20 reasons why Donald Trump has been good for America: No, seriously

Donald Trump Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Donald Trump Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Irony being inherently ironic, it would be easy to dismiss as delusional or harebrained any argument to the effect that Donald Trump’s totalistically execrable behavior over time may have had positive effects on the American public. But let us not blind ourselves to the validity of this counterintuitive notion. By the same token, let us concede that Trump speaks and acts in many ways like other segments of the larger political class – only more extremely, dogmatically and unceasingly. While his hard-wired true believers may see him as a political and ideological Man on Horseback, to those outside his insular, tribal cohort, he is an apocalyptic horseman worthy only of scorn.

Here are 20 examples of how Trump may have benefited America, or at least where Trumpian maleficence, malfeasance and malpractice have alerted us anew or reawakened us to ideas and practices we once cherished but perhaps have grown complacent about. (In some instances, we may find upon reflection that America’s founders left us holding the bag in the face of the regnant tyranny Trump represents today.) In this newfound “knowing,” the reasoned and reasonable among us may have unwittingly benefited in this Era of Trump.

1. Voting. The late Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, longtime president of the University of Notre Dame, characterized voting as a “civic sacrament,” a rite conferring divine grace on those who fulfill their obligation as citizens to register their choices for public office. Too many of us, let us admit, have come to take voting for granted as a free good that costs nothing, whether we exercise it or not. Thus do we account for America’s consistently low voter turnout rates over time. Trump has weaponized votes, voting and the electoral process in every conceivable way: by manipulating and attempting to negate vote counts; suppressing and disenfranchising voters; shamelessly perpetuating the Big Lie that his 2020 election loss was rigged and stolen; and, most recently, threatening blood in the streets if he loses in 2024. If this hasn’t reminded us of the sanctity of the vote, nothing will.

2. Rule of law. “Where-ever law ends, tyranny begins,” wrote John Locke in his Second Treatise of Government. This received truth, carved into the wall of the Department of Justice building, prefigured John Adams’ later claim that ours is a government of laws, not of men, one of two expressions of an unofficial American democratic credo — the other being that no man is above the law. As with voting, Trump has weaponized the law in every imaginable way: by circumventing it, using it to coerce and punish others, delaying and obstructing its application, discrediting it and slow-rolling it with claims of immunity and due process. By thumbing his nose at this time-honored precept, Trump has exposed our idealistic self-delusion in the face of the reality of wealth and power.

3. A free press. The press is the eyes, the ears and the voice of the people. “Without a free press,” said Justice Felix Frankfurter, “there can be no free society.” It is through the press that most of us get the information that, in theory, enables us to hold public officials accountable and gives the lie to the cynical observation once voiced by historian Henry Adams: “Practical politics consists in ignoring facts.” This is the good news, where it occurs. The bad news is that the press can be manipulated and discredited, as Trump has done unrelentingly, and it can let itself be a vehicle for bias, distortion and propaganda, as some elements of the press have chosen to do, whether in support of or in opposition to Trump. So it is that we dare not lose sight of Alexis de Tocqueville’s trenchant observation nearly two centuries ago: “To get the inestimable good that freedom of the press assures, one must know how to submit to the inevitable evil it gives rise to.” Where Trump goes, the press follows, sheep-like, elevating itself to new investigatory heights while, at the same time, dragging itself  down to new propagandistic lows.

4. Popular sovereignty. Ultimately, at least ostensibly, democracy vests final authority for governance in the people themselves. It’s an ideal, to be sure, but one worthy of continuing pursuit, especially in the face of contradictory reality. Note “We the People” in the preamble to the Constitution, legitimate governments “deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed” in the Declaration of Independence and “government of the people, by the people, for the people” in the Gettysburg Address. Of course, even America’s founders included elitists like Alexander Hamilton, who argued that we need the selfless rich and wellborn (like him) to check the unsteadiness of the turbulent and changing masses (like the rest of us), who can’t distinguish right from wrong. Trump, his populist appeals notwithstanding, has reminded us in uncountable ways how much he represents arrogant elitism.

