KOKOMO – The late founder of Walmart was a disruptor of major proportions.  His company launched a retail revolution from the sleepy backwaters of Arkansas and totally transformed Main Street USA by creating a dynamic big box retail entity that effectively replaced your local hardware, sporting goods, clothing, fabric, appliance, stationery, toy, dry goods, pet and you name it stores.

His work was revolutionary, highly profitable and controversial. Worshipped by some and cussed by many, Sam Walton became the be all and end all to the world of retail. He created a concept that would last forever, or did he?

Just when it appeared that Walmart would become the most dominant and powerful business in the world, along came a diminutive young man named Jeff Bezos and a quaint online bookseller named Amazon. While Walmart brought gale force winds to the retail world, Amazon brought five hurricanes tied together with a trio of tornados. Just as Sam Walton before him, Bezos and Amazon found themselves worshipped and reviled by nearly equal numbers. Such is the life of a disruptor.

I believe that President Trump will be viewed by history as a disruptor and not just because he is scorned by such a large percent of the American people and much of the world. He will be viewed as the proverbial bull in the china shop that got things done at the same time that he crashed the aisles.

With President Trump’s time in office quickly coming to a close, it’s time to take a balanced look at the legacy of his time at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  It’s a mixed bag and deserves more than just knee jerk adulation or vile contempt.  

Let’s start at the beginning. Donald Trump was not an experienced politician when he entered the Republican presidential horse race in 2015. A few of the lessons that your normal politician learns on the way up from county council to presidential candidate are:  

1. Don’t argue and fight with people who buy their ink in a barrel.  

2.  Don’t criticize former office holders from your party because everyone has their friends.  

3.  Don’t make fun of a person’s appearance, disability or mannerisms.  

4.  Make more friends than enemies.
Unfortunately, in the rough and tumble world of New York commercial real estate and in the cloistered world of a sheltered childhood and hallowed halls of a billionaire’s Park Avenue penthouse, you just didn’t learn about all of the niceties of a civilized world. In a Trump world if you saw something stupid or someone who did something stupid, you let them,  their friends and the New York Times know that they were stupid. In business, this brash, take-no-prisoners approach rarely blew up in your face. In politics, Karma is a bitch!

It is always a tricky business trashing your opponents just enough to get the nomination without alienating them and their supporters beyond redemption.  It is a delicate high wire balancing act that has been practiced since the beginning of democracy. Let’s face it, before democracy, you could just whack your opponent’s head off, hold it up for the crowd to see and that generally brought the people over to your side. Democracy guaranteed that you would cross paths with many of your former opponents again and again.

In the 2016 presidential primaries, Donald Trump resorted to a hodgepodge of childish name calling, attacks on a person’s appearance and dismissed many opponents by calling them liars, losers or idiots. My guess is that if there is one insult or slur that Trump used that he would like to take back, it would be the sickening attack on Sen. John McCain. I don’t care whether you like John McCain or not, you simply do not impugn a man who was shot out of the sky by a missile over Hanoi, then beaten and tortured for nearly seven years in a North Vietnamese prison. You do not question his heroism or honor. Trump did both and continually paid the price for it.

The facts of life of a 16-candidate primary dictate that a candidate can win the lion’s share of delegates with solid backing of 25% of the voters. Trump realized that by playing to the fears, dislikes and prejudices of the far right wing of the Republican Party and to those who had never engaged in politics, he could form an unstoppable coalition and pile up enough delegates before any effective stop-Trump effort might coalesce. He was correct and demolished his opposition in a staggeringly effective manner.
Donald Trump was able to unify most of the Republican Party using the siren call of defeating “Crooked Hillary.” While there were a few “Never Trumpers” who were willing to go public in the summer of 2016, most laid low with the smug assumption that there was no way in this world or any other where Trump would be elected president. They were wrong. “Never Trumpers” and Democrats alike were shocked at just how many disaffected Americans there were who were fed up with the status quo in government. They may have been shocked by their loss at the polls but they proved reluctant to take away any lessons from their defeat.

