It would be an understatement to suggest that the Trump presidency has been controversial. From international politics to the judiciary the Trump presidency has been a departure from the status quo of American politics.
Protests against Trump began the first official day of his presidency during the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 1, 2017. Organizers of the march hoped that it would “send a bold message to our new administration, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights,” according to the website organizing the march.
Women’s rights have been a point of contention throughout the Trump presidency due to misogynistic comments he has made in the past. Famously, an Access Hollywood tape leaked during the 2016 presidential race seemingly confirming his misogyny.
“And when you’re a star, [women] let you do it. You can do anything. Grab em’ by the [expletive]. You can do anything,” said Trump.
Misogyny that didn’t seem to move the needle with white women who voted in a plurality with Trump – a Pew Research report showed that 47% of white women voted for Trump. The explanation, according to professor of Political Science Dr. Nicole Shoaf, lies in widespread racist sentiment among suburban white women.
“Most college educated white women voted for President Trump. Their racism was more salient than their feminism,” said Shoaf.
The support for Trump among college educated white women could be considered surprising, but for Shoaf its pronounced evidence that women, as a political bloc, do not share an identity. Racism helped drive Trump through to the finish line and secure the presidency. Political commentator Van Jones agreed and in his commentary on election night termed the election of Donald Trump as a “whitelash against a changing country.”
“So often the conversations about expanding rights have been perceived by people who already have those rights as taking something away from them. That perceived loss scares white men - they’re doing the same things they’ve always done, but suddenly it doesn’t get them the same place it would have gotten their fathers,” said Shoaf.
Trump has utilized racism and what was termed by U.S. Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway as alternative facts. The messaging that the Trump presidency has used has made consistent effort to create an alternative reality for voters.
“I think one of the defining characteristics of the Trump presidency is his genuine belief that the truth is less important than perception,” said Shoaf.
Trump’s victory has had an immediate and lasting effect on the judiciary. Senate Republicans secured a majority in the Senate in 2014 and been blocking former President Barack Obama’s judicial appointees. This effort culminated in the nomination and rejection of Judge Merrick Garland following the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans made the unprecedented move to refuse a judicial hearing for any Supreme Court nominee until the next president was elected.
“After 2014 we really started to see a concerted effort to keep [judicial] spots open,” said Southern Professor Brenden Higashi who studies judicial politics.
This is not a completely new phenomenon – since 2005 Chief Justice John Roberts has noted several times in his annual State of the Judiciary address that several circuit courts have been understaffed. As a result, there has been significant increases in the caseload judges handle on a regular basis.
“Its been somewhat of a struggle for the judiciary in recent years. There has been significant discussion as to the need for more judges since the 1980s,” said Higashi.
Ideologically, in the years since the beginning of the Trump presidency the courts tend to lean more conservatively, but not as a result of the personal picks by President Trump. Supreme Court Associate Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch have been more willing to join the liberal bloc of the Court. Clear evidence of this can be seen in the most recent Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County when Gorsuch wrote for the majority to protect transgender and gay Americans from sex-based discrimination.
“There has been an increasing shift in the judiciary towards the more conservative side of the ideological spectrum, but that can be attributed to a conservative president appointing conservative judges to seats vacated by liberal judges,” said Higashi.
True changes to the judiciary have come to the qualifications of the judges that end up on the federal judiciary. In recent years, more judicial nominees have been rated by the American Bar Association as unqualified for their position. This is a result of the increased influence of legal societies which identify potential nominees for judgeships early and reliably.
“They help them apply to law school, they run a summer institute for students who get into law school, and they basically teach them how to be conservative in law school. That network helps them get jobs as they come out of law school,” said Higashi.
This network has resulted in several nominees who have been associated with legal societies such as The Federalist Society. Conservative picks such as Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Antonin Scalia have all spoken frequently at The Federalist Society. A third Supreme Court judicial pick would play a pivotal role in defining the future of the U.S. and the Trump presidency. Recently, Trump has had that opportunity for a third Supreme Court pick.
“Many of the individuals chosen by President Trump will likely serve in their capacities for thirty years,” said Higashi.
Internationally, the Trump administration has been equally controversial. Just six days after his inauguration Trump introduced an executive order which has been colloquially called the “Muslim ban” on foreign refugees and travelers. Individuals from the countries of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen were detained if they were currently in the U.S. or had their travel visas revoked.
Initially, the executive order was struck down by lower courts, but in June 2018 a 5-4 Supreme Court case Trump v. Hawaii upheld the ban. In her dissent Justice Sonia Sotomayor excoriated the decision as modern Korematsu v. United States which held that the U.S. could detain Japanese-Americans during World War II.
“By blindly accepting the government’s misguided invitation to sanction a discriminatory policy motivated by animosity toward a disfavored group, all in the name of a superficial claim of national security, the court redeploys the same dangerous logic underlying Korematsu and merely replaces one ‘gravely wrong’ decision with another,” said Sotomayor.
The tone set by the Muslim ban has been the consistent tenor of Trump-era international policy. Trump has consistently utilized international policy as a platform to prove to his voting base that he is keeping his campaign promises. Most salient of these campaign promises was a border wall between the United States and Mexico.
“President Trump is really using the wall in a much larger anti-immigrant agenda to shore up mobilization for certain pockets of Americans who economic threat from cheaper labor,” said Professor for Political Science at Southern Dr. Nicholas Nicoletti.
Significant political costs have been paid as a result of his decision to attempt to construct a border wall. Relations between the U.S. and Mexico as well as South America have deteriorated as a result of rhetoric from the Trump administration that Mexico would pay for the wall.
“If you combine the wall with the false claim that Mexico will pay for the wall with the additional trade re-negotiation of NAFTA what you really have is a failure of foreign policy. American prices have gone up and relations with Latin America have deteriorated,” said Nicoletti.
Trump has fought these problems as well as the COVID-19 crisis which has claimed 200,000 Americans and counting. His response to the COVID-19 crisis has dominated political discourse for the last seven months and has become a serious topic for discussion throughout his re-election campaign.
“I think that COVID-19 that will define the legacy of the Trump presidency. Even if Trump wins another four years he is going to have to deal with the pandemic,” said Nicoletti, “His administration is largely going to be judged on COVID-19.”
On Nov. 3 voters will have the opportunity to vote on the next president and the candidates cannot be any more different. Voters will have the opportunity to determine if they want to continue the direction the Trump presidency is taking on social justice, the judiciary, and international relations. It is imperative for voters get out to the polls and vote for the future they want for the United States. Voters can locate polling places by going to www.vote.org.