5. Checks and balances. America’s founders generally viewed power concentrated in the same hands as the very definition of tyranny. So they bequeathed us the separation of powers and the associated checks and balances ideally expected to counter such despotism. As Justice Louis Brandeis once observed: “The doctrine of the separation of powers was adopted by the Convention of 1787, not to promote efficiency but to preclude the exercise of arbitrary power. The purpose was not to avoid friction but, by means of the inevitable friction incident to the distribution of the governmental powers among three departments, to save the people from autocracy.” That was the ideal. It assumed that well-intentioned human beings, occupying public office for the common good, would fulfill their institutional responsibilities in accord with the founders’ design. Trump, the quintessential divider and conqueror, has led the way in falsifying that idealistic assumption, institutional loyalty consistently giving way to party and ideological loyalties. The result has been a resounding affirmation of George Washington’s cynical but telling assessment of political parties in his Farewell Address: “Let me . . . warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party, generally. . . . [The spirit of party] serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”

6. Majority rule. Ours is a society diverse by nature and a polity pluralistic by choice: “E pluribus unum” (“Out of many, one”). Our efforts to find a comfortable medium between consensus and compromise — to forge unity from disunity — are guided in principle by majority rule: the many over the few. As presidential candidate Benjamin Harrison observed in 1888: “The bottom principle . . . of our structure of government is the principle of control by the majority. Everything else about our government is appendage, it is ornamentation.” America’s founders were appropriately deferential to this foundational principle, but they were also sorely concerned about majority tyranny riding roughshod over minority well-being. Thomas Jefferson noted in his first inaugural address: “Though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable. . . . The minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression.” Under Trump, abetted by his acolytes in Congress, the founders’ fears of majority tyranny have given way to a new reality of minority tyranny in which a small band of strident true believers aligned with Trump has effectively and persistently run government into an entropic state of dysfunctional misrule. This state of affairs, though obvious to all, has thus far eluded cure (or even rational diagnosis).

7. Civilian control of the military. It is an article of generally unquestioned faith that civilian control of the military is fundamental to a healthy democracy. It was at the heart of Abraham Lincoln’s relief of Gen. George McClellan, Harry Truman’s relief of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and, arguably, Barack Obama’s relief of Gen. Stanley McChrystal. At root, it is about the mutuality of political neutrality: the military’s obligation to be apolitical and the concomitant obligation of civilian officials not to politicize the military. That is the ostensible basis for mutual trust and respect among the parties to the social contract. Because Trump has regularly disparaged those in uniform who died in combat as losers and suckers, badmouthed “his generals” and sought to misuse the military for all manner of missions, from border security to domestic crowd suppression, we are prompted to ask, more pointedly than ever, whether long-standing prohibitions against dissent and disobedience by those in uniform ought still to prevail if he again becomes commander in chief.

8. The presidential oath. Ordinarily, most of us might consider the president’s constitutional oath of office (Article II, Section 1) to be a matter of little more than ritualistic import. Not so where Donald Trump is concerned. Consider the words: “I . . . will to the best of my Ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” Making the president’s commitment to the Constitution contingent on his ability (and, by implication, his will or intention) represents a potentially meaningless obligation, especially in light of Trump’s mammoth inabilities on so many fronts. The president also swears (Article II, Section 3) to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” (presumably as they were intended to be carried out). Given Trump’s unyielding efforts to circumvent and undermine the law in countless ways, this provision provides woefully little cause for confidence. Consider Trump’s excessive use of executive actions (894 of them) in lieu of laws and his unhesitating practice of pulling out of treaties, which are, as stipulated in the Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2), the supreme law of the land.

9. Federalism. The 10th Amendment to the Constitution specifies that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,” while Article IV, Section 4 guarantees “every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.” Thus, just as the founders expected horizontal checks and balances at the national level, they also bowed to the imperative for vertical checks and balances between the states and the national government. “This balance between the National and State governments,” said Alexander Hamilton, “ought to be dwelt on with peculiar attention, as it is of the utmost importance. It forms a double security to the people. If one encroaches on their rights, they will find a powerful protection in the other. Indeed, they will both be prevented from overpassing their constitutional limits by a certain rivalship, which will ever subsist between them.” Currently, there are 27 Republican governors and 23 Republican trifectas, where the Republican Party holds the governorship and a majority in both houses of the state legislature. Republicans control almost 55% of all state legislative seats nationally and hold a majority in 56 chambers. As with checks and balances at the national level, there are increasingly ample opportunities for Republican governors and legislators sympathetic to Trump to collude with him on matters worthy of more robust tension between state and national governments, such as abortion, voting integrity or the federalization of National Guard units.