Celebrities, pundits, Democrat politicians, the media and the lunatic fringe quickly declared that Trump was not their president. Others took the rhetoric and transformed it into a relentless four-year coordinated campaign to delegitimize Trump’s victory and give full credit to the fallacy of a Russian cabal and conspiracy. This morphed into the trainwreck of a needless and ridiculous coup attempt called impeachment.

Something interesting happened along the way. The great disruptor and divider managed to achieve a significant number of accomplishments that are almost shocking in their scope. President Trump has nearly remade the judiciary by filling hundreds of federal court vacancies with conservatives. He nominated and got confirmed three conservative Supreme Court justices. Trump got tough with Canada, Mexico and China about trade inequities and in the process after verbal battle and the threat or implementation of tariffs began an amazing process of returning manufacturing jobs to the United States.  

Trump’s stimulus and tax plan was sweeping and comprehensive and made America more competitive around the world. Our corporate tax rates were moved closer to those of our competitors, repatriating massive amounts of capital back to the United States where it could be used to improve production, pay dividends and lead to the hiring of record numbers of new employees.  

Unemployment shrank to historically low levels and the rising tide of success lifted all boats. Black, Hispanic and youth unemployment rates dropped to their lowest levels in history. Personal incomes rose dramatically and the United States, once again, returned to its status as the economic behemoth of the world. President Trump cut governmental red tape and stimulated innovation and productivity. He also opened up our energy industry and suddenly, the United States was completely energy independent.

For all the talk of Donald Trump being disrespected by foreign leaders and governments, loathed by some of our friends and mocked by many, the president achieved significant results in foreign policy. Trump withdrew the United States from the disastrous Paris Climate Accord that would have cost us thousands of manufacturing jobs. He abrogated the sham of a treaty with Iran governing the spread of nuclear weapons. He cajoled our NATO allies into spending billions of dollars more in support of their own defense each year. He moved our U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. He implemented a tough travel ban for people coming from terrorist states. He replaced NAFTA with an historic trade deal with Mexico and Canada. He leveraged Europe to admit more U.S. imports. Trump moved to block the export of critical technology to China.

Donald Trump also was able to achieve something that no president, Republican or Democrat, had been able to do by significantly expanding the number of Middle Eastern and Muslim countries who signed treaties with Israel, opening up airline flights and commerce. Although the mainstream media largely ignored this development, the cause of peace was significantly advanced by the work of President Trump.

It can truthfully be stated that Donald Trump achieved more in four years in office than most presidents have accomplished in two terms. Our military, foreign policy and economy are all stronger as a result of President Trump’s efforts.

There was a distinct dark side to the Trump presidency. Civility, respect and human decency were frequent casualties to his operational style. He went through cabinet secretaries and political appointments like a Steelers fan downing beers at a pre-game tailgate. Chug, chug. Smash the can on his head and throw the trash away for someone else to pick up.  

Plenty of exceptional and decent people were vilified, verbally pilloried and discarded with nothing more than a vile Twitter tweet. Trump’s ugly treatment of those who stood in his way will be his worst legacy and may have proven to be his ultimate undoing. You just don’t treat people like garbage and not expect some sort of payback. Trump received his payback in spades.

I will not live long enough and, possibly, no one reading this column will live long enough to see Donald Trump accurately evaluated by historians. It may never happen. So much of what he achieved economically has been swept away by the pandemic. When the economy rebounds as it is certainly going to do, there will be Joe Biden sitting in the Oval Office to take the credit and a compliant media ready to serve as his propaganda arm. You doubt this?  Remember that Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize before he even took office.  

The main characteristic of a disruptor is that they are confronted with an army of detractors who say that what the disruptor is trying to do just cannot be done. After the disruptor proves them wrong and wildly succeeds, he is faced with more than an ample supply of characters who claim that they were responsible for the success. This time will be no different.

The Trump presidency will be reduced to a few short paragraphs in a high school textbook and dwarfed by the chapters dedicated to the many wonderful achievements of Barack Obama and Joe Biden. In time, President Trump will historically reside somewhere near Calvin Coolidge and William Howard Taft, unsung, unloved and unmourned.

The greatest legacy of the presidential term of Donald Trump will be the death of truth and the death of an unbiased and fair press. Let us hope that who, what, when, where and why have not permanently faded into because.

Dunn is the former chairman of the Howard County Republican Party.