Which presidents donated their salary

Since the beginning of November, a kind of chain letter has been spreading on social networks, in which claims are made about how much positive Donald Trump had achieved during his presidency. The text refers to the fact that Donald Trump has been referred to as a "clown" or "buffoon" by various people in the past, and highlights what this "clown" has already achieved.

It's about international conflicts and relationships, defense, economics, taxes, corruption - and Trump's salary. The chain letter was shared several thousand times on Facebook, for example here, here or here.

We have checked the most important of the assertions made and had them classified by experts. Almost all of them are wrong or leave out important context.

1st claim: Trump negotiated four peace agreements in the Middle East

The concrete formulation in the chain letter: "The Clown ’in the White House has just negotiated four Middle East peace deals, something that 71 years of political intervention and endless war have not produced.“ 

Evaluation: Partly wrong

The term "peace agreement" is misleading. Conflicts between Israel and various countries are referred to as the Middle East conflict; these tensions have existed for more than 70 years. Trump has presented a peace plan for the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. He advocated a two-state solution.

The plan does not correspond to a peace agreement, explains Tobias Fella to CORRECTIV. Fella is an expert on foreign and security policy with a focus on the USA. Fella worked for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES), the Hertie School of Governance and the Science and Politics Foundation (SWP).

He says Trump's Middle East plan was not coordinated with the Palestinian side. “Rather, a large part of his proposals were and are articulated by the Israeli government, which are not acceptable to the Palestinians. In this respect, no basis is created for a peaceful settlement, rather the emergence of a viable Palestinian state is counteracted, ”explains Fella.

For example, there was a peace agreement in the Middle East between Israel and Egypt in 1979 and between Israel and Jordan in 1994. "A real peace agreement with Lebanon and Syria would be possible, but neither is realistic at the moment," says Fella.

The other three agreements that Donald Trump brokered concern Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain (September 2020) and Israel and Sudan (October 2020), respectively. In fact, the three agreements are also referred to in the media as “peace agreements” (here and here).

However, Fella declares that these are "normalization agreements" and not peace agreements, as these countries "were not at 'war' with Israel". And further: "They are about the establishment of official diplomatic relations that did not exist before." In any case, one should classify the agreements primarily as the US response to an Iranian expansion policy in the region since the Arab Spring, says the US expert.

Claim 2: Trump is the first president since Eisenhower who has not embroiled the US in a war abroad

The concrete formulation in the chain letter reads: "The 'Buffoon' in the White House is the first president who has not embroiled the US in a foreign war since Eisenhower.“ 

Rating: Wrong

In total, the USA has formally declared war declarations through the US Congress in five conflicts against eleven countries. These declarations of war were:

  • 1812 at Great Britain / British-American War
  • 1846 in Mexico / Mexican-American War
  • 1898 against Spain / Spanish-American War
  • 1917 to the German Reich and Austria-Hungary / First World War
  • 1941 first to Japan, then to the German Reich and Italy / Second World War
  • 1942 to Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania / Second World War

A formal declaration of war in the USA is generally pronounced by Congress in accordance with the constitution (Article 1, Paragraph 8). However, Fella explains, “In most conflicts, the president gets one 'Authorization of Military Force'“. 

A formal US declaration of war on other countries has not been made since World War II, but some presidents received authorization from Congress to intervene militarily: Dwight D. Eisenhower received one from Congress in 1957 to intervene in tensions in the Middle East. The next authorization was for the Vietnam War for Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Then for Ronald Reagan in 1983 in Lebanon, in 1991 for George Bush Senior in the Gulf War, in 2001 for George Bush Junior for the "War on Terror", and in 2002 for the Iraq War .

Thus, in theory, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Donald Trump would not be on the list of presidents waging new wars authorized by Congress in one way or another.

However, Fella explains that there were military conflicts and violence abroad under some of these presidents. The USA under Kennedy took part in the failed invasion of Cuba in the Bay of Pigs, but this was never declared a war. Nixon did not start a war, but ruled the Vietnam War from 1969 and bombed Cambodia and Laos in the process.

Clinton also intervened as part of a NATO mission in the Kosovo war. The same applies to Obama with regard to the Libyan civil war in 2011. Fella: “Under Obama, the US intervened in 2011 to enforce a UN Security Council resolution in Libya. The President fended off criticism of a lack of legitimation by Congress by referring to executive privileges. "

The statement in the chain letter is still wrong, because besides Trump, since Eisenhower (who ruled until 1961), Presidents Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Gerald Ford (1974-1977) and Richard Nixon (1969-1974) did not start any new wars or military conflicts abroad.