10. Civil liberties. Calvin Coolidge, not otherwise known for penetrating rhetoric, once observed: “Men speak of natural rights, but I challenge any one to show where in nature any rights existed or were recognized until there was established for their declaration and protection a duly promulgated body of corresponding laws.” This statement, a counterpoise to the natural-rights thinking of most of America’s founders, could pass as a reflection of Trumpian thinking yesterday, today and tomorrow. Trump, the lawgiver, the dispenser of rights, has made abundantly clear that, under a second Trump regime, we will have to fight to keep the civil liberties we regard as sacred. Free speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, due process, unreasonable search and seizure, and habeas corpus, in particular, will all be up for grabs — especially for immigrants, people of color, those who are LGBTQ, environmentalists, the liberal media and even Democrats. Gone may be the days when we could accept the view once propounded by Justice Hugo Black as a given: “It is my belief that there are ‘absolutes’ in our Bill of Rights, and that they were put there on purpose by men who knew what words meant, and meant their prohibitions to be ‘absolute.’”

11. Impeachment. Thanks to a twice-impeached Donald Trump, we have come to know more about impeachment than we ever wanted to. Over the course of the country’s history, it has rightly been a rare political, pseudo-judicial act, reserved for only the highest of crimes and misdemeanors (well, except for the case of Bill Clinton). Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution specifies that “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Trump’s two impeachments — the first for his strong-arming of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to dig dirt on the Bidens; the second for his role in instigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riots on Capitol Hill — both resulted in acquittals by the Senate. This lent more than a modicum of weight to the observation once made by Thomas Jefferson: “Experience has already shown that the impeachment the Constitution has provided is not even a scarecrow.” Beyond that, though, with the now-dismissed impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and the now-stalled House inquiry of Joe Biden, impeachment has now been degraded from a matter of the utmost consequence to a hyper-politicized clown show that could become a routine occurrence.

12. Immigration. Have we in this country forgotten the fact that we are a nation of immigrants? The United States is home to more international migrants than any other country, and more than the next four countries — Germany, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United Kingdom. Asked whether they think immigration is a good thing or a bad thing for our country today, roughly 70 percent of respondents to opinion polls have repeatedly said it’s a good thing. Yet we give every evidence of having grown numb to the incessant, mean-spirited anti-immigrant harangues of Donald Trump. He has openly expressed his contempt for subhuman vermin from s**thole countries poisoning the blood of our country. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me” read the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. We would be fully justified, were we not so casually indifferent, in repeating the question Eleanor Roosevelt posed over 85 years ago: “What has happened to us in this country? If we study our own history, we find that we have always been ready to receive the unfortunate from other countries, and though this may seem a generous gesture on our part, we have profited a thousandfold by what they have brought us.”

13. Judicial review. “It is emphatically the province and duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is.” These famous words of Chief Justice John Marshall in the landmark 1803 Marbury v. Madison case established the principle and practice of judicial review. This would have continued to be a normative good if not for Trump’s wholesale politicization of the judiciary through 274 federal judicial nominees, including three to the Supreme Court. Ideally, judicial nominees would be considered on the basis of meritocratic principles, especially since they serve lifetime appointments, largely unaccountable and with no realistic fear of being ousted from office. But in reality, ideological purity and political loyalty have become the overriding desiderata of the day. Certainly they were for Trump, abetted by loyalists in the Senate who forsook their institutional obligations, and we have been left to live with the consequences (e.g., the Dobbs v. Jackson decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, and the foot dragging of Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon in the federal classified documents case against Trump). Jefferson warned us of the dangers of judges having the final call: “To consider judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions is a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.” But the late, great Justice Robert Jackson spoke with characteristic wisdom when he stated in a later opinion: “We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final.” Fallibility becomes the order of the day when those in judicial robes forsake their institutional duty to rule objectively in favor of political and ideological loyalties.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

