The 2016 elections were hugely important, and many of the consequences will be difficult or impossible to undo:
The scandals, the leaks, the outrages, and the bizarre tweets of the last three years can distract from an important fact about President Donald Trump: He has changed policy in ways that affect the lives of millions of Americans.
Some of the Trump agenda is standard for a Republican president. White-collar criminal prosecutions have hit a 33-year low. The Justice Department defends state laws that could kick thousands off the voting rolls. The National Labor Relations Board is now more sympathetic to employers than unions. And military spending is on track to reach the same levels as during the height of the Iraq War.
But he’s gone further. While the media, understandably, focuses on Trump’s many scandals, his administration has quietly enacted a far more aggressive agenda than his Republican predecessors. Big boosts to fossil fuel production have come at the expense of an unprecedented deterioration in air quality. Tens of thousands of people have lost health insurance by administrative fiat, and millions are in the process of losing their nutritional assistance through the same mechanism. He’s remade the judiciary, installing conservative judges at twice Obama’s pace, and he’s consolidated a conservative majority on the Supreme Court that may endure for decades.
Tax changes were Trump’s biggest legislative accomplishment, creating a huge windfall for wealthy shareholders and small gains for the middle class — with revenue losses much larger than initially forecast. He’s also undertaken significant but little-noticed alternations in supervision of Wall Street that increase the riskiness of the banking system, plus drastic changes to immigration policy that go far beyond wall construction.
The immigration changes align with Trump’s main campaign themes, even if they don’t line up in detail with what he promised. But much of this amounts to delivering for big business and the wealthy in a much more dramatic way than his “populist” positioning would indicate. Promises to voters to protect clean air, provide better health care, crack down on banks, and tax the rich have fallen entirely by the wayside.
It is true, as far as it goes, that the policy effects of Trump’s presidency aren’t a lot different than that of any other Republican president, but this is extremely bad! And the idea that Trump was going to lead Republicans in a more economically “populist” direction never made any sense; he ran on huge upper-class tax cuts and his lies on healthcare were no different than the ones Republican elites have been telling for decades (mysteriously amplified by both journalists and Democratic politicians who pretend to take them at face value for various reasons.)
And this also explains why the Republican Party is completely united behind him. 99% of never Trumpism was based on the mistaken idea (not just shared by Never Trumpers) that Trump wouldn’t govern as an orthodox conservative.