United States


Executive Summary

Democrats retake
majority in lower house
The twelve-month period under investigation here ended with midterm congressional elections that produced a “blue wave” and a new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives for the Congress that began in January, 2019.
Trump pushing “America First” nationalism
Donald Trump campaigned on a platform of “America First” nationalism – promising drastic action on illegal immigration and a moratorium on Muslims entering the country. He raised objections to U.S. participation in NATO and alleged that the United States has been treated unfairly in its major trading relationships. Despite serious long-term fiscal imbalances, he promised major tax cuts, a massive infrastructure program, and a rejection of spending cuts for middle-class entitlement programs (Medicare and Social Security). He endorsed the long-standing Republican plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), signaled opposition to policies benefiting racial minorities and low-income people, and dismissed concerns about climate change. Congressional Republicans initially voiced alternative viewpoints on some issues, particularly trade, international security and entitlements spending.
Severe problems with capability and execution
Beyond policy positions, however, both Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress demonstrated substantial difficulties in capability and execution. The White House has been poorly staffed and managed. The administration lacks experienced leadership in most areas; has been subject to unprecedented turnover in cabinet and other senior positions; and has been unable to fill many important posts. Several cabinet-level officials have departed as a result of ethics scandals. Trump and the White House have been preoccupied with the multiple investigations of his campaign, his administration, and various associates that began with issues of Russian interference in the 2016 election and have expanded to include a wide range of possible offenses.
GOP divisions hamper legislation
At the same time, both parties in the House of Representatives and the Senate largely refuse to cooperate with each other. Yet the Republicans were themselves too divided to govern effectively without some Democratic support. As a result, despite Republican control of the House, Senate and presidency, Congress enacted only two major pieces of legislation during Trump’s first two years – a very large tax cut, mainly for corporations and high-income individuals, in December 2017; and a bipartisan criminal justice reform, in the lame-duck session after the 2018 midterm elections (and the end of the study period).
Strong economy,
but social declines
In terms of the SGI, the United States continues to receive high scores in some areas of long-term strength, including economic policy, labor market efficiency and innovation. Indeed, the U.S. economy continued to perform well in 2018. However, as a consequence of the policy agendas of the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress, the United States inevitably performed worse in policy areas concerned with social inclusion, the integration of new immigrants, elementary education, family policy, environmental protection and fiscal sustainability. However, most of those changes took place in 2017 and 2018, and might be seen as a continuation of processes already underway by early 2017.
Growing democracy-quality concerns
With respect to the quality of democracy, the United States continues to exhibit strengths – including generally equal political rights, fairness in candidate and party access to the ballot, and relatively balanced news media coverage and campaign funding. As the 2018 midterm elections demonstrated, however, there are increasingly important deficits in various areas. Many Republican-controlled state governments have raised barriers to voter participation (e.g., by introducing demands for multiple forms of identification) that primarily affect black, Latino and lower-income citizens. Although both parties are more or less on par in terms of campaign funding resources, accountability with respect to campaign funding has suffered as a result of growing contributions from extremely wealthy individuals.
Governance capabilities declining
The worst scores in this assessment – some dramatically lower than those during the Obama administration – are in the areas of governance, especially those of “steering capability.” In the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency, the administration’s policy achievements have consisted of ordering reversals of Obama-era administrative regulations by using truncated administrative processes that eventually may not withstand judicial scrutiny.
Withdrawal from international engagement
A major theme in the assessments has been President Trump’s hedging on the withdrawal from or efforts to revise many of the United States’ prior international engagements – on trade, climate change, financial services regulation, and economic assistance (in addition to collective security arrangements, such as NATO).
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