By Caroline Schuermann '18
President Donald Trump’s first year in office was eventful and unique to say the least. From tax reform to tweeting, the unsuccessful “skinny repeal” to the travel ban. Trump’s first year of his term has been easily the most controversial in modern history. He is a widely unpopular personality, with approval ratings at historic lows for a president this early in his time in office, nearing the low forties and high thirties. However, the president maintains favor among his base: seventy-eight percent of whom support his progress say they would vote for him again.
Because Donald Trump is such a divisive figure, it is hard to predict how his presidency will influence this year’s 2018 midterm elections. To his base, Trump’s first year was a massive success highlighted by the attempt to introduce a travel ban, the successful passage of widespread tax cuts, the appointment of Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch, and the gains in the national economy, especially the stock market. Trump’s critics, however, have a different outlook about the previous year. The administration seems to be in constant chaos with special counsel Robert Mueller inditing and putting pressure on more and more of Trump’s staff and advisors, seemingly by the day.
While the economy does seem to be moving in the right direction, this factor may not be enough to rally voters behind the GOP this November. Notable economic improvements include: unemployment is down from 4.8% to 4.1%, the S&P 500 is up by more than twenty-three percent, and the federal debt is down slightly from 104.3% to 103.8%, all from the beginning of 2017 to the beginning of 2018. While President Trump may enjoy taking credit for these improvements, those earnings may not be totally to his credit. In addition, using the stock market may be an outdated assessment of the state of the American economy as less than fifty-five percent of Americans had investments in the stock market in 2015. What average Americans really want to see is wage growth and job opportunities. Wage growth has essentially stagnated, if not worsened, this year, going from 2.5% to 2.6%.
Such developments will not be enough for Republicans to keep control of every branch of government this year. A growing movement on the left in response to a Trump presidency is likely to continue this November. Democrats are gaining headway in states and positions that they have not possessed in decades. Elections this past fall, including Ralph Northam in Virginia and Doug Jones in Alabama, serve as examples. Donald Trump ran on a populist and anti-establishment platform. Some Trump supporters were even life-long Democrats who felt as though they have been abandoned both by the Democratic and Republican establishment. Many see established Republicans like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell as deterrents for Trumps agenda. If Democrats can mobilize around a platform that can distinctly address the issues of those who feel abandoned and disenfranchised, rather than the explicit anti-Trump approach the Clinton campaign took in 2016, it is likely that they will be able to take back half of Congress.
Regardless of the outcomes of the 2018 midterms, America will remain divided. Despite his low approval rating, the president's base is unlikely to ever waiver in their high levels of support. The discrepancy lies in whether or not they decide to support his party, as Trump himself changes positions on certain issues by the day or by the tweet. Growing hostility with North Korea, looming threat of a potential trade war as a result of the President’s proposal of high steel and aluminum tariffs, and a possible Mueller indictment on its way could all change the fate of the Congress after midterms. There are few notable achievements for a government entirely controlled by one party. One thing is for certain: if the House or Senate flip blue this fall, the Trump administration will have to compensate for even more gridlock and further divisions.