a Senate trial, but will still go down as just the third president in US history to be impeached. GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah also made history by voting to convict Trump, marking the first time ever that a senator voted to convict a president from his or her own party.
Failure: COVID-19 pandemic
Trump's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic will likely go down as one of the biggest disasters in US history. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died, and millions are unemployed.
The US has the worst coronavirus outbreak in the world, with over 6.3 million confirmed cases and over 237,000 reported fatalities (as of early November). The US has had more coronavirus cases than the populations of many countries. And more Americans have died from the virus than the number of US soldiers killed in combat in every war since 1945 combined.
Trump has repeatedly downplayed the threat of the virus and contradicted top public-health experts, flouting recommendations from advisors on his own White House coronavirus task force.
In March, Trump privately admitted to veteran reporter Bob Woodward (on tape) that he was deliberately misleading the publicon the dangers of the virus in an effort to avoid inducing panic.
Public health experts have cited Trump's nonchalant approach to the virus and tendency to reject science as one of the primary factors in why the US emerged as the epicenter.
Trump has refused to accept responsibility for his failed response to the pandemic, blaming China instead.
Failure: The US economy
Trump often took credit for the robust US economy before the pandemic, ignoring that much of the growth began during the Obama administration.
The US is now facing one of the worst economic crises in its history under Trump, which is intrinsically linked to his disastrous response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coronavirus lockdowns in early 2020 and reduced consumer spending led to tens of millions of job losses as whole segments of the economy sputtered. The economy has since begun adding back jobs, but is far from a full recovery as the US struggles to contain the coronavirus.
Expanded unemployment benefits provided via the relief legislation enacted in late March have expired.
Roughly 22 million jobs were lost from February to April. Though nearly half of those jobs have been recovered, the unemployment rate is still at 7.9% (estimated to be about 12 million people). The pre-pandemic unemployment rate was 3.4%.
The US national debt is at the highest levels since World War II, and US economic growth is set to average just above 0% for Trump's first term because of the pandemic recession, according to The Washington Post.
Though the economy is still far from recovered, Trump also failed to bring Congress together to pass a second coronavirus stimulus package prior to Election Day as Americans across the country struggled to cover rent and other bills. The GOP-controlled Senate instead prioritized confirming Trump's Supreme Court nominee, essentially placing the economy and the livelihoods of Americans on the back-burner.
As of Election Day, Trump had not signed a coronavirus relief bill in roughly half a year.
Failure: Contracting COVID-19
As the president of the US, Trump is the most heavily protected person on the planet. The fact he contracted COVID-19 stands as a catastrophic failure and a national-security crisis for the US.
The president routinely flouted public-health recommendations before getting infected. Less than a week before he was diagnosed, Trump mocked former Vice President Joe Biden for routinely wearing a mask in public.
Top public-health experts have repeatedly urged Americans to wear a mask or face covering, touting the practice as the best tool available in fighting the virus.
Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 just days after essentially holding a super-spreader event in the Rose Garden at the White House to announce his Supreme Court nominee. Attendees did not social -distance, and many were seen without masks.
Well over a dozen people in Trump's orbit tested positive for COVID-19 after the event.
Failure: Damaging democracy
Trump has eroded democratic norms in many ways during his tenure.
He's repeatedly attacked the media, leading UN experts to warn that Trump's rhetoric raised the risk of violence against journalists. He's threatened to deploy combat troops to American cities, over the objections of their elected leaders, and ordered illegal actions like demanding poll workers stop counting ballots.
Trump's relentless dissemination of disinformation on an array of topics, particularly the electoral process, has led historians and experts on fascism to compare him to dictators like Benito Mussolini.
Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem), a project that monitors the health of democracy across the world, in its 2020 report said the US has become more autocratic in the Trump era.
"The United States – former vanguard of liberal democracy – has lost its way," V-Dem's 2020 report said, adding that the US "is the only country in Western Europe and North America suffering from substantial autocratization."
The president's rhetoric has often been viewed as a source of encouragement by far right extremist groups, and Trump has frequently equivocated when asked to condemn such groups.
Though multiple major news outlets have declared president-elect Joe Biden the projected winner of the 2020 election, Trump has refused to concede. Trump is rejecting the results and has made baseless allegations of fraud.
Even as world leaders have begun to congratulate Biden, a major sign of the president-elect's legitimacy, Trump has continued to deny reality.
Trump's refusal to concede breaks from a democratic tradition in the US that dates back to its earliest days when President John Adams lost the 1800 election and peacefully stepped aside for Thomas Jefferson, a member of another political party, to take over.
The president is undermining the political system in the US and sowing doubt about the integrity of the country's elections. Every president prior to Trump allowed for a peaceful transition of power after they'd served two terms or lost an election.