Trump’s political legacy: How will America’s president be remembered?

TORONTO – What will be the legacy of Donald Trump, who had a remarkable talent for defying predictions, shattering expectations, surviving scandal, wrongdoing and incompetence, and achieving the seemingly impossible?

He was impeached twice and blamed by many, including those in his party, for an unprecedented violent insurgency on Capitol Hill. Then there’s his handling of a pandemic he downplayed and politicized as it ravaged the United States, killing nearly 398,000 people. starting Monday.

“I don’t think there’s much doubt that he will go down in history as the worst president ever for his undermining of democracy and his failure to respond to COVID-19,” said Daniel Beland, professor of political science at McGill University.

Trump’s propensity to lie and repeat conspiracy theories throughout his presidency eventually drove a crowd of fanatics and would-be patriots to the steps of the Capitol building, he said.

“It’s corrosive to democracy when you undermine trust in the electoral system. It has also undermined trust in government and science and it has weakened the response to a national COVID-19 crisis. »

“He tried to undermine the very institution that propelled him to power. He has done more damage to democracy than any other president in modern history.

In a syndicated column, Republican strategist Michael Reagan, who is the son of President Ronald Reagan, said the Jan. 6 riot cemented Trump’s legacy.

“He could have taken the high road and left office with a phenomenal legacy, and a strong curator,” he wrote. Instead, he said Trump’s comparisons to his father had to stop.

“There is nothing my father and Donald Trump had in common, and there never will be. Ronald Reagan’s legacy was the destruction of the Berlin Wall. Donald Trump’s legacy is going to be tearing down the Capitol. So sad.”


US President Donald Trump, surrounded by Republican lawmakers, celebrates Congress’ passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on the South Lawn of the White House on December 20, 2017 in Washington, DC (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

It’s not at all clear whether the shadow of Trumpism can be cast off by the Republican Party as it reconstructs its message and brand, Beland said.

“Trump did not come out of nowhere. Extremism and populism are emerging all over the world in places like Hungary, Poland and Turkey. The Tea Party movement has deeply influenced the Republican Party and there has been this growing crescendo toward an anti-elite, anti-establishment insurgency approach Trump is the culmination of it.

But Beland thinks Trump’s legacy may be to permanently fracture the GOP. It’s been more than 100 years since a third party exerted influence at the federal level, but moderates may see no way forward after four years of Trump.

The Lincoln Project, a powerful political action committee made up of former moderate Republicans, has become a force over the past two years and has dedicated tens of millions to defeating Trump and other Republicans in 2020.

“Has Trump done long-term damage to the Republican Party? Mark Feigenbaum, president of Republicans Overseas Canada, echoes the question as he ponders his answer during an interview with from Thornhill, Ont.

“It was a close election, so I’m not sure it shows that Trump has hurt the party. But he can influence the type of person who will be chosen to run for president next time.


Trump could also hold the Democratic Party to account, said McGill history professor Wendell Nii Laryea Adjetey. He has to grapple with the fact that, despite the long list of reasons to kick Trump out, he still managed to garner more than 74 million votes and the support of 47% of the electorate.

Thanks in large part to Democrats, the United States is deeply stratified economically and leaving many behind, he said. The impacts of NAFTA and the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs allowed the rise of a populist, who promised a return to the good old days of American might and well-paying factory jobs.

“Not everyone who supports Trump is racist, xenophobic or homophobic. Many the Democrats sold along the river, to use a slave reference, as they genuflected at the feet of Wall Street.

Feigenbaum said it’s possible the lesson of the Trump years for both sides is that working toward consensus is vital.

“Politics can no longer be polarizing. You can’t ignore the other side.


Trump permanently suspended from Twitter
Donald Trump’s account after receiving a permanent suspension from Twitter. (Twitter)

In a style that was brash, improvisational, unsophisticated and above all a break with what was considered presidential until 2016, Trump ushered in a new era of presidential communication.

He avoided carefully polite statements written by press officers and released to the media and generally refused to read speeches fabricated from teleprompters.

Instead, he largely bypassed the media to make his thoughts known via Twitter. He has used the platform – which has since banned him permanently for what it says is incitement to violence – to attack opponents, disparage the press, reiterate statements that do not stand up to fact-checking and rebuke those he feels have been disloyal.

He will certainly go down in history as the president of Twitter, said presidential historian Alvin S. Felzenberg, just as Franklin Delano Roosevelt became synonymous with his “fireside chats” on radio, and John F. Kennedy became the first to speak directly to Americans via televised press conferences.


Trump, who has taken attacks on the media that challenge him to new heights, has forced the responsible media to reevaluate how they cover what politicians have to say, said Paul Berton, editor of the Hamilton Spectator at Hamilton. , Have.

This includes a renewed commitment to fact-checking and challenging lies. But the media still hasn’t learned to “resist every new absurd proclamation”, Berton wrote: in the days leading up to the 2020 elections.

“Stumbling, stroking and bumping daily through America’s worst presidency in memory, he covers his tracks by diverting attention from his latest disaster by simply creating a new one.”

Berton doesn’t think Trump has the wherewithal to follow through on his thoughts on launching a media empire, but if he succeeds in converting his supporters into viewers of a far-right network, Berton told CTVNews. that he would “fear the worst”. .”

The next question is how much attention the media should pay to Trump and his desperate attempts to capture the limelight once he steps out of the Oval Office. Berton is not confident

Trump will disappear from the headlines.

“I fear we will continue to find him irresistible.”


Trump's relationship with Prime Minister Trudeau
U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attend the NATO Summit at The Grove Hotel on December 4, 2019 in Watford, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Trump has repeatedly taken aim at his country’s biggest trading partner and northern neighbor, offering particularly pointed words during the renegotiation of the NAFTA deal. But that will soon be water under the bridge, said Sarah Goldfeder, a former diplomat in the Obama administration.

The strength of the relationship between Trade and Foreign Affairs staff in Ottawa and those in the State Department of the new Biden administration – many of whom also worked with Obama – will overcome many difficulties that have arisen over the course of the Trump administration. said Goldfeder, who has served as special assistant to two US ambassadors to Canada and now works in Ottawa as a consultant.

“That’s not to say it’s going to be all roses and unicorns. There are ongoing issues that will endure, like NATO and defense funding. It’s a long-standing irritant that will continue.

Pressure on NATO allies to increase spending to match ambitions to expand the organization’s mandate will continue under Biden, Goldfeder said, but should take a less public and accusatory approach than that of Trump.


A sense that the United States has become increasingly vulnerable over the past two decades helps explain Trump’s emergence, said Ron Pruessen, professor emeritus of history at the University of Toronto.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rise of the European Union and China, and the global economic crisis of 2008-2009 have all shaken the “foundations of super-trust and this has been a powerful political and psychological force.

Goldfeder said that under Biden the scramble will be “to try to stop the bleeding” Trump has inflicted on international alliances such as the World Health Organization, World Trade Organization and United Nations.

The incumbent president imposed a zero-sum win-lose mentality on foreign affairs, but that’s over now, said Goldfeder, a former special assistant to two US ambassadors to Canada.

“I really don’t think Trump had a lasting impact on America’s role in the world,” Goldfeder said, pointing out that George W. Bush had a bad international reputation that was quickly repaired by the Obama administration. .

But the fences won’t mend themselves, and Biden will have to focus on huge domestic challenges ahead.

At the same time, Goldfeder said the time is over for the United States to be a “great hegemon in the world. It must see its national interest in working with other countries.


An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Daniel Beland as a history teacher. He specializes in political science.

Kevin E. Boling