Like it or not, Donald Trump just officially completed his transformation from billionaire businessman, reality TV star and old man yelling on Twitter to 45th president of the United States. And he didn’t even have to give up his other titles to do it.
There’s a lot to say about how this happened. Was it racism or economic anxiety? Sexism or anti-establishment rage? Out-of-touch liberals or a low-information electorate? An awful miscalculation by Hillary Clinton’s campaign or Russian hacking? The answer to all of these questions is yes.
If history is kind to Trump, however, he may be remembered best as a man who won by flouting political norms. His supporters revered his brash speaking style and off-the-cuff remarks, often mistaking candor for honesty. They said he was “telling it like it is,” even as Trump leaned on countless untruths and outright lies throughout the campaign. In November, one of his surrogates suggested that Trump had triumphed not just in the election but in his all-out war on facts.
“There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts,” said Scottie Nell Hughes, responding to baseless conspiracy theories claiming millions of people had illegally cast ballots in the election.
That is, fortunately, total bullshit. Trump may have shaken many people’s confidence in the power of objective truth over deception and ignorance. But facts still exist, and they still matter ― now more than ever.
So as we prepare for the next four (or however many) years, let’s all get a few facts straight. We may not all agree on the best way to deal with the realities below, but we should at least acknowledge they exist and demand the same of President Trump.
1. There has been no proven link between vaccines and autism.
Lots of people, including Trump himself, have expressed concern that routine vaccinations are leading to increased rates of autism in children. There is no factual basis for this belief.
But anti-vaxxers don’t need hard proof. Driven by a potent distrust in institutions, they allege that government agencies have colluded with Big Pharma to suppress evidence that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative once widely used in vaccines, is harmful to kids. Numerous large-scale scientific studies have found no evidence to support this conspiratorial claim, and have instead concluded that thimerosal is safe.
Much of the anti-vaxxer alarm has been based on a now-debunked 1998 study published by British surgeon Andrew Wakefield in The Lancet, a medical journal. His research purported to have found links between autism and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. But Wakefield was later accused of fabricating data after it was revealed that he’d been compensated by attorneys representing families suing MMR vaccine manufacturers. The Lancet retracted his study in 2010, and Britain’s General Medical Council later revoked his medical license.
It’s unclear whether Trump will take a fact-based approach on the issue of vaccines, however. Earlier this month, he met with vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who said that he’d been tapped to lead a new commission on “vaccine safety and scientific integrity.” The Trump campaign later said it hadn’t made any decisions about forming a commission. But Trump’s decision to seek input from Kennedy has already led to fears in the medical community ― and among reasonable people everywhere ― that the incoming president could be willing to ignore settled science and put the health of millions of American children at risk.
2. We still haven’t seen Trump’s tax returns, and the public does care.
Trump broke modern precedent by refusing to make this basic financial disclosure during his campaign. At a press conference last week, he suggested he won’t change his mind now that he’s in the White House. Trump has repeatedly pointed to an ongoing IRS audit as the reason he’s avoided releasing his tax documents, while also maintaining we’d find nothing in them if given the chance.
Ethics experts say nothing is preventing him from releasing his tax returns, and the filings could provide essential insight into his business dealings with Russia and other foreign nations, his use of various federal tax loopholes and his actual wealth. Maybe there really is nothing to see there. If that’s the case, many people would find value in at least knowing for sure that their president isn’t compromised in any way. Instead, Trump will face a persistent skepticism that is entirely his own doing.
And contrary to what Trump has claimed, this does bother the American public. Surveys have shown a majority of Americans believe it’s Trump’s responsibility to release his tax returns, though a Pew survey conducted earlier this month found that only 38 percent of Republicans still feel that way.
3. Trump will benefit financially from his company’s success while he serves as president.
Trump has rejected calls to sell his stake in his companies and put the proceeds from the sale into a blind trust for the duration of his presidency. Ethics experts have told HuffPost that this is the one surefire way Trump could address ethics issues surrounding the Trump Organization and its global hotel operations.
By ignoring these concerns, Trump is defying another presidential precedent: All of Trump’s modern predecessors divested from potential conflicts of interest or placed their holdings into the hands of an independent trustee before they assumed the office. Jimmy Carter handed off his peanut farm to an independent manager to avoid even the slightest appearance of a conflict of interest.
At Trump’s press conference earlier this month, his lawyer explained that while Trump wouldn’t separate himself from his business, he would “donate all profits from foreign government payments made to his hotels to the United States Treasury.” Those donations are tax deductible, however, and experts say this arrangement does nothing to guarantee that Trump’s bottom line won’t get a boost from his presidency.
4. Russian aggression has been ramping up, and it’s not a joke.
Golden shower jokes and “shirtless Vladimir Putin” on “Saturday Night Live” are fun and all, but it’s hard to laugh while watching a U.S. president gleefully prepare to cede ground to an autocrat intent on disrupting U.S. influence in the global arena.
