Trump isn’t the polished gem many have come to expect a U.S. president to be. With that said, it’s unfair to consistently assume all his actions come from a place of bigotry and ignorance. This isn’t to say that Trump is a flawless savior who’s never acted wrongly or disgustingly. It’s instead an argument that many of the widely pronounced criticisms of Trump and his policies are based on assumptions of his motives that can’t be known and are therefore, wholly subjective. Even worse, those criticisms often stand in the place of a more fundamental and significant political debate.
For example, take Trump's passage of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act (TCJA) in December 2017. Opponents of Trump’s signature policy have argued the cuts were meant as a gift to the President’s wealthy friends and that the benefits wouldn’t be enjoyed by lower and middle-income earners. This interpretation could be true, but it seems to leave out a crucial piece of evidence. The conservative rationale for tax cuts is far more complex than making the rich richer. It lies in the idea that more money circulating within the economy produces a higher standard of living for all Americans.
According to multiple analyses, the TCJA lowered tax rates for every income bracket. While the higher earners received a higher after-taxation average tax cut, given the conservative belief in the benefits of supply-side economics, a higher tax cut for the rich doesn’t mean middle and low-income earners are being shortchanged. Maybe Trump’s concern wasn’t with making his friends richer, but instead, maybe he believes the best path forward for struggling Americans is through increased economic opportunity backed by a strong economy.
Similarly, Trump is often criticized for his decision to leave the Paris Agreement. He’s painted as an anti-science climate change denier who’s greatly endangered future generations through his isolationist and ideological act. The problem with this conclusion is it relies on the assumption that the Paris Agreement is a net-positive that’s worth the price America had pledged to pay, but it could be reasonable to argue it’s not.
An analysis of 2017’s world carbon emissions completed by the American Enterprise Institute found that among others, the E.U. Russia, India and China all increased their emissions while the U.S. — which departed the agreement in 2017 — reduced their emissions by the largest amount of any country. The non-binding agreement, honored by the U.S. but disregarded by other major players, may not serve the U.S.’ or the world’s greater interests. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement may not be an ideological commitment against climate change solutions but could very well be due to his aversion to bad deals that have little effect on the problem they seek to address.
Tax cuts and climate change aren’t the only areas where Trump is widely attacked on the motives others attribute to him and not the merits and reasoning of his actions directly. Attempting to halt immigration from majority Muslim countries, pressing for increased spending at the border and seeking to end the Russian collusion investigation are all instances where Trump’s motives were assumed and critisized, and yet, just as plausible — and much more generous — possible motives may exist.
This isn’t to say every action Trump takes should be measured in the best possible light, but rather, when his motives are unclear, it’s unfair to consistently assume the worst and go forward with certainty. America is facing serious ethical dilemmas on many fronts, and it’s unhelpful at best and suicidal at worst to ignore the debates at the core of the issues and settle for the less demanding path of impugning motives. Healthy debate — not dismissive chastising — is the correct path toward a unified and virtuous nation.
Connor McNulty is a senior english & political science double major. Contact Connor at email@example.com.