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Promises made, promises not kept: Trump’s midterm report card

Trump's major promises have been abandoned or ignored -- by his own administration.

(Credit: Diana Ofosu)
(Credit: Diana Ofosu)

As midterm elections draw near and President Donald Trump nears the halfway point of his term, he is devoting much of his time to campaign rallies for fellow Republicans — which often serve as rallies for the president himself. At these events, banners and professionally made identical signs are ubiquitous, claiming “Promises made, promises kept.” But in an administration run by a man who has made more than 5,000 demonstrably false claims, really only the first half of that slogan is true.

While conservatives are crowing that Trump has done exactly what he said he would do on some topics — for example, issuing orders to discriminate against Muslim people and immigrants, and stopping the government’s enforcement of environmental protections — he has largely failed to do the big things he suggested he could easily accomplish in office.

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Many of these promises had some element of disconnect from reality — some were so vague they couldn’t even be attempted; some were flat-out lies, some were more difficult than he must have thought — but others were doable had he only bothered to try. Big and small, Trump often pretends the pledged actions are either underway or will be in the very near future, but somehow, they never seem to get done.

Here are just some of the things candidate Trump or President Trump promised to accomplish and a status update on them:

The Wall (Status: Promise not kept)

The signature promise of the 2016 Trump campaign — the one that his supporters screamed about at almost every rally — was that the Trump administration would build a massive wall along the nation’s southern border and that the wall would be paid for entirely by Mexico. Back in 2015, he said that he “would do something very severe unless they contributed or gave us the money to build the wall.” A year later, he was asserting that Mexico would be “thrilled to be paying for the wall,” though Mexico made it clear they would do no such thing. Trump said the process would be quick, under budget, and totally not imaginary. “I would say it’ll be complete within two years from the time we start. We’ll start quickly. We’ll start quickly. And it’ll be a real wall. It’ll be a real wall,” he told Sean Hannity. He said its construction would start on “day one” of his presidency.

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None of that has happened. First, Trump demanded Congress give him billions in U.S. taxpayer dollars to build the wall, claiming Mexico’s metaphorical check would soon be in the mail.

When Congress did not provide him those funds, Trump simply lied and said they did: He told the public the wall’s construction was already underway when it wasn’t. Mexico has not paid a cent. Rather than do something “very severe,” Trump negotiated a trade deal with Mexico, even as they remained determined never to pay for the wall. By extension, the John Deere and Caterpillar tractors he vowed would be exclusively used for the wall’s construction have not been.

Reuniting families separated at the border (Status: Promise not kept)

Most Trump promises are made bombastically and enthusiastically, to elicit cheers from his supporters, but some are made begrudgingly, after the winds of public opinion turn against the president. For example, the administration “pledged” to reunite thousands children who were separated from their parents by immigration and border officials, the results of Trump’s own anti-immigrant “zero tolerance” policy. But the promise to reunite families was made only after a federal judge ordered the federal government to do. In July, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw required the government to reunite all children with their parents by the end of that month. They did not. More than two months later, more than 100 of those kids had still not been reunited with their parents.

‘Solving’ America’s drug problem (Status: Promise not kept)

It is hard to know what Trump was thinking when he told New Hampshire voters in Sept. 2016, “I’m going to stop the drugs from pouring across the border. That is a promise.” And he told Ohio voters that he would “stop the drugs from pouring into our states.” More outlandishly, he proclaimed a month earlier that he would simply stop “all drug trafficking” and that on “Day One” of his administration, he would eliminate all of the “criminals: gang members, heads of cartels, drug members and they lead all sorts of drug gangs, all of those — and the police know who they are. They’re all getting out.” Yet the opioid epidemic has gotten worse, not better, under Trump. Overdose deaths in 2017 were at their highest numbers in years and continue to increase this year. After falling short of his pledges to spend heavily to address the problem, Trump simply falsely proclaimed that opioid abuse numbers were “way down.” And on Wednesday, his counselor Kellyanne Conway flat out admitted that more drugs — not fewer — are coming in through the southern border under Trump.