In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine and seized part of its territory. It continues to support separatist rebels there who are linked to the downing of a commercial airliner that killed almost 300 people. Despite this, Trump promised in an interview last year that Putin is “not going to go into Ukraine.” He later attempted to clarify that he meant that if he became president, he would prevent further Russian incursions into the region. So far, however, Trump has seemed more interested in cozying up to Putin than in policing his actions.
This bromance could lead to wide-ranging policy changes in the coming months. Some will have immediate consequences. Trump must decide how to act in Syria, where Putin has aligned with President Bashar Assad in a bloody response to a peaceful uprising that has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths. If Trump dismisses the war crimes accusations lofted at Assad as an acceptable consequence of Syria and Russia’s fight against the so-called Islamic State group, the ongoing humanitarian crisis will likely continue and Syria will become even more fertile ground for terrorist recruitment.
Trump has also repeatedly criticized NATO, suggesting member nations bordering Russia need to “pay up” (which many of them already do) in order to get the assurances the treaty affords. A diminished U.S. commitment to NATO would leave Russia with a greater ability to bully former Soviet Union nations. While many in those countries favor closer cooperation with the West, Putin wants to keep them in Russia’s historic sphere of influence.
Trump and his Cabinet nominees have also refused to rule out rolling back the economic sanctions President Barack Obama recently announced in retaliation for Russian hacking surrounding the presidential election. Many people are uncomfortable with the idea that Trump would consider rewarding the regime that deliberately interfered in a U.S. election with the goal of helping him get elected.
5. The crime rate is still near historic lows.
Trump campaigned on a promise to bring “law and order” to the nation, which he said was being afflicted by rampant crime and violence. Recent crime data suggests the story isn’t so simple.
Murders and violent crime did rise substantially in a number of the largest U.S. cities last year, according to a study published in December, and those increases likely pushed an uptick in national rates for the second straight year. This growth comes after a decades-long downturn, during which the murder rate reached a low point in 2014. Furthermore, almost half of the 14 percent increase in murders in cities last year was attributable to Chicago alone, where more than 750 people were killed in 2016, up from 478 in 2015.
These preliminary figures are troubling, especially if the trajectory of the past two years continues. But it’s important to keep in mind that violent crime still remains near the bottom of the nation’s 30-year downward trend. The overall crime rate of major U.S. cities also tells a different story, with an increase of just 0.3 percent last year.
6. Immigrants are not to blame for our problems.
Trump launched his presidential campaign with a riff about Mexico supposedly “sending” illegal immigrants across the border to bring crime, drugs and rape to the U.S. It was an effective dog whistle, but a strange claim considering net migration from Mexico has remained below zero for several years, meaning more people have been crossing back into Mexico than into the U.S. illegally. The data also show that illegal border crossings have been at or near historic lows in the past few years, though crises in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have sparked a wave of migration, with Border Patrol reporting apprehensions of hundreds of thousands of families and unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the U.S.
But there’s a broader anti-immigrant tone to rhetoric like Trump’s. Many of his supporters have accused undocumented immigrants ― and in many cases, immigrants in general ― of committing crimes and taking jobs from Americans, while simultaneously branding them as a net drain on society.
Trump helped push this narrative during the election by campaigning with the families of victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. He’s followed up with a vow to deport 2 million to 3 million undocumented “criminals,” despite the fact that the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute estimates the total number of undocumented immigrants with criminal records at only 820,000 ― a figure that includes crimes as petty as traffic violations.
The tragedies among these cases appear to be outliers. Studies have shown that new immigrants — including those who are undocumented — are less or equally likely to commit crimes than their natural-born counterparts.
A separate report published last year found that immigrants had “little to no negative effects on overall wages and employment of native-born workers in the longer term.” It also concluded that while first-generation immigrants may initially cost governments more in services than they contribute in taxes, they make huge positive financial contributions by the second and third generation.
7. The unemployment rate is as low as it’s been in the past nine years.
The jobless rate dropped to 4.6 percent in November, reaching a nine-year low, before ticking up slightly to 4.7 percent in December. Other metrics suggest the job market is less robust ― for instance, the overall workforce participation rate is still below pre-recession levels. But the headline unemployment rate is pretty close to what economists consider “full employment,” the lowest level possible without triggering price inflation. Although many of Trump’s supporters have stressed that jobs should be his top priority, it may be difficult for him to deliver measurable progress on this metric.
Fortunately for Trump, he’s shown little regard for official unemployment numbers in the past, going so far as to create an alternate reality in which the jobless rate is actually above 40 percent. This strategy served him well during the campaign, when he sought to portray the U.S. economy as a disaster in need of fixing. Maybe he’ll take a different approach now that he’s inheriting a strong economy that has, by many indicators, largely recovered from the morass of the Great Recession. Or maybe he won’t. He’ll likely end up going with whichever one makes him look best.
