Although I have said that former President Trump should not be put in jail, I think he was a terrible President. He may have committed crimes, but I think the criminal aspect of his Presidency is less clear than his poor performance as a leader of this country. If a court finds him guilty of a serious crime, it should go on his record. It should be publicized, but he should not go to prison. I would not even put him under house arrest or restrict his travel abroad, but I would tell the world that he is a criminal. I would require him to pay back any money he took illegally and make whole anybody he damaged by his actions. But I would allow him to run for President and hold the position if he wins the election.
On the other hand, I do not want him to be elected President. He was a terrible President when he served. He tried to steal or subvert the 2020 election. His foreign policies undermined American interests and power. He talked about controlling the immigration surge but did little to stop it. He did not handle the Covid pandemic well. His economic policies were not great but were not as bad as some of his other policies. He brought second- or third-class political party hacks into government in senior positions that they were not qualified for.
On foreign policy, Trump alienated our friends in Western Europe, and kowtowed to Putin in Russia. He withheld or threatened to withhold weapons for Ukraine on the eve of Russia’s attack on Ukraine. He renounced the Paris climate change agreement and the nuclear agreement with Iran, both of which were important for America’s security and the future of the world. He talked a good game about controlling immigration on the southern border, but actually did little substantively about it. He and his appointees deeply damaged the Foreign Service, forcing many of the best and most qualified leaders and thinkers to leave the service. It will take years for the State Department to recover. As a retired Foreign Service officer, I found this particularly upsetting, but I’m sure than Trump and his hacks did similar damage to other agencies.
Trump is in the most legal trouble for interfering with the 2020 election. First were the attempts shortly after the election to persuade states to add to his vote total in various illegal ways, such as naming presidential electors who were not elected by the popular vote. Trump claims he only asked Pence to delay the Presidential vote count in Congress, but Pence says that Trump asked him to interfere with the election by determining which electors from a state should vote. While the vote in Congress was going on, Trump encouraged his followers who had gathered in Washington to march to the Capitol, where they began to ransack the building with no call for restraint from Trump.
For all these reasons and more, Trump would be a poor choice for President, but if the American people want him and elect him fairly, then I think they should get him. It will mark a big fall for the United States in the eyes of much of the world. Nevertheless, there will be some remnants of the check and balance system that may restrain him. Whether Trump gets reelected or not, there are major changes going on in the United States in terms of population, the economy, and social change. America will not look like it did a few years ago whether we follow Trump’s plan to make America great again, or whether we embark on a path different from the current one or from Trump’s vision. It will be a different country, even if an old-line, main-line moderate candidate emerges from somewhere and gets elected. The country itself is changing.
Trump and his policies appeal to a substantial part of the population, I think mostly white lower- and middle-class people. It’s not exactly clear where his Make America Great Again vision would take the country, whether to the 1950s, 60s, or later. America’s big break came after World War II, when most the rest of the world was rebuilding, but the US had survived pretty much intact. This was probably a one-time event that Trump could not copy. However, Trump would like to restrengthen the role of white people in government and business, which would not require going all the way back to the 50s and 60s. A lot of his support comes from people who would benefit from this rollback. These are the people who also oppose wokeness, sexual identity politics, and many social media trends. They give Trump a significant base from which to start. On the other hand, his policies strongly repel those who hold the views he opposes. This situation makes him a force to be reckoned with but does not automatically guarantee him a victory. I hope he does not win one.