A look back at former US President Donald Trump’s time in office

Illustration by Diana Ortega

Former President Donald Trump faces an unprecedented second impeachment trial as President Joe Biden’s inauguration looms. Throughout Trump’s tenure in office, the former president has kept his signature campaign promise of constructing a border wall along the southern border. However, the former president has suffered some political missteps along the way as he prepares to hand over the presidency to President Biden.

A beginning of new immigration policies

It has been more than five years since Trump announced his presidential bid with a promise to build a “great, great wall” along the United States-Mexico border with Mexico paying the bill. 

Although Mexico never paid for the wall, the border wall has become a defining symbol of the Trump administration, expounded by the anti-immigrant rhetoric and hardline policies, NAU associate professor and political science department chair Stephen Nuño-Perez said.

“[The construction] has done nothing but damaged the environment, the lives of people seeking a better future for themselves, our standing in the world as a democratic country who cares about human rights, and further vilified poor folks for being victims of American foreign policy,” Nuño-Perez said. “It is quite sad.”

According to ProPublica, the Trump administration, to date, has spent over $15 billion on the border wall project since he took office, with all of the funding coming from either appropriations from Congress or diverted funds from the U.S. Department of Defense. This has ultimately resulted in the construction of 452 miles of border wall that have been constructed as of Dec. 18, 2020, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection report. 

In addition to the administration’s touted border wall is the former president’s controversial policy of child separation, dictating that all migrants who cross the border without permission, including those seeking asylum, be referred to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for prosecution, which ultimately came into effect in late 2017, according to the DOJ website. 

In 2016, Trump campaigned on reducing undocumented immigration, pledging to take a hardline approach. The former president made good on the promise, but was accused of human rights abuses and violating international law by the United Nations General Assembly, as reported by The New York Times.

The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics at the time, Dr. Ana Maria Lopez described the practice as “nothing less than government-sanctioned child abuse.” 

The policy led to a plethora of lawsuits that former President Trump soon ordered for an end to family separations on June 20, 2018. However, the former president would later issue an executive order allowing the separation to continue in cases where the parents posed a risk to the child.

“The Secretary of Homeland Security, shall, to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, maintain custody of alien families during the pendency of any criminal improper entry or immigration proceedings involving their members,” the executive order stated. “The Secretary shall not, however, detain an alien family together when there is a concern that detention of an alien child with the child’s alien parent would pose a risk to the child’s welfare.”

However, Fred Solop, NAU professor of political science and international affairs, believes the former president’s immigration policies have been built around racist prejudice that ultimately failed to fully realize how interdependent the global market works.

“Overall, I believe Trump has cemented his immigration policy in place with attitudes of racism and prejudice toward certain people of the world,” Solop said in an email interview. “An American First policy fails to recognize how interconnected global markets operate today.”

The first impeachment

Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives Dec. 18, 2019.

The House approved two articles of impeachment against the former president: one for abuse of power over his dealings with Ukraine, and one for obstruction of Congress over his efforts to stonewall the impeachment inquiry. 

At the time, the former president urged the Ukraine’s leader to launch into his political rivals as he withheld congressionally-approved military aid from the country. 

Trump was later acquitted in a Senate trial, but the former president became the third president in U.S. history to be impeached and the first to be impeached in their first term.

The COVID-19 pandemic

Recent coronavirus infection data provided by Johns Hopkins University shows the U.S. with over 23.9 million confirmed cases and over 397,672 reported deaths as of Jan. 18.

Nuño-Perez said the former president’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic will go down as one of the biggest disasters in U.S. history and will become Trump’s legacy. 

“At last count, 388K Americans have died from COVID-19. That is equal to the deaths of seven Vietnam wars, or 128 9/11 attacks,” Nuño-Perez said. “That will be his legacy.” 

Insurrection: the storming of the Capitol

On Jan. 6, as Congress was meeting in a joint session, Trump held a rally near the White House before a mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to try to stop Congress from verifying President Biden’s victory. 

The events at the Capitol soon led to a historic second impeachment for the former president as the House charged Trump for inciting the insurrection seen in the U.S. Capitol. 

Although Trump will face a second impeachment trial, Nuño-Perez said it is possible the former president will be convicted as some Senate Republicans have interest in running for the presidency in 2024.

“Some Senate Republicans may have an interest in making [former] President Trump ineligible to run in 2024 because they want to run for office,” Nuño-Perez said. “Others seem privately hopeful he goes away.”

However, it is currently unclear whether Trump will be convicted in the Senate given the need of a two-thirds majority to convict, Solop said. 

Moreover, Solop said he believes the former president will use the second impeachment as a badge of honor, just as he did after the first.

“He’s the victim of a Democratic Party conspiracy and his followers have to ban together to resist Democratic Party control of government,” Solop said. “The Democrats, together with big tech, want to impose socialism (he says) and his patriot forces need to take a stand in defense of democracy. This is the narrative he will put forward.”

A defining legacy

Although Trump’s accomplishments and policies were not always popular with his critics, the former president has been one of the most consequential presidents and this was in large part because of Trump’s mannerisms.

“Trump threw out the rule book and broke all the norms of how one governs this country,” Solop said. “Some people applaud his aggressive defense of conservative interests. He has been consequential, but different people assess the consequences differently.”

Moreover, Nuño-Perez believes the country is at a great demographic change and a shrinking sense of collective responsibility. He compares former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s proposed Second Bill of Rights at the end of a few disastrous decades of depression and world wars.

 The Second Bill of Rights called for economic rights, under which was “a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all.” 

“Since then, there has been a massive pushback against this vision, which most modern democracies have embraced in some way or another, but we just have not,” Nuño-Perez said. “A big reason why is our continued problem with racism in extending this vision to other communities. Trump tapped into this nerve among whites who see their status falling and their opportunities to maintain some sense of their vision of an American lifestyle dwindling."