BY SETH MILLSTEIN
Let’s not sugarcoat this: 2017 was not a good year for progressives. Donald Trump became president, and his administration proceeded to do countless things that appalled, infuriated, and outraged the American left. However, while the damage Trump has done should not be understated or ignored, from a progressive standpoint, Trump’s first year in office wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.
Trump’s presidency has been a disaster for the left in many, many ways. He’s pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, appointed Neil Gorsuch to fill a stolen Supreme Court seat, approved construction of the Keystone pipeline, targeted non-violent immigrants for deportation, appointed climate change deniers to key environmental positions in his cabinet, cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans, and appointed conservative judges throughout the country. He’s also said racist things, lied repeatedly to Americans, referred to white supremacists as “fine people,” intentionally blurred the line between truth and fiction, and brought the U.S. closer to war with North Korea.
None of this is good. There are no shortage of reasons for progressives to be angry at the Trump administration. But it’s also worth taking a step back to reflect on what could have been. The fact of the matter is that Trump’s first year in office has not been as catastrophic as many on the left feared on election night—and the left is entering 2018 in a much stronger position than anybody could have predicted a year ago. Here’s why.
Obamacare is still the law of the land, and from the vantage point of election night, this is a near-miracle. Republicans spent seven years promising to repeal Obamacare, and by winning unified control of the government in 2016, they finally had the numbers to do so. The day after the election, Trump and Republican leaders announced that abolishing the Affordable Care Act would be their first priority once Trump took office. And yet despite commanding majorities in the House and Senate, Republicans failed on three separate occasions to repeal Obamacare. Republican leadership in the Senate has indicated that they won’t try to do so again in 2018
Yes, Trump signed some executive orders aimed at weakening Obamacare. Yes, congressional Republicans succeeded in repealing the law’s individual mandate. But the fundamentals of the Affordable Care Act—most notably, its expansion of Medicaid and generous subsidies to low-income Americans—are still very much in place, and will probably remain so for the indefinite future. That itself is an enormous victory for progressives and an enormous political failure on Trump’s part.
In 2016, President Obama predicted that Trump wouldn’t be able to get a wall built (“Good luck with that” were his exact words). So far, Obama has been right.
Checks And Balances
Although Trump has had some favorable court rulings, the judiciary has regularly and reliably thwarted his most odious and and constitutionally questionable actions. Most notably, Trump’s attempts to roll back contraceptive coverage, ban transgender troops from the military, block citizens of Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, cut funding for sanctuary cities, and prevent undocumented teenage immigrants from having abortions were all blocked, in full or in part, by federal courts.
When the courts did block his moves, Trump abided by the rulings, and though that may seem like a low bar to clear, it’s nonetheless promising for anyone who expected Trump to plunge the United States into dictatorship.
Similarly, Trump hasn’t attempted to circumvent Congress by, say, unconstitutionally appropriating funds for a border wall without a vote. And though he did fire FBI Director James Comey, Trump has—so far—allowed special counsel Robert Mueller to continue investigating his administration for possible obstruction of justice.
There’s also some good early evidence that Trump’s sway over Republican voters has waned over the last year, which should be very encouraging to progressives who hope to defeat him in 2020. In Virginia, the Trump-endorsed Republican candidate for governor lost by nine points. In Alabama, one of the most Republican states in the country, Trump endorsed Luther Strange in the GOP primary and then supported Roy Moore in the general election—and both of them lost.
The numbers in Alabama are worth looking at a bit closer, as they suggest a significant erosion in the president’s core support. Only half of the Alabamans who voted for Trump in 2016 came out to vote for Moore the next year, which is an absolutely striking drop-off (by comparison, around 98 percent of Hillary Clinton voters pulled the lever for Moore’s opponent, Doug Jones). More strikingly, only 48 percent of Alabamans in that election said they approved of Trump’s job as president. In fact, Obama is now more popular in Alabama than Trump, according to Fox News.
Other polls also suggest that Trump’s base has become increasingly apathetic over the last year. A recent Pew survey found that in 2017, Trump’s support fell among a wide variety of demographics that supported him strongly in 2016, including Republicans, men, white people, voters over 50, white evangelicals, and white people without college degrees. A poll from May found that the number of Americans who say they “strongly support” Trump has also fallen.
None of this is a guarantee of anything, of course. But for those who want Trump and his Republican supporters in Congress out of office as soon as possible, it’d be hard to ask for better numbers than these.
It would be absurd to argue that Trump’s first year in office was a success for the left. There are a lot of reasons for progressives to be furious with the president, and converting that fury into civic participation in the political process will be absolutely essential in the years to to come.
But it’s also important not to despair any more than is necessary, and to assess the Trump’s administration in its totality. From a progressive perspective, Trump’s first year in office was bad—but it was not, for a number of reasons, the unmitigated catastrophe it easily could have been.
This story originally appeared on Bustle and has been republished with permission.