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Six months into President Trump's term, and the future is still uncertain

Jul 20, 2017

Hard to imagine, but man first walked on the moon exactly 48 years ago today. I think most of us thought we’d have had colonies there by now, but of course we don’t.

That was a long time ago, but here’s something you may find even harder to believe. Six months ago, we woke up in a nation where Barack Obama was still president.

Those days, in some ways, seem even more distant than Neil Armstrong’s one giant leap for mankind. Michigan voted for Donald Trump a little less than nine months ago, something as surprising as Trump’s victory in the overall election.

Presidents tend to do, or at least launch, whatever big domestic programs they have in the first months of their administration, while they still have something like a honeymoon.

Ronald Reagan, for example, got his massive tax cuts passed by Congress by the first week of August, despite Democrats having control of the House of Representatives and despite that Reagan himself had been shot and almost killed.

President Trump’s party solidly controls both houses of Congress, and its leaders seem eager to work with their president, but so far, he’s gotten essentially nothing major done. He has attempted to do something that would have a major effect on Michigan; his budget called for completely canceling the $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, something even conservatives said would be a disaster.

Fortunately, those funds have been restored by the House Appropriations Committee, at least for now.

There’s also no sign of the President making good on his promise to bring jobs back from Mexico and elsewhere. But my guess would be that most Michiganders who voted for Trump don’t regret it. Defying predictions, the stock market has been soaring. We learned yesterday that Michigan unemployment has fallen to 3.8%.

That’s astounding, when you consider it was more than 15% eight years ago, in the depths of the Great Recession. Democrats will say this is due to forces set in motion long before this administration took office, and on employment, they are largely right.

"Yeah, and I've got three of them to pay my bills."

But if Trump is getting undeserved praise, he’d be getting undeserved blame if the jobless rate had gone the other way. To some extent these numbers are misleading.

There are clear signs many people aren’t counted as unemployed because they have given up looking for work. Nor do most of today’s new jobs pay what manufacturing-era ones once did. Jim Hightower, the Texas populist, once said he mentioned an earlier increase in jobs to a server in a Michigan restaurant. She said, “Yeah, and I’ve got three of them to pay my bills.”

Meanwhile, badly needed infrastructure reform seems stalled at both the state and federal levels. We’re an eighth of the way through President Trump’s first term and more than halfway through Governor Snyder’s last one.

And our future still feels strangely on hold. What worries me most about the nation is this: for many years, both parties have observed certain norms. Clear, provable facts mattered and could sway debates. Congressional leaders respected presidents from their own party.

But when they disagreed, they weren’t afraid to say so. We don’t seem to be in that world anymore. My guess is that when the first major crisis comes, we’ll find out just what that means.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.