Donald Trump has been highly effective exercising executive power to pursue policy objectives; however, due to his failures in delivering on widely controversial campaign promises, Trump has been a significantly ineffective president. Trump is reflective of a strong unitary executive (Kovacs 2018, 554). Most notably attributed to the broad use of executive power by the George W. Bush administration, this framework draws upon the Vesting Clause of Article 2 of the US Constitution to declare that the President possesses supreme authority and that the power of Congress is subordinate (Crouch, Rozell, & Sollenberger 2017, 562). Trump embodies a strong unitary executive through his frequent use of executive orders to circumvent the congressional process and pursue policy objectives unilaterally. (Crouch, Rozell, & Sollenberger 2017, 562; Kovacs 2018, 554). Effectiveness is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (2020) as ‘the degree to which something is successful in producing a desired result’.’ In this analysis, the effectiveness of Trump’s presidency will be assessed through the metric of evaluating the achievement of his campaign promises. This essay examines three policy areas of Trump’s campaign promises: healthcare, the economy, and immigration. In addressing healthcare, Trump effectively eliminated certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through executive action; however, he was overall ineffective in achieving his objective to ‘repeal and replace’ the Act. Economically, Trump was effective in meeting his campaign agenda to cut corporate and individual income taxes through signing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), despite widespread criticism stating that the bill exacerbates income inequality in the US. Regarding immigration, Trump has been largely ineffective in addressing his four-pillar agenda, showing limited success in executive action to advance his objectives.

Despite succeeding in employing executive power to dismantle a range of provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Trump has been mostly ineffective in achieving his campaign promise to repeal and replace the healthcare framework instituted under the Obama administration in 2010. The ‘repeal and replace’ of the ACA lay at the core of Candidate Trump’s proposed healthcare agenda. The ACA is a policy framework that provides all Americans with guaranteed availability of health insurance (Blumenthal, Abrams, & Nuzum, 2015, 2451). During his campaign in 2016, Trump promised to confer with Congress to repeal and replace the ACA on his ‘first day in office’ (Bump 2017). Whilst his claim to repeal and replace “immediately” was highly improbable, Trump was influential in utilising executive power to dismantle select ACA provisions through signing Executive Order 13765 (Bump 2017; Federal Register 2017). The order aimed to reduce the ‘economic burden’ of the ACA and eliminate the federal regulation of state healthcare programs (Dabbous et al. 2019, 6). Subsequently, this order provided state healthcare departments with significant freedom to alter the structure of their provisions and systematically dismantle provisions of the ACA (Dabbous et al. 2019, 6). In August of 2017, the US Department of Health and Human Services axed funding for the ‘advertising and enrolment outreach’ of the ACA from $100 million to just $10 million, limiting the ability of the ACA to register uninsured Americans (Tuhby 2017). The controversy in this executive order lies in its vague terminology, providing healthcare agencies with unchecked power to manipulate provisions (Dabbous et al. 2019, 6). The decrease in federal regulation of state healthcare markets grants greater freedom to healthcare providers to potentially inflate both insurance premiums and drug prices (Dabbous et al. 2019, 6). Despite failing to repeal the ACA fully, Trump has been effective in exercising his unitary executive authority to eliminate specific provisions of the ACA on his first day as President (Bump 2017). The less successful ‘replace’ phase of the Trump administration’s healthcare plan aimed to replace the ACA with the Republican-favoured American Health Care Act (AHCA) (Dabbous et al. 2019, 6). In May of 2017, the House of Representatives passed the AHCA by a vote of 217-213 (Dabbous et al. 2019, 6). However, Senate Republicans were unable to pass the AHCA bill and consequently failed to ‘repeal and replace’ the ACA (Dabbous et al. 2019, 6). The failure of the repeal strategy is due in large part to public unpopularity of the AHCA, which lay at just 17% in 2017 (Quinnipiac University 2017). This lack of support was due to the controversy surrounding the AHCA, as the bill was estimated to lead to the loss of insurance coverage for over 14 million Americans (Congressional Budget Office 2017). Trump’s unilateral executive action was influential in initiating the first stage of an ACA repeal; however, the inability of Congress to pass the ACHA to replace the ACA stalemated Trump’s ‘repeal and replace’ strategy.

