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OPINION

So much losing

Americans have long been obsessed with winning, but maybe we have finally learned that decency matters more.

Mexico didn't pay for this.
Mexico didn't pay for this.HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP via Getty Images

As a candidate for president, Donald Trump promised voters that his election would usher in an era of nonstop winning.

“We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with the winning,” Trump told supporters in September 2015.

It was a message he delivered throughout the campaign.

“We’re going to win so much,” he declared at a Montana rally in 2016. “We’re going to win at trade, we’re going to win at the border. We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning. . . . And I’m going to say ‘I’m sorry, but we’re going to keep winning, winning, winning.’”

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He was wrong. In his four years as president, Trump did put important wins on the board — tax reform, judicial confirmations, the crippling of ISIS, significant deregulation, and Middle East peace accords. But the winning that occurred on Trump’s watch was dwarfed by all the losing.

To begin with, there were the electoral losses. When Trump took office, his party controlled both houses of Congress. But in the 2018 midterms Republicans lost 41 House seats, along with their majority, as dozens of Trump-endorsed candidates went down to defeat. In 2020, the “winning, winning, winning” president lost his bid for reelection by solid majorities in both the popular vote and the Electoral College. For two months following the election, Trump’s lawyers filed a torrent of lawsuits challenging the outcome; they lost every one. Last week the two candidates he supported in the Georgia Senate runoffs were also defeated. When Trump leaves office, the White House and both houses of Congress will be in Democratic hands.

Then there were the policy losses.

Trump campaigned as an immigration hardliner who would build “a great, great wall on our southern border” that Mexico would pay for. But only a sliver of Trump’s proposed 1,000-mile wall was ever built — just 15 miles of barrier where none existed before. Most of the costs were borne by the Defense Department; none were paid by Mexico.

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Trump lost on Obamacare, too. Scores of times he vowed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The penalty on individuals who don’t buy health insurance was scrapped, but otherwise Obamacare remains in force to this day.

Nor was there a victory in Trump’s trade wars, which he had boasted would prove “easy to win.” The tariffs he imposed on foreign goods saddled American households with higher prices and ended up reducing US exports. Trump swore he would slash America’s trade deficit; instead, it grew bigger than ever.

Trump’s years in power have been replete with ideological losses as well.

Many presidents successfully use the “bully pulpit” to build support for their values and priorities. But Trump has managed to turn Americans against pretty much every position he promotes. “On nearly every major policy issue,” as Catherine Rampell observed in The Washington Post, “he has pushed the country . . . in the opposite direction of whatever his own stance is.”

The more Trump fulminated against immigrants, for example, the more pro-immigration the public has become: According to Gallup, 77 percent of Americans now say immigration is good for the country, the highest level in decades. Though Trump has sharply curtailed the number of refugees admitted into the United States, the share of Americans who consider refugee admissions a priority has leapt from 62 percent in 2016 to 73 percent today.

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Trump has likewise driven up support for Obamacare. In 2016, a plurality of Americans disapproved of the law; today a majority of the public regard it favorably. The same is true on trade. After four years of Trumpian trade wars, American support for free trade is higher than it has been in decades. And while Trump spent much of 2020 railing against voting by mail, three-quarters of the public came around to supporting it. Conversely, the more Trump has expressed support for the Confederate flag and monuments to the Confederacy, the more Americans have said they should be removed.

Trump’s presidency has been marked by an unparalleled variety of losing. He purported to be a law-and-order president but had no idea how to react to the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the wave of looting and riots, or the sharp spike in homicides nationwide. He offered himself as a gifted manager but proved to be the opposite, with his appointees quitting or being fired with astonishing frequency. More than 360,000 American lives have been lost to the coronavirus pandemic he handled so ineptly — and he himself ended up in the hospital. And while the popularity of every president goes up and down, a majority of Americans have never approved of how Trump handled the job of president.

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Saddest of all, perhaps, is that someone whose slogan was “Make America Great Again” presided over a historic loss of respect for America around the world. In numerous countries, reported the Pew Center late last year, the percentage of people with a favorable view of the United States had fallen to an all-time low. If anything, America’s image has sunk even lower since Wednesday, when a Trump-incited mob stormed the Capitol in a violent attempt to override the results of the 2020 election.

One way or another, Trump will soon be gone. But the losses inflicted by the 45th president will not heal as quickly. Americans have traditionally been obsessed with winning, but maybe we have finally learned that decency matters more.

Jeff Jacoby can be reached at jeff.jacoby@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby. To subscribe to Arguable, his weekly newsletter, visit bitly.com/Arguable.