With former President Donald Trump making another White House bid in 2024, I’m forced to think about something that, frankly, I’d prefer not to think about: the handful of things Trump did right.
Here’s the backstory: I often wonder if I could have supported Trump, and become a MAGA-ista, back when he made his first campaign official in June 2015, if the real estate mogul and I hadn’t gotten off on the wrong foot.
After all, it’s hard to get enthusiastic about a White House bid when the candidate kicks off his campaign by calling your Mexican immigrant grandfather a rapist and drug trafficker.
My grandfather, Roman, came to the United States as a boy during the Mexican Revolution—and he came legally. I know this because the Revolution lasted from 1910 to 1920, and—with the vile exception of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 —migrants to the United States did not tend to face concerted legal obstacles based on country of origin until after the enactment of the Immigration Act of 1924.
A lot of Trump defenders have tried to convince me over the years that Trump was only talking about undocumented immigrants, and that I shouldn’t take offense. But when it comes to immigration, race, and culture, the former president always paints with the broadest—and ugliest—of brushes.
“When do we beat Mexico at the border?” Trump rhetorically asked the crowd that gathered at his tower in June 2015 to hear him declare that he would be a candidate for president the following year.
“They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity,” he said. “And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me.”
Then came what would become—and remains—Trump’s trademark: a racist outburst.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Trump said. “They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
For this Mexican American, those remarks made Trump persona non grata. And the demagogue only got worse from there, as when—in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper in June 2016—Trump insinuated that U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in Indiana to Mexican parents, could not fairly adjudicate a class-action lawsuit against Trump University because he was “Mexican.” That case was settled after Trump was elected president.
And yet Trump did surprisingly well with Latino voters. In 2016, exit polls suggested he got about 29 percent of the Latino vote; in 2020, he improved on that showing by pulling down an estimated 32 percent.
I’m not in that pro-Trump subset. No way, Jose. But even as a Latino Never Trumper, I understand the hold the former president has over many of my people.
They aren’t crazy. For all the harm that Trump did, and the many mistakes he made, the Trump presidency had at least five positive outcomes.
1. It brought balance, autonomy, and common sense back to U.S. foreign policy. Among other things, I believe it achieved this by moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, pulling the United States out of the Iranian nuclear deal, and demanding that NATO countries pony up enough money to cover the organization’s expenses and their own defense costs. He also pulled out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, defying global warming alarmists, and began a dialogue with North Korea about ending its nuclear weapons program.
2. It went to war against the establishments of both political parties, each of which had become self-serving and disconnected from their own voters. Politics is all about winning, and public service has become solely about being re-elected—which Trump failed to do, despite his claims to the contrary. But the trend is to break promises and pursue policies that run counter to the best interests of one’s constituents. Trump did plenty of that, but he also challenged orthodoxies, going over the heads of the Washington, D.C. pooh-bahs and speaking directly to the masses. And the masses were receptive—until they weren’t.
3. It rankled the elitists and brought coastal elitism to the surface. And it revealed what a lot of us already knew: There are whole swaths of America that look down on the rest of America in an ugly way. It’s a kind of cultural supremacy where it is believed that the “best” people are the smartest, the most sophisticated, the most well-read, the most “woke.” Suddenly, Trump was being criticized for putting ketchup on his steak and for consuming fast food. Dealing with all of this elite sentiment was unpleasant, but Americans needed to do it.
4. It smoked the liberal media out…