As for Trump, according to research by journalists, for example, he has expanded the strategy of drone strikes that began under Obama in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia. The budget for drone programs also increased during Trump's presidency. And in 2019 he withdrew a decree that had come into force under Obama and provided for the number of civilian victims of drone attacks to be published on a regular basis.

Claim 3: Under Trump, new jobs have been created and unemployment among blacks and Latinos has fallen

The concrete formulation in the chain letter: "The 'clown' in the White House had the greatest impact on the economy, created jobs and reduced the unemployment of black and Latino populations caused by another president."

Evaluation: Lack of context

Before the corona pandemic, in Donald Trump's first three years in office, the economy grew loudly BBC an average of 2.5 percent per year. By way of comparison and assuming that “another president” means his predecessor Barack Obama: In the last three years of Obama’s office, the economy grew by an average of 2.3 percent.

In addition, the US was loud before the pandemic BBC at 3.5 percent, the lowest unemployment rate in more than 50 years. In the three years before the pandemic, 6.4 million new jobs were created under Trump, but the number was seven million in Obama's last three years.

As for unemployment among the black population, come on BBC concluded that it actually fell at an historic rate during Trump's presidency, to 5.5 percent in September 2019. This is the lowest value since the US Department of Labor began collecting data in the United States 1970s. However, unemployment in the black population has been rising again since the beginning of the pandemic, in August 2020 it was loud BBC at 13 percent.

In addition, the unemployment rate began to decline among the black population under Obama, as for example the fact checkers of AP have researched. Unemployment had already fallen during Obama's tenure after the economic crisis from 16.8 percent in March 2010 to 7.8 percent in January 2017.

Unemployment among the Latino population also started loud AP already fell during Obama's tenure and then reached its lowest value under Trump, with 3.9 percent in September 2019. However, unemployment in the Latino population rose again massively during the Corona crisis: In April 2020 it was 18, 5 percent.

Claim 4: Trump exposed corruption in the FBI, CIA and NSA and the Republicans and Democrats

The concrete formulation: "The Buffoon ’in the White House exposed deep, widespread, and longstanding corruption in the FBI, CIA, NSA, and Republican and Democratic parties.“ 

Rating: Unused

According to media reports, Trump repeatedly speaks of wanting to fight the so-called "Deep State". Behind this is a conspiracy myth that has been spread in connection with Donald Trump since at least 2017. In short, “Deep State” stands for the claim that there is a state within the state, according to which secret services, military and bureaucrats have conspired to impose their will on democratically elected politicians.

For years, some Republicans, such as theNew York Times reports that the claim that former US President Barack Obama leads this "deep state" in the USA and that Trump faces a "hostile system". Trump himself uses this term again and again, also currently in connection with the corona pandemic. According to the Americanist Michael Butter, supporters of the QAnon movement also believe in this conspiracy narrative, which was spread in other varieties even before Trump's term in office. Members of the movement are convinced that Q, an alleged government employee with access to classified information, is passing on the signals that Trump is sending out in his fight against the "Deep State".

Our research did not find reports that Trump during his tenure "uncovered" proven cases of corruption in the named authorities (CIA or FBI), the Democrats or his own party, the Republicans. During the election campaign, however, Trump accused Joe Biden and his son of corruption over Ukraine. And Trump himself is accused by critics and former officials of the CIA and FBI of being corrupt.

5. Claim: Trump made sure that NATO members pay their "fees"

The concrete formulation: "The Buffoon ′ in the White House turned NATO around and let the Allies start paying their dues.“ 

Evaluation: Partly wrong

Donald Trump criticized other NATO countries such as Germany for not meeting the Alliance's targets for defense spending. The USA originally paid more into NATO's direct budget than any other country (22.1 percent). In 2019, the sharing of community costs was changed under pressure from Trump, so that the US should pay as much as Germany from 2021 (about 16.35 percent of the budget). Germany pays around 14.8 percent so far.

As early as 2014 - before Trump's term in office - the NATO states anchored at a summit in Wales that the Allies would commit to spending two percent of their GDP on defense by 2024. The term “fees” is wrong for this, however, as this money does not go directly to NATO, but is invested in defense in every country.

