Trump’s bold declarations don’t always lead to the results he promises
In so doing, Trump would be taking a page out of his own playbook: Make a showy declaration of transformational change that excites his political base, which is hungry to disrupt the status quo, even if the substance of the move is incremental or indeterminate.
From the Paris climate accord to the domestic opioid epidemic, from the U.S.-Mexico border wall to various trade agreements, Trump’s actions have not fully lived up to his rhetoric.
The president’s flashy pronouncements have masked the more nuanced reality of governing, as actions can take months or even years to be implemented or still require decisions by other stakeholders, such as Congress.
For Trump, the result is politically advantageous. He gets credit from his base for bold action — Withdraws from the Paris climate accord! Declares opioids a national emergency! — while the policies themselves end up being slow-walked or punted, in part because of complexities in the system, buying the administration time and preserving outs should the president be persuaded to change course.
“This is not a ‘buck stops here’ president,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. “His language is Trumanesque — unflinching and ‘here’s what I’m going to do.’ But it’s just rhetoric. Once he tries to implement it as policy, he backs off . . . He goes forward in a bully-boy fashion, but he gets his comeuppance.”
Even if Trump’s actions fall short of his rhetoric, they can have consequences. In the cases of the Paris climate accord and the Iran agreement, Trump’s critics charge he is surrendering the United States’ leadership role on important issues, while potentially giving Washington less leverage in future negotiations.
Trump’s advisers and allies reject the suggestion that his policy moves fail to live up to his promises. They argue that the president has purposefully articulated his policies in broad and declarative language, which has helped ensure his messages break through with the American people.
Furthermore, they note that Trump is hardly the first politician whose language has gotten ahead of his more complicated actions.
Former president Barack Obama signed an executive order on his first week in office to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, promising to return America to the “moral high ground.” But Obama’s plan was never fulfilled, and the controversial detention facility known as Gitmo remains open.
Obama also made sweeping declarations when he signed into law his signature health care overhaul, such as promising that people could keep their doctors and that their premiums would not increase, but implementing the Affordable Care Act proved far messier than anticipated.
Obama has been a consistent theme in most of Trump’s policies. That is, if a policy bears the Obama imprimatur, Trump’s instinct has been to undo it — in part because his base demands he unravel or replace Obama-era policies.
For instance, Trump announced with considerable fanfare on June 1 that he was withdrawing the United States from the global climate change agreement known as the Paris accord. Speaking from the Rose Garden of the White House, Trump declared the deal to be “very unfair, at the highest level, to the United States.”
The takeaway from Trump’s remarks was that the United States would be out of the accord immediately. But as with other issues, the reality is more complicated. The withdrawal mechanism takes more than three years to complete. In the meantime, the Trump administration is exploring ways to remain a part of the agreement by reducing U.S. commitments to cutting down carbon emissions to levels that the president believes would be fairer to U.S. industry.