Eliminating the national debt (Status: Promise not kept)

The nation’s public debt on the first day of the Trump administration was about $19.9 trillion dollars. This is noteworthy because candidate Trump insisted in an April 2016 Washington Post interview that he would eliminate the entire debt “over a period of eight years.” Because Trump cannot simply use his signature business approach (declaring bankruptcy and starting over works for hotels and casinos, not countries), fulfilling this promise would require Trump to eliminate the massive gap between annual revenue and annual spending (the “budget deficit”) and replace it with a large surplus.

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But as president, he has done the exact opposite. Thanks to his massive tax cuts for the rich and a spending bill that significantly increased the defense budget, Trump has already added trillions to the long-term deficit. Indeed the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office now predicts that the annual budget deficit will reach $1 trillion by the end of this fiscal year. Less than two years into the job, Trump has already increased the national debt to $21.6 trillion.

Repeal Obamacare and replace it with something terrific, universal, and affordable (Status: Promise not kept)

Trump’s repeated shifts on his mythical plan for replacing Obamacare have betrayed at every step just how little actual thought he put into it. Early in his campaign, he relied on vague promises that he would scrap the Affordable Care Act and replace it with “something terrific” that was “a lot less expensive” for the public and the government. The tall tale kept getting taller: In a Sept. 2015 60 Minutes interview, Trump actually promised universal coverage. “I am going to take care of everybody,” he proclaimed, “I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.” At a Feb. 2016 rally, he averred that everyone would get “great health care for a fraction of the price” and that would “take place immediately after we go in. Immediately! Fast! Quick!”

But after getting elected, reality set in. Rather than offering a healthcare plan as promised, he waited until House Republicans released their proposal to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something that would have left millions uninsured. Trump immediately claimed it was his, tweeting that it was “Our wonderful new Healthcare Bill.” Rather than admit that it didn’t fulfill his campaign promises, he claimed all of those things would come in “phase 2 & 3” later on. When the House initially struggled to get enough support for the legislation, Trump incorrectly said that it would be “not long” before minority Democrats negotiated a deal with him on a replacement. After the House finally passed their bill (by a narrow margin), he held a pep rally on the White House law celebrating it, then soon after announced he thought the bill was too “mean” and that he hoped the Senate version would have more “heart.” When Senate Republicans repeatedly failed to pass any version of Obamacare repeal, Trump told supporters “do not worry” because “we will Repeal & Replace right after Tax Cuts!.” When that didn’t come to pass, he settled for trying to sabotage the law, now pretending he has “essentially repealed” it.

A tax code so simple, it will put H&R Block out of business (Status: Promise not kept)

It’s not clear what H&R Block did to earn Trump’s enmity, but the tax preparation company became the heel in his tax reform routine. “Put H&R Block out of business,” he promised in a 2015 interview, with a vastly simpler tax code. This continued after his inauguration: “We’re going to simplify very greatly the tax code. It’s too complicated. H&R Block probably won’t be too happy. That’s one business that might not be happy with what we’re doing,” Trump told CEOs in Feb. 2017. “Other than H&R Block, I think people are going to love it.”

But the tax “reform” legislation proved to mostly be a series of tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations like Trump’s, rather than a genuine effort to simplify the system. And people don’t love it. When Trump signed his tax legislation in December 2017, H&R Block’s stock was trading at about $26.23 per share. As of October 10, it was actually up to $26.61. While Trump’s economy has put retailers and manufacturers out of business, H&R Block appears to be doing just fine.

Rebuild the county’s infrastructure (Status: Promise not kept)

In his campaign kickoff, Trump said he’d “rebuild the country’s infrastructure.”

“Nobody can do that like me. Believe me. It will be done on time, on budget, way below cost, way below what anyone ever thought,” candidate Trump declared in 2015. This investment, he said, would provide “the next generation of roads, bridges, railways and tunnels, and seaports and airports,” and it would all be paid for by the economic growth he promised.

Congressional Democrats initially embraced the concept (the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s infrastructure a disconcerting D+ in its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card) but the effort became little more than a punchline. A disastrous and aborted series of roll outs made the administration’s repeated promises of “Infrastructure Week” a national joke — much to the dismay of the business community. Though Trump promised in late 2017 that tax reform and infrastructure would be his next priorities, they have not been: Trump never even wrote an infrastructure bill. After his tax cuts decimated revenue that could be used for new spending initiatives, his press secretary admitted in May that no bill was likely to come in 2018.

