US election: The controversies that defined Donald Trump’s four years in office

It’s been a wild four years since Donald Trump first became US President and there’s been plenty of controversy.

As multiple US netowrks project that Democratic candidate Joe Biden has enough votes for victory, here’s a look back at the good, the bad and the ugly of Trump’s term in office.


In one of his first acts as US President, Trump unleashed chaos at airports around America after he signed an executive order banning people from Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from visiting the US for 90 days.

Trump denied it was a “Muslim ban” and said it was about terror and keeping America safe. But others pointed out that the ban did not apply to several Muslim-majority countries with well-documented problems with terrorism such as Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Indonesia and Afghanistan

Trump said the US would again issue visas to all countries once the government was sure it had reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days.

The move in January 2017 sparked mass protests around America and the world, including in Australia.

Court challenges saw the order overturned briefly but it was eventually backed by the US Supreme Court.

In the meantime, Trump fired the acting US Attorney General, who declared the immigration ban illegal, and replaced the acting head of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.


Donald Trump’s relationship with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un got off to a rocky start with the President referring to Kim as “rocket man” and the two trading barbs and threats of military action.

Trump has said that his predecessor Barack Obama had identified North Korea as the “biggest, most dangerous” problem he would face in office.

Veteran political journalist Bob Woodward, who is famous for his reporting on the Watergate scandal, revealed in his book Rage that the two countries came close to war after the President decided to take a less passive stance on North Korea.

Instead he went for “maximum pressure”, threatening Kim with “fire and fury” after North Korea successfully tested a missile in 2017 with the range to hit the US.

Kim asked for a personal meeting and the two leaders met in Singapore amid great fanfare, eventually agreeing to “work toward” the “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”.

A series of flattering letters Kim sent to Trump later emerged.

“I feel pleased to have formed good ties with such a powerful and pre-eminent statesman as Your Excellency,” Kim wrote to Trump.

Last year Trump was the first US president to step foot on North Korean soil after crossing the demarcation line during a second summit between the two leaders.

But since then the relationship seems to have cooled.

North Korea has continued to rattle its neighbours with missile tests and on June 15 this year, appeared to signal its hostility to cooperation by blowing up the Inter-Korean Liaison Office.

Pyongyang’s foreign minister Ri Yong-ho has since declared North Korea will revive its strategic goal to “build up a more reliable force to cope with the long-term military threats from the US”.


The world got a little too much information about Trump in 2018 when porn star and former stripper Stormy Daniels published a book about their 2006 affair.

Daniels infamously compared Trump’s penis to the mushroom character on Mario Kart but later said she regretted the description after it sparked ridicule and went viral.

“So I was very angry in writing that,” she told 60 Minutes. “I actually feel pretty terrible about it … in a way it’s body shaming.”

She allegedly received US$130,000 ($192,000) from Trump’s lawyer to prevent her from going public with the affair during the 2016 US election and was sued for the money after she went public in 2018.


A July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy sparked impeachment proceedings against the President in 2018.

During the call, the President asked his Ukrainian counterpart to do him a “favour” and investigate two things: a conspiracy theory concerning election interference, and the ties between the former vice-president Joe Biden, his son Hunter and the eastern European country.

Trump is accused of withholding millions of dollars in critical funding to the Ukraine in an alleged attempt to coerce Mr Zelenskiy to act.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives voted in December 2018 to impeach the President on charges of abuse of power, as well as obstructing Congress’s investigation.

But Trump was acquitted of both charges once the matter was considered by the Republican-dominated Senate.

On Article 1, for abuse of power, the Senate voted 52-48, with Republican senator Mitt Romney siding with the Democrats.

On Article 2, for obstruction of Congress, the Senate split along party lines at 53-47.


One of the most controversial acts of the Trump administration was its decision to separate children from their parents at the US-Mexico border.

Images of the children being kept in cages shocked the American public and the practice ended in 2018.

However, court documents released this year revealed the parents of more than 500 children have not been found and some of them may have been deported without being reunited.

Trump’s wife Melania also stirred controversy when she visited the border wearing a jacket saying “I really don’t care, do you?”.


Arguably the President’s most significant achievement, Trump oversaw the signing of a diplomatic pact between Israel, and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain earlier this year.

The bilateral agreements officially recognise Israel and were followed by an announcement that Sudan would also normalise relations with the Jewish state.

It prompted Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas to cut all ties with Israel and the United States, including security co-operation.

But the move saw Trump nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize this year for the third time, although he lost to the United Nation’s World Food Programme.