In signing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA), Trump effectively delivered on his campaign promise to cut taxes for both corporations and working Americans. Trump’s two-part fiscal proposal in 2016 promised to (a) reduce the federal corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%, and (b) ‘cut taxes for everyone’ (Jacobson 2017a, 2017b).  In 2017, Trump signed the TCJA, the most sweeping revision of US tax law since the Tax Reform Act of 1986 (Gale et al. 2019, 2). Amidst a wide array of fiscal revisions, the TCJA was estimated to alter federal taxation for both individuals and corporations (Gale et al. 2019, 11). Despite failing to meet Trump’s 15% tax threshold, the Act reduced the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. As of 2019, corporations received $233 billion in tax cuts (United States Government 2019). The Act also increased tax deductions for all Americans by $5,500 for single individuals and $11,000 for couples. Despite those earning below $9,525 annually receiving no benefit from the TCJA, tax rates were reduced at most income brackets (Tax Policy Centre 2020). The passing of the TCJA is a rare example of congressional legislation advancing the policy agenda of the Trump administration that is typically pursued through unitary executive action (Kovacs 2018, 554). Nonetheless, in signing the TCJA, Trump has effectively followed through on his agenda to cut taxes for corporations and all Americans, however, the Act has been widely criticised to exacerbate economic inequality within the US (Nallareddy, Rouen, & Serrato 2018, 2). Despite providing benefits to most workers, the bill leads to a 52% income increase for the top 5% of earners (Nallareddy, Rouen, & Serrato 2018, 2). Individuals within the top tax bracket receive a 12.6% increase in income, whereas those within the bottom bracket receive an increase of only 1.3% (Nallareddy, Rouen, & Serrato 2018, 2). Despite the controversy over the biased provisions of the TCJA, the bill is a legislative achievement for Trump who successfully delivered on his campaign promise to cut taxes for both workers and corporations. 

Despite partial success in employing executive power to acquire funding border wall project, the Trump administration has been ineffective in both acquiring the necessary means for the project and meeting construction targets. The construction of a wall along the Mexican border was the foundation of candidate Trump’s presidential bid. In 2019, Trump declared a national emergency regarding the immediate construction of the border wall (Cochrane & Thrush 2019). This followed Congress’ provision of only $1.375 billion out of the $5.7 billion requested by the Trump administration for the border wall project (Cochrane & Thrush 2019). The declaration of a national emergency granted greater executive power to Trump, allowing him to circumvent Congress and divert $3.6 billion in Pentagon funding to the wall’s construction (Pietsch 2019). In addition to evading the democratic process, this move was highly controversial, as the axing of Pentagon funding left schools and day-care facilities for military families severely underfunded (Pietsch 2019). Nevertheless, as of June 2020, the Trump administration has acquired $15 billion in funding for the border wall (Foster-Frau 2020). Although, this is far short of the necessary amount required for the border wall project, which has been estimated to cost $21.6 billion (Deeds and Whiteford 2017, 26). In January of 2020, the Trump administration stated a target to construct 450 miles of the wall by the end of the year, however, construction progress has been mostly sub-par. As of August 2020, Trump’s project has only added 5 new miles of wall, with the other 110 completed miles comprising of replacements to existing border fencing (Foster-Frau 2020). At the current rate, it is highly improbable that the Trump administration meets this target (Foster-Frau 2020). Despite partial success in acting unilaterally to acquire funding for the project, Trump has been significantly ineffective in both acquiring the necessary means for the border wall and meeting his Administration’s construction targets.

