With former President Donald Trump making another White House bid in 2024, I'm forced to think about something that, frankly, I'd prefer not to think about: the handful of things Trump did right.
Here's the backstory: I often wonder if I could have supported Trump, and become a MAGA-ista, back when he made his first campaign official in June 2015, if the real estate mogul and I hadn't gotten off on the wrong foot.
After all, it's hard to get enthusiastic about a White House bid when the candidate kicks off his campaign by calling your Mexican immigrant grandfather a rapist and drug trafficker.
My grandfather, Roman, came to the United States as a boy during the Mexican Revolution-and he came legally. I know this because the Revolution lasted from 1910 to 1920, and-with the vile exception of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 -migrants to the United States did not tend to face concerted legal obstacles based on country of origin until after the enactment of the Immigration Act of 1924.
A lot of Trump defenders have tried to convince me over the years that Trump was only talking about undocumented immigrants, and that I shouldn't take offense. But when it comes to immigration, race, and culture, the former president always paints with the broadest-and ugliest-of brushes.
"When do we beat Mexico at the border?" Trump rhetorically asked the crowd that gathered at his tower in June 2015 to hear him declare that he would be a candidate for president the following year.
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"They're laughing at us, at our stupidity," he said. "And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me."
Then came what would become-and remains-Trump's trademark: a racist outburst.
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best," Trump said. "They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."
For this Mexican American, those remarks made Trump persona non grata. And the demagogue only got worse from there, as when-in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper in June 2016-Trump insinuated that U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in Indiana to Mexican parents, could not fairly adjudicate a class-action lawsuit against Trump University because he was "Mexican." That case was settled after Trump was elected president.
And yet Trump did surprisingly well with Latino voters. In 2016, exit polls suggested he got about 29 percent of the Latino vote; in 2020, he improved on that showing by pulling down an estimated 32 percent.
I'm not in that pro-Trump subset. No way, Jose. But even as a Latino Never Trumper, I understand the hold the former president has over many of my people.
They aren't crazy. For all the harm that Trump did, and the many mistakes he made, the Trump presidency had at least five positive outcomes.
1. It brought balance, autonomy, and common sense back to U.S. foreign policy. Among other things, I believe it achieved this by moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, pulling the United States out of the Iranian nuclear deal, and demanding that NATO countries pony up enough money to cover the organization's expenses and their own defense costs. He also pulled out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, defying global warming alarmists, and began a dialogue with North Korea about ending its nuclear weapons program.
2. It went to war against the establishments of both political parties, each of which had become self-serving and disconnected from their own voters. Politics is all about winning, and public service has become solely about being re-elected-which Trump failed to do, despite his claims to the contrary. But the trend is to break promises and pursue policies that run counter to the best interests of one's constituents. Trump did plenty of that, but he also challenged orthodoxies, going over the heads of the Washington, D.C. pooh-bahs and speaking directly to the masses. And the masses were receptive-until they weren't.
3. It rankled the elitists and brought coastal elitism to the surface. And it revealed what a lot of us already knew: There are whole swaths of America that look down on the rest of America in an ugly way. It's a kind of cultural supremacy where it is believed that the "best" people are the smartest, the most sophisticated, the most well-read, the most "woke." Suddenly, Trump was being criticized for putting ketchup on his steak and for consuming fast food. Dealing with all of this elite sentiment was unpleasant, but Americans needed to do it.
4. It smoked the liberal media out of their holes by provoking them to the point where journalists showed their true agenda: to topple Trump. With Trump in the White House, many journalists jumped into the arena with both feet. The New York Times ran an anonymous op-ed. The Washington Post kept a tally of Trump lies. The worst offender was CNN, where anchors bickered with Trump officials and reporters made themselves the story by aggressively debating Trump at press conferences.
5. While implementing immigration policies that were dishonest, racist, unfair, cruel, and punitive-many of which have now been co-opted by the Biden administration-Trump's presidency did nonetheless manage to bring immigration to the front page and make it a central part of the national discourse. Pre-Trump, immigration often seemed like it was only a big issue for those of us who live in border states like California, Arizona, and Texas. Now, thanks to Trump, as Republicans like to say, every state is a border state.
Don't misunderstand. I'm not carrying water for Donald Trump, who I voted against-twice. I'm 55, and I've been voting in presidential elections since 1988. Trump was far and away the worst president in my lifetime. I have no desire to see him return to the Oval Office, where he can wreak more havoc and further harm this country. No one should want that.
But Americans have to stop denying Trump's appeal and decipher how we got to this place. We need to understand how this extremely flawed individual finds himself, even now, with such a tight grip on what is estimated to be between 30 and 40 percent of Republican voters. That process begins with acknowledging what Trump did right, and got right, while in office.
His opponents in particular-in both parties-should be studying up on the Trump victories, and figuring out how he achieved them. Some of that was by way of straight-up appeals to racism. But there is more to it than that. Trump has skills, and he knows parts of the electorate better than they know themselves.
Let's give the Devil his due. Let's also hope he stays in hell and never again gets anywhere near the White House.
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