14. Professionalism in public service. Title 5 of the Code of Federal Regulations specifies for all who serve in government the “basic obligation of public service”: “Public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws and ethical principles above private gain.” In contrast to the conditional presidential oath of office, all civil service and military professionals swear unconditionally to “support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” These are the individuals whose loyalty, by design, is to the Constitution, not to an individual or an office. Trump, who demands nothing less than unconditional loyalty to himself alone, has inveighed vehemently and regularly against these disloyal members of the so-called deep state: “Either the deep state destroys America or we destroy the deep state,” he has said. His ill-concealed plan, accordingly, is to force as many of these public servants as possible out of government. It is a sad commentary that, currently, fewer than two in 10 Americans say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (1%) or “most of the time” (15%). This is among the lowest measures of public trust in the federal government in nearly seven decades of polling. There is every reason to doubt that such diminished trust is aimed at or the product of the work of public service professionals. Point the finger instead at the politicians the people elect. How little has changed since Tocqueville penned his 1835 masterwork, “Democracy in America”: “On my arrival in the United States I was struck by the degree of ability among the governed and the lack of it among the governing.”

15. Civic engagement and civic virtue. Who would have thought that Trump’s antics and shenanigans would have the effect of energizing the civil society in this country — both those who oppose Trump and those who support him — that serves as the mediating mechanism between the public and private spheres of American life? In the words of one authoritative observer: “Many consider the Donald Trump presidency a detriment to the values of human rights and the international order. But there is a silver lining: Civil society engagement and interest in politics has increased exponentially.” It was Jefferson who believed so fervently in the existence of a natural aristocracy — an aristocratic class born not of wealth or heritage but of “virtue and talent.” Elsewhere, he would say or imply that the virtue he espoused, civic virtue, required and reflected an educated electorate: “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is, not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.” It somehow seems only logical that when Trump pontificates arrogantly, as he invariably does — “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it”; “I am the only one that can save this nation”; “I'm the only one that matters” in setting U.S. foreign policy; “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me” — the natural reaction of the civically literate in our midst is active civic engagement.

16. "Emoluments." Article II, Section 1 and Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution prohibit the president in particular and public officials in general from receiving any emolument from domestic or foreign sources while in office. Emoluments, in constitutional law, are “any perquisite, advantage, or profit arising from the possession of an office.” Numerous suits for emoluments violations were filed against Trump during his stay in office, all of which were ignored by the courts. On Jan. 4, 2024, the Democratic side of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee issued a 156-page report, “White House for Sale,” showing that 20 governments, including China and Saudi Arabia, paid at least $7.8 million during Trump's presidency to Trump business entities, principally hotels. In almost every sense, starting with his refusal to divest his business interests while in office, Trump flouted these constitutional provisions and thereby set a new standard for unchecked presidential profiteering. As Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland notes in the foreword to the “White House for Sale” report: “We don’t have the laws in place to deal with a president who is willing to brazenly convert the presidency into a business for self-enrichment and wealth maximization with the collusive participation of foreign states. No other president had ever come close before to trying a rip-off like this simply based on vacuuming up foreign government money, which was the cardinal presidential offense and betrayal in the eyes of the Founders.”

17. The 14th and 25th Amendments. Before there was Donald Trump, who among us had even the remotest clue what the 14th and 25th amendments to the Constitution were all about? Now, aside from what we have witnessed first-hand, we have statements from at least two dozen former Trump officials that he is demonstrably unfit for office. This complements polling results showing that roughly 60% of Americans share that view. Add to this the fact that three states, having officially ruled him an insurrectionist, have sought to remove him from their ballots. So, there is plenty of reason for us to pay attention to these two previously obscure amendments. The 14th Amendment was enacted in 1868 in the aftermath of the Civil War. Section 3 bars from public office government officials who have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or given aid or comfort to the country’s enemies. The 25th Amendment, enacted in 1967, deals with presidential succession and disability. Section 4 provides for the removal of the president from office when the vice president and the heads of the executive departments collectively communicate to the Congress that he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Both amendments, having been the subject of serious scrutiny and debate during Trump’s time in office, open avenues of recourse and redress that are henceforth unlikely to escape notice in the face of another Trump-like presidential figure. Only two sticking points stand in the way: in the case of the 14th, proof of intent or conduct; in the case of the 25th, the courage to overcome supplicancy.

