The arguments for/against Donald Trump as president have been well litigated over the past two years. Now that he has been in the job for 500 days, these arguments have proven more or less on target.
Victor Davis Hansen summed up that Trump follows the Constitution "but sounds like a loudmouth from Queens." How true. I think more than George W. Bush, or Barack Obama, President Trump has not gone extra-constitutional. He has contracted the size of several major government agencies. He has rolled back thousands of pages of bureaucratic regulation. He has appointed a singularly qualified Constitution-loving jurist to the Supreme Court. He has followed the will of Congress without overriding it "with a pen and a phone."
These are things that President Obama regularly ignored. Where Obama used his tremendous media power and smooth-talking ability to keep the ball in everyone else's court (and get his cabinet to lie for him) to bend the world to his own will, Congress, the courts or the people be damned; Trump prefers the power of the tweet to distract, while using wholly Constitutional means to warp things to his own preferences.
Trump lies publicly and writ large. Obama lied behind the scenes and in coordinated propaganda campaigns. Trump leads with his own chin, and because he exposes the worst of the press, of Washington, and of himself, has the capacity to be great. He can negotiate with tyrants and allies alike. He can cause our allies to re-evaluate their own priorities by having them focus on his intransigence. He can disentangle the U.S. from various global commitments that gained very little to our interests. The Paris Accords, the Iran deal, were stunning examples of this.
And just a day or so away, Trump could bring the two Koreas out of war. Not that it will happen, but it could. And no matter how much "prestige" we grant the murderous tyrant Kim Jong-un in a meeting with the president, if it results in a less militarized Korean peninsula, and continued talk between the north and south, with a path to permanent peace, it's worth it. The "peace dividend" from this will be felt for decades and will save many thousands of lives. If it works.
But like any Greek tragedy, Trump has a fatal flaw, one that he shares with his new negotiating partner Kim. Trump is a cruel man. As a businessman, Trump occasionally made some heartfelt decisions to help others. He negotiated a mortgage deal to save a Georgia farm. He reportedly helped some sick kids by giving them access to his jet. But "charity" is not one of the things we associate with the co-author of "The Art of the Deal."
Trump doesn't spend hours writhing over how to attack those who attack him. He has an innate sense of how to make others suffer. He attacks them effortlessly. He fires people over Twitter. He sent Chris Christie packing "get in the plane and go home." Then after making Christie genuflect, he snatched the transition team from him (granted, Christie made a diaper-load of it all by himself) and froze the unpopular governor out of his administration.
Our president isn't just very good at making people feel shorter than the width of a dime, he's a maestro at it. It's really his most accomplished talent. It's how he makes his deals. He browbeats, insults, threatens, and ultimately, shames his adversaries to his own will. The man who can't be shamed is like the one-eyed man in a room full of blind men carrying guns. The only way to attack Trump is to go after him the way he goes after others--and very few can stomach that.
Unfortunately, the ones who can tend to be soulless despots and murderous dictators. Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un are three examples of people who can go toe-to-toe with Trump, with the tacit knowledge that Trump won't actually have his enemies rubbed out, but they will. Leaders who don't share the cruel streak, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron can only gape in mock wonder as the man spits venom at them.
Certainly, Merkel, Trudeau and Macron are wrong on many things, but they can't even debate the cruel man. They face the same debilitating futility that Trump's debate opponents felt. Certain leaders like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, besides benefitting from familial support, can deal with Trump from a practical, politics-as-war viewpoint. Just flatter him, agree where you can and shut up where you can't, and Trump is a very gracious and reasonable man. (Funny--we don't hear about the $10.4 billion U.S. trade deficit with Israel.)
Obama might be politically sly, disingenuous, positively a rapist of the Constitution, and at heart a social propagandist of immense proportions, but he's not personally cruel. As cruel as Trump is, he was able to make Hillary Clinton seem more cruel by comparison. It may be because she is so casually cruel, and such a poor liar. Trump is an excellent liar, and covers up his lies with a phalanx of lies so thick that it makes the Navy's CWIS operators jealous.
Trump's cruelty vexes the press, annoys his associates, scrambles any possibility of coherence of the White House staff, and turns cabinet members into couch-seeking therapist patients. In the end, Trump's cruelty keeps him from greatness.
He might make deals that end the Korean War. He might obtain better trade agreements with our allies (or not!). He might continue to improve America's business environment to increase jobs and grow the economy. He might, by piece and parcel, dismantle much of Bannon's "administrative state." He might cost his party (titularly the GOP, but really it's the Trumplican Party now) both houses of Congress and start a slide at the state level to match Obama's 900-seat nosedive in the process.
It won't be because Trump hasn't advanced certain conservative causes. It won't be because he left the world safer than his predecessor (and cleaned up some of their worst messes). It will be because at heart, Trump's cruelty won't let him be great.
The saddest part of this, is that in his cruelty, Trump has caused many other aspects of American life (and political life) to also become cruel. If there's anything that is the opposite of MAGA, it's cruelty. This is why Trump is not Ronald Reagan, and can never be Ronald Reagan. In order to Make America Great Again™️, greatness must start in the heart. A cruel heart cannot be great, and those who aspire to share Trump's heart will be drawn to cruelty.
From our pulpits to our police officers, Trump's cruelty is making America cruel. And no matter what great things he does, if Trump can't change his cruel heart, that will be his lasting legacy.