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Fact-check: Gazette Runs Column Praising Trump’s “Accomplishments”

By Will Meyer

Earlier this week The Gazette ran a column titled “Voting for President Trump without apology.” The column is written by monthly columnist and physician Jay Fleitman, who regularly writes contrarian right-wing takes for the paper. Recent entries include a column about Joe Biden’s alleged dementia and a solipsistic look at “white privilege,” in which Fleitman fails to grasp the endurance of anti-Black racism and mocks the concept. Additional columns express support for the police and the founding fathers, and another professed Fleitman’s outrage that Biden visited Jacob Blake Sr. in Kenosha, Wisconsin. His most recent column lists the reasons he supports President Trump and caught my attention for making several claims that were untrue or partially untrue, effectively embellishing the President’s image with distorted truths. 

When I wrote a column for the Gazette, Editor in Chief Brooke Hauser picked apart every fact, leaving no stone unturned and questioning claims that were true. When asked via email about the fact-checking process involved in publishing Fleitman’s column, Hauser refused to offer specifics, saying she would look into how guest columns were fact-checked “more broadly” and said she would “remind people writing letters and columns to include their source material and links with their entries.” I followed up, asking Hauser if she would comment on why the Gazette was publishing untrue claims promoting President Trump’s supposed accomplishments. She declined to comment. 

Below is annotated rebuttal of Fleitman’s column, with the fact-checked response in bold. 

The decision to reelect President Trump is an easy one simply based on the accomplishments of his administration.

I can start with the two major issues of the 2016 presidential election.

The first was that of confronting the ISIS caliphate, which seemed destined to be an expanding malevolent presence in the Middle East. The caliphate has been erased, and ISIS has been reduced to a minor presence during the Trump presidency.

Not true: according to the Washington Post, Isis attacks in Africa are “surging,” despite Trump’s claim of it being defeated. 

The second major issue was that of illegal immigration, about which we hear very little these days. Trump did get almost 400 miles of his wall built, but what brought this issue under control was Trump’s ability to leverage Mexico into reestablishing the integrity of its southern border. Mexico had allowed and encouraged the use of its territory as a conduit for undocumented immigrants from Central America crossing into the U.S. Recognizing that the U.S. government expected immigrants seeking sanctuary could legitimately find it within Mexico, the Mexican government opted to control its southern border with Central America.

According to ABC’s fact-check of Trump’s claim, Trump has merely “reinforced” already existing border barriers, building an entirely new barrier for only six miles. While Fletiman does point to negotiations where the U.S. pressures Mexico to further secure its border, his insinuation that Trump did this alone is inaccurate. As journalist Todd Miller points out in his book Empire of Borders, the U.S. has been funding the reinforcement of the Guatemala-Mexico border for quite some time. In July 2014 (during Obama’s presidency), Mexico (with U.S. support) “enacted ‘enforcement belts,’ extending from its Guatemala border hundreds of miles into the Mexican interior, following the model of the U.S.’s ‘’multilayered’ border policing strategy.” In fact, the CBP commissioner said in 2004 that “American borders are the last line of defense, not the first”. In 2012, a former DHS commissioner insinuated that the U.S.’s southern border is effectively the border between Mexico and Guatemala. 

There were numerous economic achievements: pre-COVID, the most robust economic growth in recent memory, as well as record low unemployment, due to a combination of regulatory cuts, with tax cuts for businesses and working Americans. The reduction in corporate income taxes encouraged the repatriation of billions of dollars into the U.S. from American and foreign countries investing domestically.

Every fact here is wrong. First, the notion that Trump’s tax cuts went to “businesses and working Americans” is a distortion. A study by the Congressional Research Service found that the cuts went to the rich. According to an analysis of the study by New York, “Growth has not increased above the pre-tax-cut trend. Neither have wages. After a brief and much smaller than expected bump, repatriated corporate cash from abroad has leveled off.” The link the author points to about unemployment bluntly says, “it’s generally a stretch for presidents to take credit for job creation.” The link the author uses to support his claim about the repatriation of billions of dollars refutes his claim in the headline. 

We’ve achieved energy independence through the use of advanced technologies in fossil fuels as well as solar and wind. The elimination of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and renegotiation into the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) improved the positioning of American workers and companies relative to two of our largest trading partners.

Politifact says Trump “exaggerates” the claim about energy independence. It would be more true to say the U.S. is “nearing” energy independence. Additionally, Forbes made a similar claim earlier this year. He is right about NAFTA “improving the positioning of American workers” but fails to mention how this new deal “deepens oil and gas dependency.” 

In the sphere of international relations, Trump has been effective. He is the first president to seriously challenge China’s predatory trade and economic policies. He has made it clear to our NATO allies that the U.S. cannot in perpetuity finance on the backs of American taxpayers the defense of the rich nations of Western Europe, without their equal financial and military commitment. 