Furthermore, Trump has been ineffective in delivering on his campaign promise to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) project instated under the Obama administration. In his 2015 presidential announcement speech, Trump vowed to immediately terminate’ the DACA program, declaring that Obama’s executive order to draft the program was ‘illegal’ (McEvoy 2020). The DACA program seeks to grant both a two-year deportation deferral and access to work for individuals who were illegally brought to the US as children by their families (Price & Rojas 2020, 2). In September of 2017, Trump ordered the dismantling of the DACA program after 6-months, granting Congress time to consider alternate ‘legislative solutions’ to save the policy (White House 2017b). However, the repeal was never instituted, as the Trump administration agreed to a compromise with congressional Democrats to provide temporary protection for individuals under the DACA framework in return for $5.7 in funding for the border wall project in 2019 (Karni & Stolberg 2019). Despite his effectiveness in threatening a DACA repeal to acquire congressional funding for the wall, Trump has failed to repeal the program due to widespread controversy over the potential deportation of over 650,000 individuals. In June of 2020, the Supreme Court blocked Trump’s subsequent attempt to repeal the DACA, citing the administration’s failure to provide sound reasoning for the termination of the program (Barnes 2020). This was followed by a statement from the DHS affirming that no changes will be made to the program (Barnes 2020). Despite embodying a robust unitary executive, the Supreme Court’s blocking of Trump’s DACA repeal illustrates that executive authority remains within the realm of checks and balances (Barnes 2020). Ultimately, Trump was ineffective in his bid to repeal the DACA program, failing to deliver on a key campaign promise.

The Trump administration has been mostly ineffective in limiting migration to the US, through failing to abolish the US Diversity Visa (DV) lottery program and restrict chain migration. Established in the Immigration Act of 1990, every year, the DV lottery system grants 50,000 individuals with the opportunity to acquire US permanent residency visas from countries with historically low migration rates to the US (Kennedy 2019, 2). In 2016, Trump illustrated his discontent with the program, stating that the lottery rewards the ‘worst’ immigrants (Alemany 2018). Similarly, Trump numerously echoed his dissatisfaction with chain migration, initially voiced in a 2017 Tweet affirming that chain migration must not be authorised on ‘any legislation on immigration’ (Keneally 2018). The first attempt to limit migration was through Trump’s backing of the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act (Nabhan 2018, 4). Introduced into the Senate in 2017, the Act aimed to restrict family-based immigration to ‘immediate family’ and end the DV lottery program, however, the Act did not receive a vote in the Senate (Nabhan 2018, 4). Adopting an executive approach, in April of 2020, Trump signed Proclamation 10014, severely restricting migration to the US until December 31, 2020 (The White House 2020). The Proclamation cited that provisions of non-immigrant visas (granted through the DV lottery program), ‘displaces and disadvantages’ US workers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic (The White House 2020). The Proclamation also restricted the provision of family-based visas, including the permanent IR-5 visa for parents of US citizens and the temporary H4 visa for spouses of immigrant workers (Zak 2020). The COVID-19 pandemic legitimised Trump’s anti-immigration agenda, allowing his administration to restrict both the provision of US visas and migration into the US; however, this ban is only temporary (Zak 2020). In September of 2020, a Colombia District Judge ordered Trump to reinstate the DV lottery and grant visas to the recent lottery winners once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides (Spagat 2020). Despite utilising executive power to achieve temporary success in limiting migration, Trump has been ineffective in his bid to repeal the DV lottery system and restrict chain migration.

Trump possesses the characteristics of a strong unitary executive, utilising presidential power to evade the congressional process and effectively pursue policy objectives, unilaterally. His effectiveness lies in his success in employing executive orders to dismantle specific provisions of the ACA and sponsor the construction of the border wall project. Additionally, through signing the widely controversial TCJA, Trump achieved his economic objective to cut corporate and individual income taxes for all Americans. Such effectiveness is demonstrated through Trump’s approach to acting unilaterally to pursue policy objectives throughout his presidency. However, throughout his term, Trump has been largely ineffective in delivering on his 2016 campaign promises to fully repeal and replace the ACA, eliminate the DACA program, and restrict migration to the US, thus demonstrating ongoing failures in achieving campaign promises exhibiting the significant ineffectiveness of Trump’s presidency.


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