If you Google “Donald Trump’s legacy” (with the quote marks so you only get hits with those words in that order), you get 57,000+ hits, and it’s interesting to see the various takes on his legacy. The #1 hit is, appropriately, from the BBC, which has the useful perspective of being British but with a nightly news program on public television, which I record and occasionally watch. (There is an entire BBC America channel on both Dish Network and DirecTV.)
That article makes the observation that “If Donald Trump had followed the example of his predecessors and conceded power graciously and peacefully, he would have been remembered as a disruptive but consequential populist leader…. a president who, before the pandemic, presided over an economic boom, re-oriented America's opinion of China, removed terrorist leaders from the battlefield, revamped the space program, secured an originalist (conservative) majority on the US Supreme Court, and authorized Operation Warp Speed to produce a Covid-19 vaccine in record time.”
Indeed, the legacy of Donald Trump turned on his Jan. 6th incitement of violence because he could not accept defeat, an aspect of his personality so well laid out in his niece Mary Trump’s book, “Too Much and Never Enough.”
But that was not his first incitement of violence. At least one clip from his many rallies comes to mind where he encouraged his followers to assault a protestor, declaring that he would pay the legal expenses if they were prosecuted.
The BBC article describes his Alt-right followers as “Trump’s shock troops,” and indeed they were just that, appropriately reminiscent of the Nazi Brownshirts, aka Storm Troopers. A big element of Trump’s legacy will be his emboldening of violent right wing extremists, including white supremacists, epitomized by his response to the Charlotteville “Unite the Right” rally.
Trump’s “Big Lie” about losing the 2020 election due to fraud and his emboldening of right-wing extremists is his most enduring legacy (in that we are living with it well beyond his term in office), but there are other important elements of his legacy worthy of highlighting.
We lost four years of leadership in addressing climate change, which poses an existential threat to our planet. He cut funding for renewable energy and boosted support for coal and other fossil fuels. He emboldened climate deniers, but that was just one element of a larger denial of science. We’re living with that legacy not only in the forest fires and drought plaguing our country but in lives lost due to vaccine hesitancy and misinformation, which he fostered despite taking credit for Operation Warp Speed.
Trump’s damage to the Republican Party may or may not be long lasting, depending on how successful the party, propelled by his rhetoric, is in the 2022 and 2024 elections. Losses in those elections would be a second repudiation of Donald Trump and could, hopefully, lead to a return to the GOP of old which did, for the most part, put country above party — at least until the election of Barack Obama, when it truly assumed the role of being the “Party of No” under the leadership of Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Trump’s reshaping of the judiciary, not just the Supreme Court, will be an enduring legacy, too. With the help of Sen. McConnell, he appointed over 250 judges, most of them recommended by the conservative Federalist Society. The American Bar Association rated 10 of Trump’s appointees “unqualified,” but the Senate confirmed them anyway.
Donald Trump succeeded as no previous president has in demonizing the free press, or what he called the “lamestream media.” (The use of insult name-calling is also part of his legacy.) If a news item didn’t flatter him, it was deemed “fake news” and his followers believed him. He called the free press “the enemy of the people,” but saying so identifies Trump as the true enemy of the people.