In his 2016 election night victory speech, Donald Trump pledged to be a president for all Americans, even those who did not support his bid for the White House.
“Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division — have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people,” Trump said after his surprise win over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
From the moment he took office, however, Trump showed little interest in healing the country. He actively stoked the flames of racial hatred and exploited the nation’s divisions for political gain, encouraging the rise of fringe elements and conspiracy theories that have proliferated through a Republican Party whose soul has changed in his image.
The country rejected that message this week, electing Democrat Joe Biden with the biggest popular vote of any candidate in history.
After Trump’s win in 2016, Democrats initially held out hope about reaching agreement with someone who, at least during that campaign, bucked traditional GOP orthodoxy on some issues, such as infrastructure. They recognized Trump had an opportunity to bring recalcitrant GOP lawmakers and their voters on board and prove himself to be the great “deal-maker” he repeatedly hyped himself up to be.
“He just wasn’t interested in that at all,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told HuffPost of Trump’s willingness to reach bipartisan agreement. “It surprised me.”
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said he was disappointed in Trump’s failure to push through an infrastructure package, one of his biggest campaign promises.
“I thought he would use the opportunity to try to help rebuild the country,” Casey said.
Instead, Trump governed like the president of the red states of America, currying favor to traditionally GOP and battleground states that would help determine his reelection. He whipped up his supporters into a frenzy with a torrent of grievances. He shielded his allies from prosecution and jail time with pardons and commutations. And he doled out hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to farmers in rural parts of the country ― once derided by conservatives as government bailouts ― in response to the trade war he started with China.
Blue states ― and their elected representatives ― got a different treatment. He regularly demeaned and targeted them with attacks and policies designed to punish their constituents. He threatened to withhold federal funding from U.S. cities he deemed “anarchist jurisdictions” or so-called “sanctuary cities.” He relished taunting and brawling with top congressional Democrats, and then gave up speaking to them entirely.
Even largely performative Washington traditions went out the window. For example, few if any elected Democrats received invites to official bill signing events at the White House ― even when the bills had broad bipartisan support in Congress. The People’s House itself was turned into a prop for Trump’s reelection in campaign ads and at the Republican National Convention in August.
If you were for Trump, he loved you. If you disagreed with him, you were the enemy. There was no middle ground ― and it applied to members of both parties.
Even when Trump enacted policies designed to help all Americans, he did it with an eye toward his reelection. When Congress issued $1,200 checks to Americans suffering from the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, he demanded that his name be printed on the checks, an obvious campaign ploy.
In September of this year, as polls showed him lagging behind Biden among voters over the age of 65, Trump promised to send $200 discount cards to more than 30 million older Americans before the election to offset the costs of prescription drugs. The blatant scheme, which would be funded directly by the Medicare trust fund, has yet to materialize.
His one truly bipartisan legislative accomplishment ― the First Step Act, a sweeping criminal justice reform measure ― was more of a product of negotiations between his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and a group of bipartisan lawmakers in Congress who had long been pushing for it. While Trump’s administration regularly touted the law as one of his biggest victories, the president himself didn’t appear sold on it because he thought it would harm his reelection, which emphasized a tough-on-crime message.
“He’s really mad that he did it. He’s saying that he’s furious at Jared because Jared is telling him he’s going to get all these votes of all these felons,” a person close to the president told Politico last year after the law passed.
Earlier this year, Trump sent federal police to interfere in matters within local officials’ jurisdictions. His Department of Justice also ended policies that were intended to reduce harsh criminal sentencing.
Trump’s image problems are a big reason why he struggled against Biden in key voting blocs, including among women, minorities and older Americans. In October, 66% of U.S. adults viewed the former vice president as likable, while only 36% said the same about Trump, according to a Gallup poll. Americans were also more likely to perceive Biden as caring about the needs of people like them as opposed to Trump, with Biden edging the president among independent voters 55% to 38%.
Biden addressed Trump’s presidency directly in his closing message to voters at a campaign stop shortly before Election Day, repeating a line made famous by his former boss, Barack Obama.
“I’m running as a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American president for everybody,” Biden said in Philadelphia. “I will work as hard for those who don’t support me as those who do support me. I mean it. That’s the job of a president. The duty to care, the duty to care for everyone. And in President Biden’s America, there will be no red states or blue states. There will only be the United States of America.”