According to CNN, Trump “failed” in his trade war with China, noting, “Despite Trump’s pledge to narrow America’s trade deficit by slapping heavy tariffs on Chinese goods, the gap by which imports exceeded exports in August widened to more than $67 billion, its highest monthly tally in 14 years. The deficit with China alone fell about 7% from July but was still about $26 billion, according to the US Census Bureau.” With regard to NATO, Trump is the laughing stock of the world’s stage. While Fletiman is right that he has tried to pressure certain countries to pay more, his efforts to do so have been overshadowed by other leaders hurting the President’s feelings, and, quite literally, laughing him out of the room. 

The Trump administration was able to broker landmark peace deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Israel and Bahrain, as well as help negotiate a peace deal between Serbia and Kosovo. The Trump administration has earned derision from the left for “coddling” dictators, but to me it seems wise to at least attempt communications and negotiations with adversaries such as North Korea and Russia.

The notion that Trump’s foreign policy has been successful leaves much to be desired. As Guardian columnist Joshua Leifer notes, Trump failed to end the war in Yemen, expanded the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia, and has risked conflict with Iran “repeatedly.” Leifer additionally expands, as many others have, about the disastrous effects of his withdrawal of troops in Syria.   

The Trump administration stepped out of the Iran Nuclear Deal because it only postponed the inevitability of an Iranian nuclear weapon and did nothing to temper Iran’s state-sponsored terrorism in the Middle East, including the targeting of American troops. The Trump administration’s elimination of super-terrorists Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Qassem Soleimani demonstrates a welcome boldness in taking on mortal enemies.

Instead of saying “a welcome boldness”, it would be more accurate to say “flouting international law in a way that creates a dangerous precedent.” 

With reference to actually achieving for racial minorities, Trump has a record to run on. He built an economy strong enough to achieve record low unemployment for the African American and Hispanic communities. He and the Republicans passed the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill that reduces sentences for minor crimes; 91% of its beneficiaries were Black Americans.

Here’s another case the link author provides directly contradicts his claim. The claim that he built an economy with record low unemployment numbers is directly contradicted by the piece he cites earlier from NPR, which says Trump cannot take credit for these numbers. The unemployment rates for Blacks and Hispanics have drastically increased since the onset of the pandemic. The article the author cites about the First Step Act says that despite the fanfare about the legislation, even the bill’s supporters are weary it will be properly funded or implemented. While the bill has reduced sentences for about 2,000, it has granted “compassionate release” to 107 people. There are ~1.5 million people in prison in the United States. The author fails to note the various ways the President has emboldened white nationalists. 

Trump established ongoing federal financing for Black colleges and universities. He and Sen. Tim Scott established enterprise zones for encouraging investment into poor and predominantly Black communities. The Trump administration has been fighting for school choice and charter schools, which would allow low-income parents with children in failing school systems to have some choice in their education.

What the author fails to note is despite the limited support for HBCUs, “African Americans are defaulting on student loans at about double the rate of their white counterparts,” according to CNBC. After Hurricane Katrina, the public schools were gutted and transformed into charters. As a result, “The number of black teachers in the district dropped from 72 percent to 49.7 percent, and teacher turnover has nearly doubled.” The notion that the right-wing charter school “school choice” movement ameliorates racism has long been debunked. While advocates claim charter schools provide choice for parents, charters are able to be selective in their admissions, keeping out the neediest students (and thus boosting their test scores). Students with no other options (often students with special needs, etc.) are sent to public schools, whose resources have often been siphoned off to support charters. This, of course, further entrenches educational inequality. 

I think this administration has handled the pandemic well, restricting travel from China and Europe early. When it looked like our health care system would be overwhelmed, Trump got major American businesses to pivot to manufacture ventilators and protective gear as our stockpiles had previously been left depleted. His administration pushed Operation Warp Speed, which seeded money into the development of a vaccine and therapeutics. The results have been the extraordinarily rapid development on both of these fronts.

Trump has handled the pandemic with denialism. Trials for drugs have been scrapped when found ineffective. There is currently no vaccine that is widely available. Over 225,000 people have died. 

Trump has been able to achieve these accomplishments while besieged with an onslaught of attempts to undermine his presidency, including the farcical Russia collusion scandal and then the malicious Pelosi faux impeachment, as well as with the ongoing and unmitigated hostility from most of the media outlets that are suffering from the Trump Derangement Syndrome.

I suppose, in order to attain some credibility here, I am supposed to qualify my comments relative to Trump’s style and personality, but I’m not going to. This is a binary vote, and if I need to choose between one candidate who has accomplished the above in a short four years, and the other who has little to show for a 47-year political career, then the choice is easy.

I do not apologize for voting for Donald Trump, and I do so enthusiastically.

Will Meyer is co-editor of The Shoestring.

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