Fixing the Veterans’ Administration (Status: Promise not kept)

Trump’s campaign pitch to America’s veterans was that he would personally solve every problem at the Department of Veterans Affairs. “I will instruct my staff that if a valid complaint is not addressed that the issue be brought directly to me, and I will pick up the phone and fix it myself if I have to,” he promised. “Believe me, I will fix it.” But Trump has not fixed the VA, and apparently did not set up a White House hotline. Instead, the VA created its own hotline, outsourced it to a call center in West Virginia, and has had a mixed-at-best record of fielding the cases reported to it. A spokesperson told the Washington Post in August that since last October, 11 percent of cases marked for further action had not been resolved, indicating that Trump had not personally intervened to solve them.

Banning Muslims from entering country until ‘we can figure out what’s going on’ (Status: Promise not kept)

As a candidate, Trump said he was “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” In office, Trump has apparently launched no efforts to find out “what is going on,” nor has his administration clarified what the “what” is, which confirms that the premise itself was false — a veneer of legitimate concern to justify government-sanctioned discrimination against one particular religion. When the White House was asked in May 2017 why the statement calling for the Muslim ban was still on the Trump campaign website, even though the administration had been trying to spin its Muslim ban as a “travel ban,” the statement was quickly taken down.

Solving poverty (Status: Promise not kept)

On the campaign trail, Trump promised to “fix” poverty for African Americans and Hispanic Americans. He quoted a Twitter user in 2014 who said “Trump will end poverty.” But after almost two years of administrative hostility to the working class amid a economy that is paying off for people in upper income brackets, the pledge looks like another empty promise made idly.

About 39.7 million Americans — 12.3 percent of the country — live below the poverty line as of 2017. The supplemental poverty measure remained unchanged, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s data released last month. Real wages have been stagnant even as corporate profits have skyrocketed. Nevertheless, the Trump administration declared in July that the war on poverty was “largely over and a success,” then used their own declaration as an excuse to push for work requirements on many social safety net programs.

Tax returns released (Status: Promise not kept)

Trump promised in 2014 that if he ran for office he would release his tax returns, and again promised in 2016 to release them when an IRS audit was completeHe has still not done so.

He is the first presidential candidate (now president) from a major party to refuse to release them since the 1970s. Trump also asserts things about his personal finances that cannot be verified by the one disclosure form he has released. Often, those assertions have direct bearing on policy matters — such as the claim that he has no financial interests in Saudi Arabia or Russia. The public has no idea how much his finances — deeply tied to his businesses, which he still owns — would be impacted by changes he makes to the tax code. There’s also the compelling evidence, revealed in a bombshell New York Times investigation, that Trump likely engaged in tax fraud to siphon half a billion dollars from his father’s company and pay almost no taxes on the amount.

Trump’s congressional allies have so far refused to take even the most basic steps to force him to disclose anything about his tax returns.

Produce evidence of ‘widespread’ voter fraud (Status: Promise not kept)

Two days after taking office, Trump pledged a “major investigation into VOTER FRAUD.” After losing the popular vote in 2016 by nearly 3 million votes, Trump and his allies needed to soothe the president-elect’s massive ego, and they latched onto the idea that the only reason he lost the popular vote was because of voter fraud. There was no credible evidence that significant voter fraud took place, aside from signs Russia meddled in the election to favor Trump’s win.

Trump turned to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) to establish a commission to investigate voter fraud in favor of Hillary Clinton. The panel was mired in controversy and rank partisanship from the start: Republican members operated in secret, hid information, and even obfuscated meeting times for Democratic members. The commission also requested all states turn over voter rolls containing confidential information (often with sub-optimal security practices), though 44 states and D.C. refused to comply.

Less than a year after it was formed, Trump dissolved the panel after it produced no evidence of the voter fraud he said cost him the popular vote. It has not, however, called off the administration’s war on voting rights.