From a legal point of view, this deadline is also soft, explains USA expert Fella: States that do not achieve the targets by 2024 should approach the requirements. "Many defense budgets for NATO countries have increased since 2014 - before Trump took office - but many are far from two percent." This can be read, for example, in a study by the Science and Politics Foundation (SWP) from November 2019 (page 26 and 27) or in a NATO report from March 2019 (page 2).

Germany wanted to meet a target of 1.5 percent by 2024, as Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech in November 2019 in the general debate of the German Bundestag. According to forecasts, Germany’s defense spending in 2020 will be 1.57 percent of GDP. The sharp increase in the rate can be explained primarily by the economic slump caused by the Corona crisis, writes the mirror. "I wouldn't say that Trump‘ made ’payments. But he put the topic on the agenda even more, ”says Fella.

Claim 6: Trump stopped North Korea from nuclear upgrading, sending missiles to Japan and threatening the US

The concrete formulation: "The Clown ’in the White House neutralized the North Koreans, prevented them from developing another nuclear power plant, sending missiles to Japan and threatening the west coast of the US.“ 

Assessment: Mostly wrong

In June 2019, Donald Trump became the first incumbent US President to set foot on North Korean soil and met with ruler Kim Jong Un. Overall, it was the third meeting between the two heads of state. That should be seen as a diplomatic success for Trump. At an initial meeting in Singapore in June 2018, North Korea agreed to work towards denuclearization. However, another summit in Hanoi failed because the positions of the two sides had not converged.

From December 2017 to April 2019 there was a missile test break in North Korea. However, North Korea's rhetoric has tightened again due to the lack of success in negotiations, says Fella. “State media asserted Pyongyang's will to further develop the tactical and strategic arsenal as long as the US continues its sanctions and alliance policy. In this respect, the above statement represents a simplification of the situation. "

Pyongyang “conducted five ballistic missile tests and seven military exercises between late February and mid-April 2020. The North Korean regime is once again demonstrating its capabilities and determination to further develop nuclear delivery systems, ”said an article by the Science and Politics Foundation (SWP) from May 2020.

When asked by CORRECTIV, Elisabeth Suh, an expert on security policy at the SWP, explains: North Korea is continuing to build nuclear weapons. Short-range missiles would continue to be tested, and a new submarine would probably also be built to launch ballistic missiles. Pyongyang also presented two new missile systems at a military parade. Satellite images also show that uranium mining and enrichment are continuing.

The only thing that has changed is that North Korea is no longer testing ICBMs. "That has been the case since November 2017 and could (causality discussed here) be related to North Korean plans or preparations for a Kim Trump summit diplomacy," says Suh. The expert also emphasizes: “North Korea continues to threaten the USA, including the American troops in South Korea. Stopping nuclear tests and ICBM tests will not change that. "

Claiming that Trump prevented North Korea from “sending missiles to Japan” makes no sense, Suh explains in her email: “In North Korea's missile tests in 2016 and 2017, most missiles landed in the sea off Japan. Those who flew over Japan set off alarm levels and thus received a lot of media attention. ”According to media reports, North Korea also fired projectiles into the Sea of ​​Japan in 2019, apparently as a provocation against the USA.

7. Claim: Trump "transformed" relations with China and brought hundreds of companies back to the US

The concrete formulation: "The Clown ′ in the White House transformed relations with the Chinese, brought hundreds of businesses back to the US and revitalized the economy.“ 

Evaluation: Partly wrong

The formulation of this section in the chain letter is somewhat ambiguous. It is not clear whether it is meant that Trump has improved relations with China. This is not the case: "Relations between China and the US are worse than they have been for 40 years," he wrote Deutschlandfunk in October 2020. In May of this year, Trump threatened China with breaking ties, according to media reports.

USA expert Fella also says: “Under Trump, relations with China functioned according to the logic of strategic competition. The People's Republic is seen as the number one challenger to the American superpower and treated accordingly.The goal of keeping the United States number one in the world is shared by Democrats and Republicans. ”Only in the means chosen to get there would they differ from one another.

The claim that Trump brought "hundreds of deals back to the US" presumably relates to Trump ordering US companies to leave China in August 2019, relying on a 1977 law called International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). According to media reports, many companies actually want to leave the People's Republic due to the trade dispute - but not all of them are relocating their production to the USA.

