When it comes to winners, despite Trump’s historically low approval rating among Americans at 38%, there are clear victors from the last year of US politics.
Firstly, there are the American cultural conservatives and nationalists. Trump has a high approval rating among Republicans, at 83%. Cultural conservatives tend to be happy that Trump appointed a conservative justice to the Supreme Court and that his administration has rolled back some of the Obama era’s progressive social policies. Nationalists, led by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, have a president in the White House whose instincts clearly favor an “America First” approach to economics and foreign relations. No group is ever completely satisfied with any president, but these groups have some policy achievements in 2017 and a sympathetic president.
Also, looking past the US political scene, one can safely say Russia has been a post-election “winner”. After all, despite the fact that there is much debate regarding whether Russia’s propaganda campaign in the United States significantly helped in Trump’s victory, it is clear that the campaign was very successful in exacerbating political divides and undermining Americans’ faith in their democratic institutions. Moscow may be disappointed that the Trump administration has not produced more pro-Russia policies, but it certainly prefers Trump over Clinton in the White House.
Saudi Arabia and its allies have also benefited from having Trump as president. The US president’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May was highly successful and Trump has taken a hardline approach on Iran that aligns well with Riyadh’s position.
It remains unclear whether China is a winner. Despite Trump's criticisms of China, he has not taken serious moves against its economic policies. Trump's withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership was a positive move for China and negative for much of the rest of Asia. However, Trump is pressuring China to do more to restrain North Korea.
By inspiring unusually deep anger among potential Democratic voters, Trump might end up helping Democrats turn out voters in the 2018 congressional elections.
Kerry Boyd Anderson
Of course, where there are winners, there are usually losers: starting with the moderate and establishment Republicans. The wave of populist, anti-establishment sentiment that won Trump the Republican nomination for president and turned out voters in the election has damaged the traditional and moderate branches of the Republican party. Moderate Republicans are likely to face primary challenges from farther right Republicans, and some now are retiring. Polls show that anger within the Republican party is focused on Republican Congressional leaders rather than on the president.
Another “loser” are norms and institutions: Trump is undermining democratic norms and institutions within the United States and the norms and institutions that have governed global politics since the end of World War II. His constant disparagement of the media and willingness to publicly insult everyone to include political allies and military families who have lost a loved one in combat are just a couple examples of ways in which he has attacked the traditional norms governing US political behavior. On the international stage, he has disparaged institutions such as the UN and openly insulted foreign leaders (such as calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “Little Rocket Man”). All of this had led many commentators to question how much damage will be done to American democratic norms and the post-war global order, but Trump’s supporters believe these norms were outdated and needed shaking up.
Next there’s social cohesion: US society was growing increasingly divided based on political views before Trump’s campaign began, but his presidency has exacerbated and hardened those divides. This is partly because Trump has an instinctive feel for the fault lines in American society and regularly hammers at them, partly because far-right groups have viewed his presidency as an opportunity to advertise their views, and partly because many on the left of the political divide struggle to feel respect for someone who voted for Trump.
And last but not least in the list of “losers” is Democrats. A year ago, Democrats were obviously big losers. In an outcome that surprised many, Hillary Clinton lost to Trump. The day after the election, Democrats woke up to the reality that, for at least two years, Republicans would control the White House, Senate and House of Representatives. Democrats also must face the reality that various electoral rules mean they face an uphill battle to retake the Senate or House in mid-term elections in November 2018. However, Trump’s longer-term effect on the Democratic Party is unclear. A few days ago, Democrats had big wins in several state-level elections. By inspiring unusually deep anger among potential Democratic voters, Trump might end up helping Democrats turn out voters in the 2018 congressional elections.
Taken overall, Trump has been in the White House for less than a year, and the long-term pros and cons, and winners and losers, of his presidency remain unclear. There are many issues to watch, including the investigation into Trump campaign contacts with Russia, racial divides in America, immigration policy, relations with China and the crisis with North Korea. Regardless of what one thinks about Trump’s presidency so far, most probably can agree that the last year has been far from boring. As a former reality TV star, keeping the audience engaged and watching is perhaps one of Trump’s main goals, and in that, he is successful.
Kerry Boyd Anderson is a writer and political risk consultant with more than 14 years experience as a professional analyst of international security issues and Middle East political and business risks. Her previous positions include deputy director for advisory with Oxford Analytica and managing editor of Arms Control Today.