Put coal industry back to work (Status: Promise not kept)

Trump has been rolling back regulations that seek to limit pollution by coal companies. The deregulation has not, however, had much significant impact on the coal industry, which is still in decline, because demand for coal continues to shrink, coal production has been steadily decreasing, and no new coal plants are being constructed in the United States. This month, Westmoreland Coal Company, one of the nation’s biggest and oldest coal companies in the country, filed for bankruptcy.

Promote clean air and water (Status: Promise not kept)

Trump promised in Dec. 2016 “to ensure clean air and clean water for all of our people.” In a complete and brazen reversal, even by this president’s standards, his administration has waged a sustained war on the very rules that ensure clean water and clean air. Enforcement of the rules that remain has dropped precipitously. When Trump talks about clean air and water during an interview, he advocates for “cleanest air on the planet” and brags that “our air now is cleaner than it’s ever been,” but adds the caveat that he does not want environmental safety to incur any job losses. He’s never able to specify what his administration is doing, or would like to do, to achieve clean air and water. His appointees at the EPA tout the benefits of the Clean Air Act — with many metrics improving on a very long trajectory stretching back decades — even as they do their best to gut the law. America’s air isn’t getting cleaner as fast as it used to be.

Straighten out trade deficit with China (Status: Promise not kept)

Trump repeatedly told voters in the lead-up to the 2016 election that he would fix America’s trade deficit with many countries, particularly China. “In China, think of this, we have a trade imbalance of almost $400 billion a year,” Trump told a crowd in 2015. “Can you imagine if we could straighten it out? Could you imagine if I could get that down to, and I promise I’ll do better than this, but could you imagine if I could get it down to $100 billion a year in losses?”

Trump did not straighten it out, and the deficit has since grown. In 2016, America’s trade deficit with China was $347 billion; in 2017, it was $376 billion. Through the first 8 months of 2018, it was $261 billion — each month so far this year the trade deficit has been hundreds of millions or billions higher than it was. In general, America’s trade deficit recently rose to a 6-month high of $53.2 billion in August 2018.

Peace in the Middle East (Status: Promise not kept)

In May 2017, Trump promised to broker a Middle East peace agreement. He touted his mediation skills during a White House visit from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “We will get this done,” he said. Eight months later, Abbas concluded that Trump and Israel had destroyed the Oslo Accords, the framework through which any peace plan would be negotiated.

A series of poorly conceived, anti-peace policies have become the hallmark of this presidency: Trump decided to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley Haley said that the United States would no longer fund the U.N. agency that supports Palestinian refugees until Palestine rejoins the peace talks. In September, the Trump administration said it would shut down the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s office in Washington, D.C.

Trump was expected to release his peace plan during this year’s U.N. General Assembly meeting, but at that event, he said he’ll release it “over the next two or three or four months.”

Fund Flint water cleanup (Status: Promise not kept)

During the 2016 primary campaign, Trump was asked, “What would you do right now if you were the president about the situation in Flint?” Trump replied, “Well, all I can do is get the funds to clean it up, and get it done, and get it done quickly, because you can’t have people drinking this garbage.” Trump presented himself as the one candidate who could apply the same organization, drive, and punctuality he used for his real estate endeavors to public health crises like the high levels of lead and other pollutants in Flint’s water supply.

But did Trump get the funds the clean up Flint’s water and clean it up quickly? In late 2016, President Obama signed a $10 billion bill authorizing water projects around the country, including $170 million for Flint. By the end of the year, the lead levels in the water fell below the federal limit. Trump took office the following January, and in March 2017, through the water bill Obama signed, the EPA said it was awarding a $100 million grant “to fund drinking water infrastructure upgrades in Flint.” The effort to replace service lines won’t be complete until 2020, and residents still don’t trust the water.

Then-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt declared a “war on lead” in 2017, but this promise was also empty: Pruitt told Reuters in January that he hoped an infrastructure bill would help communities replace municipal water pipes (the bill has not been a priority of the legislative or executive branch). In April, Trump’s EPA said it was working on a plan to address lead contamination, to be released in June, but the plan has not yet surfaced.


In fairness, not all of Trump’s promises have been broken. In his June 2015 campaign announcement speech, he mocked then-Secretary of State John Kerry for getting injured while riding his bicycle. “I won’t be doing that,” he guaranteed. “And I promise I will never be in a bicycle race. That I can tell you.”