The claim could also be an allusion to Trump's claim in the presidential debate with Joe Biden in late September: “I have brought back 700,000 jobs. They didn't bring anything back. They gave up production. ”With“ they ”he was probably referring to the Democrats, Joe Biden and Barack Obama. However, this figure is an exaggeration.

According to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the US central bank, Trump created around 450,000 to 480,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector before the corona pandemic, as the fact checkers of Politifact and CNN researched. By August 2020, however, 237,000 jobs in the industry had been lost again during the corona pandemic.

When comparing it with the Obama administration, it should be borne in mind that it coincided with the economic crisis from 2007 and that it had to combat its consequences. Manufacturing employment fell loudly throughout Obama's tenure Politifact by 192,000 jobs. However, from the bottom of the recession in 2010 to the end of Obama's second term, 916,000 new jobs were created in the industry.

Claim 8: Trump has named three Supreme Court justices and 300 federal judges

The concrete formulation: "The White House "clown" has completed the appointment of three Supreme Court judges and nearly 300 federal judges.“ 

Assessment: Mostly correct

During his tenure, Trump named three judges to the US Supreme Court. According to US media reports, if everything goes according to Trump's plans, he will have appointed a total of 282 federal judges by the end of his term. A comparison to other US presidents can be found here. Obama, for example, appointed a total of 334 judges during his eight-year tenure.

9. Claim: Trump cut taxes and shifted the stock market to record highs

The concrete formulation: "The same 'clown' in the White House cut taxes [] and caused the stock market to shift over 100 times to record levels [].“ 

Evaluation: Lack of context

In 2017, Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a law designed to permanently lower taxes in the United States. Corporate taxes have been reduced from 35 to 21 percent. Critics warned that the law was a gift for large corporations, while proponents believed that the law would provide economic growth.

At the end of 2019, the mirrorthat the desired success did not materialize. The national debt of the USA reached a record level of 22 trillion US dollars for the 2018 fiscal year, and by the end of 2019 it rose to 22.8 trillion US dollars.

In the course of the corona pandemic, the situation worsened. “As of September 2020, he has added $ 6.7 trillion to debt since Obama's last budget. That's an increase of 33 percent, ”writes the US magazine The balance.

Under Trump, shares on the US stock market actually rose overall, according to experts. Critics note, however, that share prices are also rising because US companies are buying back more and more of their own shares due to Trump's tax reform. Overall, some industries and companies benefited from the stock market and from Trump's presidency, while others did not.

Claim 10: Trump exposed pedophilia in the government and Hollywood, as well as a worldwide sex trafficking in minors

The concrete formulation: "This White House clown ’exposed widespread pedophilia in the government and Hollywood, and exposed the worldwide sex trafficking in minors.“ 

Rating: Unused

There is also a conspiracy tale behind this claim. It's part of the QAnon narrative. Followers believe that a satanist elite of pedophiles ruled the world. This kidnaps children and wants to usurp world domination.

This claim and the statement that Trump exposed these machinations are unfounded. CORRECTIV has already shown in several fact checks that the theories of the mass kidnapping of children are based on incorrect assumptions (for example here, here and here).

11. Claim: Trump works for free as US President and lost $ 2 billion during the presidency

The concrete formulation: "The 'clown' in the White House works for free and has lost well over two billion dollars of his own money in the service […].“ 

Evaluation: Partly wrong

As President of the United States, Donald Trump earns an annual salary of US $ 400,000. Trump had already said in 2017 that he wanted to forego his salary and donate it instead. Because of criticism that presidents have to be paid for their work, he withholds one US dollar from his salary every year.

According to media reports and press releases from the White House, Trump donated $ 100,000 to various government agencies every quarter, such as USA Today summarized in a fact check. Before him, other wealthy US presidents also donated their salaries, such as John F. Kennedy and Herbert Hoover.

There is no evidence that Trump “lost two billion dollars in service”. According to media reports, he continues to benefit financially from his property. In November 2020, Trump's fortune was loud Forbesnet at $ 2.5 billion. During the corona pandemic, Trump's fortunes plummeted loudly Forbes by an estimated $ 1 billion.


Of the eleven statements in the chain letter, one is largely correct, and two are lacking context. Four claims are partially wrong, one is mostly wrong, and one is wrong. Two other pieces of information were unsubstantiated statements based on well-known conspiracy myths. Overall, Donald Trump's achievements are presented in an exaggerated and misleading way.

Editing: Alice Echtermann, Steffen Kutzner