8. Climate change is real.
This story dropped on Wednesday, two days before Trump’s inauguration.
Although Trump has dismissed climate change in the past as a Chinese-led hoax ― a claim he’s since slightly walked back ― neither he nor his Cabinet picks appear intent on championing the effort to cut carbon emissions and expand renewable energy sources. The officials preparing to take roles in Trump’s administration include literal oil barons, climate change skeptics and outright deniers who have maintained that the science isn’t clear on these issues or their causes.
2016 marked the 40th consecutive year of above-average global temperatures in more than a century of record keeping. The planet keeps getting hotter, Arctic sea ice keeps melting, glaciers keep retreating, oceans keep getting warmer and more acidic, sea levels keep rising and extreme weather events keep growing more common.
The scientific consensus on the cause of these changes is overwhelming: 97 percent of the scientists who have published articles on climate attribute it primarily to humans, who have pumped a truly astonishing amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. They also agree that world leaders need to take drastic steps to cut back on emissions and begin addressing this near-constant rise in global temperature before it’s too late.
9. The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has given health insurance to 20 million Americans.
Health care reform was a signature achievement of Obama’s presidency, and while the controversial law has had its fair share of detractors, it’s also produced tangible results. The ranks of the uninsured have dropped by 20 million since 2010, according to a report published by the Department of Health and Human Services last year, and the national uninsured rate is now the lowest ever recorded.
Obamacare isn’t perfect. Insurance premiums have risen for many Americans, in some cases substantially. Millions of others remain uninsured due to various gaps in coverage, made worse by Republican governors who have refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.
Trump and congressional Republicans have said the best way forward is to repeal the Affordable Care Act and pass a replacement, while keeping some elements of the coverage expansion in place for as long as four years. Although Trump vowed this month that the GOP would come up with a plan to provide “insurance for everybody,” neither he nor Republicans appear interested in actually pursuing that promise. The Congressional Budget Office painted a much more dire scenario of the likely consequences of the GOP’s plan, predicting that the first year of repeal would lead to 18 million people getting kicked off their health insurance as premiums increase dramatically.
A survey published this month also found that Obamacare is more popular now than it’s ever been. For the first time since the health care law’s passage, more Americans said they believe the measure is a good idea than a bad one.
10. Trump did not win the popular vote.
According to the final vote tally, 65,844,610 people cast ballots for Clinton, compared with 62,979,636 for Trump. Clinton’s popular vote win is purely symbolic, as Trump won the Electoral College vote 304-227. Clinton finished with the largest margin of victory in raw numbers for any presidential candidate who went on to lose the election. Contrary to Trump’s claims, there is no evidence that widespread voter fraud affected the vote totals.
Trump’s weaker performance in the popular vote doesn’t make him an illegitimate president, as some of his critics have suggested. But on the heels of the most divisive presidential campaign in modern history, it’s clear that Trump has his work cut out for him. Nearly 66 million people voted for Trump’s opponent, and many of them cast ballots not only in favor of Clinton but explicitly against Trump’s candidacy, which they saw as empowering racism, sexism and intolerance.
If Trump truly wants to be a president for all Americans, he’s going to have to take the concerns of his opponents into consideration. He cannot expect his opponents to simply shut up and blindly fall in line behind their new president just because he won.
11. Trump has the lowest approval rating of any modern president on Inauguration Day.
The president’s approval rating has trended downward since Election Day, and a poll released this week showed that 48 percent ― nearly half ― of Americans had a negative view of Trump as he prepared for his inauguration. Just 38 percent of Americans viewed him positively. Additionally, 52 percent said they disapproved of the way the president-elect handled his transition, compared with just 44 percent who approved. Other polls showed even lower approval ratings.
Those numbers are unprecedented in the modern era. The same poll, taken in early 2009, showed Obama with a 71 percent approval rating in the run-up to his first inauguration. Obama’s approval rating upon leaving office also hovered above Trump’s, in the mid-50s.
Watching Trump’s presidential honeymoon end before the actual nuptials may be cause for schadenfreude, but that’s not the point. These polls should remind Trump that he’s accountable to the American public and that his actions as president will have serious, often immediate, consequences. Instead, he’s chosen to reject the premise of approval polls entirely.
Although pollsters have admitted the deficiencies in polling around the 2016 presidential election, the biggest flaws appeared at the state level. National polling on issues like presidential approval tends to be more accurate than pre-election polls, because pollsters don’t have to deal with the challenge of identifying likely voters. And even if these recent approval polls were off by a few points, Trump is still beginning his presidency underwater.
If Trump refuses to heed public opinion and accept that it reflects the nation’s support for him as a leader, we’re going to have a rough couple of years ahead.