01:44 GMT +326 May 2018
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    US President Donald Trump celebrates after his speech during the Presidential Inauguration at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., US, January 20, 2017.

    Happy Anniversary! Six Months in, a Look at Donald Trump’s Presidency

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    It has been half a year since President Trump took office, in a presidency thus far defined by a few successes, a fair amount of promises kept, a healthy dollop of failures and defeats - and scandals, scandals, scandals. Oh, and a few more scandals.

    According to poll aggregator FiveThirtyEight, Trump's approval ratings have bottomed out from a 47.8 percent high in late January to a low of 38 percent in June and July.  Disapproval grew from 41 percent to 56 percent in the same period. Most presidents log an end to a "honeymoon period" of high approval ratings after their first 100 days, but Trump currently has the lowest approval ratings of any modern president at the six-month mark.

    One of Trump's most obvious successes, most would agree, was the relatively smooth appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court after a 14-month vacancy in the seat of deceased Justice Antonin Scalia. Liberals opposed the appointment of the conservative Gorsuch, of course, but that was expected.

    Another major success of the Trump White House was the passing of a pair of executive orders: one banning former White House officials from lobbying on behalf of foreign actors, and one vowing to eliminate two regulations for every new one passed. These fit the pro-business, anti-corruption pillars that helped carry the president to his shock election victory in November.

    But these are small potatoes in comparison to Trump's more visible policy failures, the most glaring being the Republican health care bill, which limped through the House only to crumble in the Senate. It seems doubtful that even the "master strategist" Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) will be able to push through such an unpopular piece of legislation, which has been routinely savaged by the media, the Congressional Budget Office and even some Republicans.

    The death of healthcare reform would be egg on the face of the entire Republican wing in DC — a wing that Trump has thrown in with after a rocky relationship on the campaign trail. Trump's vows to pass an enormous infrastructure bill to revitalize America's roads, bridges, and dams while simultaneously creating jobs has yet to bear fruit. The infamous Mexico border wall that Trump so frequently championed during the campaign now seems like a distant memory as well.

    Trump's travel ban against migrants from supposedly high-terror-risk Muslim nations has largely been a failure too, with many of his opponents seeing it as emblematic of the racist police state they feared Trump would turn the US into. A watered down version of the ban did eventually go into law, but it cost Trump credibility and support to make it happen. 

    For the most part, Trump's policy initiatives have been overshadowed by endless Department of Justice investigations, Senate hearings, and lawsuits. The landmark scandal would be Trump's dismissal of FBI Director James Comey in May. Trump said that it was due to Comey's incompetence, while his opponents claimed that the sudden termination was a White House cover-up to stymie the FBI investigation into allegations of collusion between Trump and Russian actors during the 2016 presidential election. Trump called the allegations a "witch hunt."

    There were other scandals. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was fired just a few weeks into his appointment after he was found to have lied to Vice President Mike Pence about conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. Trump claimed that President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign, a charge with virtually no evidence to support it. Ethicists have circled the waters, claiming that Trump is using his position as president to support the Trump Organization business.

    The list of intrigues goes on and on, and there are too many to list here. Talk of impeachment proceedings began just a few months into the Trump administration, although nothing has come of them yet. Trump's gift for courting controversy has followed him into the White House — but the stakes are much higher now than they were when he was a businessman and television personality.

    Turning our attentions abroad, it's difficult to make quantitative statements about Trump's foreign policy successes and failures. The situation in the Korean Peninsula has drastically deteriorated since last year, though the renewal of hostilities between North Korea and the West began in 2016. There, Trump is not just accountable for enforcing US interests: he carries the burden of 60+ years of historical US policy which must be considered and reevaluated in tandem with the interests of South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China. The Korean Peninsula has been a powder keg waiting to explode for more than half a century — whether or not Trump is the man for the job, his decisions and leadership (or lack thereof) will be pivotal.

    Trump has also made the Middle East key to American foreign policy, strengthening ties with the Saudis and the Israelis and reevaluating the US position in Syria. One unmitigated foreign policy success has been the establishment of a ceasefire zone in southern Syria alongside Russian forces. The Obama administration tried to establish safe zones like this multiple times, and each time their attempts failed.

    But as the fight against Daesh winds down, a new conflict looms: a Cold War between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has already mobilized its allies to bring a blockade against Qatar, which Trump has publicly supported. But on the same day that Trump called the blockade "hard but necessary," his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the blockade is a humanitarian, economic, and military hindrance to regional peace. Oops.

    And of course, no retrospective on Trump's early presidency would be complete without mention of the US relationship with Russia. There have been successes (the aforementioned Syrian ceasefire zone) and obstacles (the Trump-ordered US strike on the Shayrat airfield, targeting Syrian forces backed by Moscow) in attempts to normalize relations between the two powers, which have been increasingly adversarial for the better part of the last decade. Once more, only time will tell whether Trump will be the president who repaired his country's relationship with Moscow, or the president who intensified the long-standing rivalry.

    As for Trump's self-assessment, he recently issued a statement about his productivity. "We've signed more bills — and I'm talking about through the legislature — than any president ever." According to GovTrack.us, Trump is in seventh place for most bills signed after six months (at 42, compared to President Dwight D. Eisenhower's 228). But it wouldn't be a Trump press conference without a minor distortion of the truth, right?

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    Tags:
    foreign policy, scandal, travel ban, executive order, health care, Senate, Michael Flynn, Mike Pence, Barack Obama, James Comey, Mitch McConnell, Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump, Russia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria
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