18. Electoral College. Donald Trump ascended to the presidency, let us recall, on the basis not of the popular vote, but of the electoral count. Then, of course, the subsequent manipulation of electors represented probably the central feature of Trump’s failed attempt to change the results of his 2020 election loss. Those two facts should endow any caring individual with a critical skepticism of the wisdom, or unwisdom, of America’s founders in establishing the Electoral College in the first place. The Electoral College idea was nothing more elegant or thoughtful than a compromise between the founders who thought the president should be elected by the Congress and those who favored the popular vote. Jefferson and Hamilton, bêtes noires on so many issues, framed the debate. From Hamilton the elitist, in Federalist 68: “The process of election [by the Electoral College] affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” From Jefferson the populist, much later: “I have ever considered the constitutional mode of election . . . as the most dangerous blot on our constitution, and one which some unlucky chance will some day hit.” The 2024 election will test again whether this inelegant compromise by the founders stands up to the assertion once made by Attorney General Ramsey Clark: “Most faults are not in our Constitution, but in ourselves.”

19. Fake news and disinformation. The Oxford Dictionaries made “post-truth” the word of the year in 2016, thus officially anointing it a bona fide “thing” where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. Trump, more than any other single individual in recent memory, has single-handedly made post-truth discourse the defining element of our times. He viciously lambasts information he doesn’t like as fake, while flooding the zone with misinformation and disinformation he concocts to manage his image. Trump’s standard of truth and truth-telling owes much to Adolf Hitler’s conception of the Big Lie: The bigger the lie and the more often it is repeated, the more likely the simple-minded masses are to accept it as true. The 30,573 false or misleading claims Trump made as president, according to the Washington Post, attest to his belief that lying is the perfectly acceptable norm. “People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular,” he has said. “I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration, and a very effective form of promotion.” To have been exposed to Trump — and those who mirror his methods — is to leave forever unanswered the question of whether honesty and politics can coexist.

20. Presidential pardons. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution grants the president unfettered, unilateral “Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” Every president has issued them, many in the hundreds, some in the thousands. Obama granted 1,927, Lyndon Johnson 1,187, Dwight Eisenhower 1,157, Harry Truman 2,044 and Franklin D. Roosevelt 3,687. Trump, by comparison, granted only 237, but they included all manner of conspirators, obstructionists, robbers, murderers, drug and arms traffickers, tax evaders, money launderers and embezzlers, including Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn. Now, though, in typical Trumpian fashion, he has upped the ante to new levels by raising the question of an eventual self-pardon, and threatening to pardon the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrectionists. Little wonder that George Mason, largely alone among our founders in this regard, was moved to observe in 1788: “The President ought not to have the power of pardoning, because he may frequently pardon crimes which were advised by himself. It may happen, at some future day, that he will establish a monarchy, and destroy the republic. If he has the power of granting pardons before indictment, or conviction, may he not stop inquiry and prevent detection?”

Donald Trump owns all of the foregoing issues, along with their troubling consequences. Let us admit, though, that he isn’t the sole proprietor. Plenty of others before him and alongside him have made unhealthy mortgage payments and engaged in limited partnerships to undermine democracy. But he is the principal developer, whose maladroitness and misbehavior have alerted all who pay attention to the singular danger he alone represents. Just as the era of Joseph McCarthy came to bear the ignominious label of McCarthyism, so too, months and years hence, may the era of Trump come to be known as Trumpism, its defining characteristics including narcissism, arrogance, hatefulness, ignorance, intolerance and greed.

“So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons,” said Aldous Huxley with surpassing insight, “Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise and make them miserable.”