No matter what reasons you might give for the lack of fulfillment of many the Trump’s promises and no matter whether you agree with Poltifact’s categorizations of compromised, stalled, or in-the-works promises, only a fraction of the President’s pledges have been kept. Even so, educated, knowledgeable, historically and politically astute friends maintain that Trump is keeping his promises. That disconnect makes me think back to Ronald Reagan. Reagan was politically popular even though polls often showed widespread disagreement with many of his specific proposals and policies. Even so, Reagan was able to project an overall message that resonated with many. Ethan Bronner in Battle for Justice: How the Bork Nomination Shook America examines this phenomenon and finds this lesson: “People would go with you if they were attracted to the feel of your campaign, even if they disagreed with many aspects of it.”
Something similar is happening with my friends, and I assume for others. Trump’s promises projected a feel. His speech announcing his candidacy was important not for its promises but for an attitude. Trump said that existing politicians could not make America great again because “they’re controlled fully by lobbyists, by the donors, and by the special interests, fully.” The public does not want the usual “nice” person in office because “they’re tired of being ripped off by everybody in the world.” America is no longer a winner. “We used to have victories, but we don’t have them. When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say, China in a trade deal? They kill us.” The world has taken advantage of the United States. America, battered, stands alone. For example, Mexico is “laughing at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me. But they’re killing us economically. The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everyone else’s problems.”
There are no promises here, but in this opening salvo Trump projected a tone or a feel. His promises have been consistent with that tone. For many that feel is what was promised and is being kept no matter what the score is on specific promises. It may be overwhelmingly likely that Trump will keep only a minority of his promises, but it does not matter to many because what he does and says all seem consistent with that feel he has communicated to so many in the country. If we think that what he promised was that feel and don’t look at the specifics of his pledges, then it feels as though he has been keeping his promises.