It comes after Trump officially recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 and declared his intention to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.


Trump’s presidency may also be remembered for overseeing the beginning of a new ‘cold war’ between America and China.

The President has highlighted the challenge posed by China’s rise more than any other leader and has shifted the narrative on China from strategic partner to “strategic competitor”.

In the face of China’s growing assertiveness, Trump has dispatched aircraft carrier strike groups to the disputed South China Sea and sent US destroyers through the area on freedom of navigation missions.

He has overseen an aggressive trade strategy that included commitments from Beijing to buy huge amounts of US crops. And early in his administration introduced steep tariffs on steel and aluminium imports to protect US producers, citing national security concerns.

Trump also intends to ban TikTok, pointing to its links with the Chinese government that could see user data obtained by Beijing. However, the ban which was due to begin on November 12 has been delayed by legal action.

Despite this, Trump’s tough stance on China may well be one of the most enduring legacies of his term.


One of Trump’s most outlandish promises was that he would build a wall between the US and Mexico, and that Mexico would pay for it.

Four years later, parts of the wall have been replaced but only 24km of new wall has been built, according to the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

When Trump took office, there was already about 1000km of barriers along the 3200km border.

More than 500km of replacement wall has also been built but Trump hasn’t made much progress in closing the gaps.

So far Mexico has also not contributed any money to it, it has been paid for by Americans.


In move that was described as “reckless and indefensible”, Trump withdrew the US from the Paris agreement on climate change.

It put the US at odds with 194 countries — including Australia — that signed up to the deal in 2015, which is designed to slow global warming and rising sea levels.

The move fulfilled Trump’s election promise to pull out of the pact, which he has described as a job killer.

However, Democrat nominee Joe Biden has said the US would rejoin the agreement if he was elected.

Trump was however successful in negotiating changes to NATO’s defence spending so that the US would pay less.

“It’s correct that we have now agreed a new formula for sharing those costs,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in December. “The US will pay less. Germany will pay more. So now the US and Germany will pay the same, roughly 16 per cent of NATO’s budget.”

However, Trump’s success was somewhat overshadowed by viral footage that appeared to show world leaders mocking him at the meeting.


Tensions have run high between the US and Iran after Donald Trump withdrew from former President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal in 2018.

In explaining his decision, Trump said there weren’t enough restrictions on the theocracy’s nuclear program and has since said Iran knows not to “f*** around with us”.

During his time as President, Trump has placed sanctions on Iran and in January ordered the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Iraq — an operation he has hailed for eliminating a “terrorist” leader.

In response, Iran issued an arrest warrant and asked Interpol for help in detaining Trump and dozens of others it believes carried out the killing, a local prosecutor reportedly said.

Interpol later said it wouldn’t consider Iran’s request, meaning Trump faces no danger of arrest.


One of the most enduring images of Donald Trump’s presidency may well be that of him standing outside St John’s Church in Washington DC after peaceful protesters were tear gassed and hit by police batons to clear a way for him.

The President was slammed for the move, which happened amid mass protests following the death of George Floyd. Floyd died after being filmed saying “I can’t breathe” while a police officer held a knee on his neck as onlookers pleaded for the officers to get off him.

The death saw the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests in more than 100 US cities.

Trump said that he was revolted by the video of George Floyd’s death and that justice would be served. But he has been criticised for advocating a “law and order” approach to dispersing protesters.

Pro-Trump supporters have also clashed with Black Lives Matter supporters during protests with deaths on both sides.

Trump has been criticised for defending 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot dead two Black Lives Matter protesters in August.

He has since called BLM protesters “horrible” and Black Lives Matter a “symbol of hate”.

During one of the presidential debates he failed to condemn white supremacists, telling members of the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by”.

Trump has tweeted — and then deleted — a video showing one of his supporters chanting “white power,” a racist slogan associated with white supremacists.

The President was also accused of supporting neo-Nazis in 2017 for his response after a white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia turned violent, saying there were “very fine people on both sides”. During the rally James Alex Fields Jr, 20 rammed his car into anti-racism protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and leaving dozens injured.


Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump looked likely to secure a second term as US President but his handling of the crisis turned his fortunes around.

Trump’s insistence on not wearing a mask and holding mass rallies despite health advice have drawn criticism and concern.

His critics have accused him of politicising the pandemic and putting people’s lives at risk.

The President has said the virus will simply “go away” despite the US recording almost 100,000 new cases in one day ahead of the election.

So far the virus has killed more than 230,000 people in America.

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