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Reflection on the 2016 election

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When I tell people that I’m a conservative, their first assumption tends to be “Oh, he voted for Trump.” Now sometimes they do give me the courtesy of asking first, and my answer is always a) I couldn’t vote in the 2016 election as I was not yet of voting age, and b) I wouldn’t have even if I could.

Perhaps this is surprising for people to hear, but to me, much of what Trump stood for during the election does not agree with what I consider to be my conservative ideals. As a conservative I believe in small government, the power of the free market, and generally high standards of behavior from the representative of the American people. I also believe in the rule of law and the fair application thereof. During the election, one of the key policies that Trump pushed was economic populism and protectionism, including voiding such agreements as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans Pacific Partnership. As a believer in the importance of the free market, repealing free trade agreements runs counter to my beliefs, although the TPP did have a number of issues. Trump spoke of “bringing back coal” through government intervention, which again conflicts with my belief in the free market. Trump’s demeanor and statements throughout the campaign seemed to run counter to the high standard of behavior that is expected of the American president, the so-called leader of the free world.

Trump began his presidency with the travel ban against immigrants from a number of nations in the Middle East and northern Africa. This rather rushed decision seemed ineffective at best and to be an attempt to target a specific group of foreign nationals based on their religion at worst. Regardless of any potential merits of this particular policy decision, such discussion was superseded by claims of Islamophobia, regardless of whether or not that was indeed the intention. The whole Russia investigation has been a blight on the administration and, in some eyes, continues to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the administration.

The attempts to repeal Obamacare were laughable, especially given the Republican control of both houses of Congress and the presidency. Trump’s response to the protests in Charlottesville over the summer, in trying to draw a moral equivalency between the actions of Antifa and white nationalists / Neo-Nazis, was incomprehensible. While the actions of Antifa often seem to cross the line into thuggery, as a member of the American Jewish community I found the comparison rather troubling. One of the first things that comes to mind when thinking about Trump is his behavior on Twitter which, along with his general demeanor, has often come off as immature and unpresidential. The current heightened tensions between the United States and North Korea, both nuclear powers, weakens global security and the power of the United States.

That it is not to say that the Trump administration has been without its accomplishment. The appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court was certainly a victory for those who wish to see judicial restraint remain a part of the high court for the foreseeable future. ISIS is retreating in Iraq and Syria, arguably in large part due to the increased commitment of the American-led coalition. A new tax plan is currently under debate in the halls of Congress, and while the current version certainly has its flaws, there is hope that the tax plan will bring increased prosperity to Americans. The approval of the the Dakota and Keystone pipelines brings hope that American can increase its energy independence, thus decreasing the necessity of its role in the geopolitical quagmire that is the Middle East, while still leaving the door open for private and state and local investment in renewable energy and green initiatives that will one day wean us off of fossil fuels.

But in spite of his promises during campaign season, Trump has not really gone through with many of the policies that were the hallmarks of his campaign. Throughout the campaign, Trump railed against China as a currency manipulator and blamed them for the loss of jobs of many Americans who worked in industrial settings. Yet in his time in office, Trump has instead pursued a much more measured and diplomatic approach to China. In his recent visit to China, he announced the signing of trade deals worth billions of dollars, a far cry from his previous promises to punish China. Trump has also demonstrated a commitment to seeking peace in the Middle East, especially in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

So this begs the question, is Trump really the president we expected him to be during the campaign season, or is he the person we often continue to view him as? Indeed, it can certainly be said that Trump’s demeanor and behavior continue to be rather unpresidential. Many people liked him for this reason: he was an outsider, a non-traditional politician who neither spoke nor acted like the classic inside-the-beltway type. But arguably, Trump has not stayed true to those policies that mobilized the masses, those vitriolic speeches that brought middle America to the voting booths, that turned blue into red. In policy, Trump has simply acted as a normal Republican president would. Perhaps it is the power of the office that gives someone a new perspective on the world, and not even Trump could escape that. Many will admit that so far Trump’s victories have been few. He lacks any sort of signature policy or piece of legislation that can be shown to help America. But if we are to see three or even seven more years under Trump, perhaps we will see a great leader emerge, even if it takes a few decades of perspective to see. That’s what any true patriot wants.

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