At least some right-leaning pundits suggest that Trump has not kept promises that Politifact has not rated as broken. Consider the conservative columnist Ross Douthat who writes that Trump has to be strong on tariffs “because it’s the only remaining economic issue where he’s stuck to his campaign promises. . . . . Those campaign promises, as everyone is well aware, were generally more populist than the official G.O.P. agenda: Trump promised middle-class tax cuts and a generous Obamacare alternative, he stiff-armed the entitlement reformers and talked up infrastructure spending, and he railed against free trade deals with every other breath.” Douthat states these promises were essential to his victory, but as President he has mostly reverted to traditional Republicanism and he has not fulfilled his populist promises: “The infrastructure plan never materialized and the tax cut was a great whopping favor to corporate interests and the health care repeal-and-replace effort was a misbegotten flop.” Attacks on free trade and imposing tariffs are all that is left of Trump’s economic populism.

Douthat’s opinions indicate that different people can come to different conclusions about whether Trump has broken his promises. While the conservative columnist sees important broken promises, Politifact sees the enacted tax plan as a Trump compromise; the infrastructure promise in the stalled category; and the Obamacare pledge as in the works.

Douthat also indicates that in judging promises, all promises are not created equal. Assessing the relative importance of a promise is even more subjective than categorizing whether a promise has been broken or whether someday, somehow, even though unlikely, it will be fulfilled. What did you consider Trump’s most important promises? That list is probably different from mine, and we no doubt would differ as to how Trump is doing in keeping or breaking his promises. There is great value in Politifact tracking 102 promises, but it treats them all equally when, of course, they are not.

Which promises are kept and broken is important, but perhaps it is also important why a promise is broken. For example, the President promised to do many things on his first day in office, at least some of which he did not do.  Does that really matter if he does them a month or two later?

On the other hand, some Trump promises may not have been kept because he was not sincere in making them; fingers were crossed behind his back. Of course, any insincere promise-maker is a hypocrite or a liar. If there are gradations for broken promises, this is the worst, and I am sure anti-Trump people see many of his unfulfilled promises in this category.

While it is difficult to determine whether a promise-maker was insincere, a related category of unfulfilled promises broken is more objective. These are promises that were uttered to please the listeners but were made without any plan for their implementation and no efforts made to fulfill them. Replacing Obamacare with a system that would have better coverage with lower premiums falls into this category. Who wouldn’t like the country to have this? But there was never a plan for it or even an attempt to devise such a plan. This is not surprising, because, in all likelihood, it is impossible. Perhaps Trump really meant to propose this golden health care system, but the promise was so problematic that it comes close to a false promise. Having Mexico pay for a border wall also falls into this category. (My friends who say Trump keeps his promises tell me that this is not a broken promise because no one could take this promise seriously. Yet, I have seen many Trump supporters say that, of course, Trump will get Mexico to pony up. My friends’ conclusion that the promise was so ludicrous that it should not have been taken seriously seems to be in effect saying that Trump was lying when he made the promise.)

(continued on August 17)


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