It appears Trump’s revolutionary movement and radical words have been coopted by official Washington in fewer than 100 days. A man who ran on the ideas and themes of Pat Buchanan has quickly morphed into Marco Rubio or, even worse, Jeb! These men, decent standard-issue GOP politicians, stand for what is becoming almost a caricature, the chief goals of the Republican establishment, which consists of roughly of two things: (1) the interests of the business community, chiefly in lower taxes, cheap labor, and made-to-order regulations and (2) the bellicose pseudo-nationalism of the neoconservative wing of the party.
We saw this with George W, who ran on a platform of foreign policy “humility” and soon decided the way to respond to an attack from a stateless group based in Afghanistan was to attack Iraq and transform it into a democracy.
We saw it during his presidency as well in the giveaways to Wall Street in the form of low interest rates, high immigration, and reduced regulation. While a few symbolic bones were thrown to the “religious right,” little really happened to reverse the decline of standards in the culture.
And we saw this same basic platform in the candidacies of McCain, who emphasized the foreign policy wing right when it was going out of fashion, and Romney, who represented the business wing and came from it, but never seemed to connect low taxes to the good of workers. The workers rightly see their challenges increasingly coming in the form of competition from low wage foreigners at home and abroad, which leads to low wages and stagnation.
Trump’s nationalist message resonated. I’ve argued the trade piece was central to his victory, which was won in contested and previously Democratic-stronghold states in the Midwest. His immigration position also, while anathema to Washington, proved very popular in Middle America. Finally, I believe he’ll soon find if we’re embroiled in a real, prolonged, and deadly shooting war in either Syria or North Korea, that Americans view their foreign policy as a means to a prosaic end, namely their own safety and security.
What do we have instead? When not being buffeted by over-reaching federal judges, the GOP itself is balking at the Border Wall, something that is immensely popular everywhere but DC. We hear the next big push will be tax cuts. I’m all for the same, but without spending cuts and jobs, it may do little to help the working class that above all needs the dignity of work on which they can support their families.
The Obamacare replacement appeared more than anything a giveaway to insurance companies, and there seems little appreciation for the difficulty of undoing this expensive system with winners and losers, nor a recognition that the key to health reform is transparency in pricing and an undoing of the equality between paying and non-paying patients.
And then there are the people being appointed. Politics is not just policy. Personnel is policy. That is, who implements the policy and helps decide strategy. Worringly, Trump’s lovey daughter, her Wall Street husband, many rich friends of Trump, and others who do not share the concerns of Trump’s voters are calling the shots.
While his defense and security team is talented, Flynn’s exclusion is worrisome, because the strategic vision at work now remains the same impossible and expensive and doomed-to-failure notion of “unipolarity” and “stability” that has prevailed since the End of the Cold War. And while much has been made about Bannon’s gruffness and falling status, his fall matters because he was the articulate and educated advocate for Trump’s often inarticulate, uneducated, and frustratingly voiceless white working class supporters. Trump promised to “be their voice” in his acceptance speech at the Republican convention. Bannon had at least something to do with translating that Trump into Trump’s campaign promises. and Candidate Trump appears, at least partially, to be the “Real Trump,” stretching back to his criticism of free trade and defense of the virtues of the law enforcement and military communities since the 1980s.
It is hard to resist the establishment forever, particularly when one comes from that world in many important respects. And it’s not fair to judge his presidency on the first 100 days, when some very good things like the Gorsuch and Sessions appointment have taken place, along with real steps taken against ridiculous “sanctuary cities” and the influx of refugees from terrorist lands. But aside from a few items, it increasingly looks like it may be a standard Republican presidency, and the Border Wall, the American First foreign policy, and much else may simply get stuck in the tar pit that is Washington DC, where the Republican members of that establishment are in many respects the problem as much as the Democrats.
This change of focus will very likely delight some of the #NeverTrump crowd in the Republican Party, if they are honest enough to notice the change. But it is not likely to be a winning formula politically, nor will it address the slow structural damage to the country: its disunity, fiscal indiscipline, proletarianization, rejection of limited government principles of its founding documents and much else. The nationalist Trump of the campaign and anyone who can do math should see that conservative politics and the American way of life are threatened by the demographic deluge. The Republicans seem to think they can get cheap labor, as if these people don’t vote, have families, live a certain way, and sometimes mean us harm. Democrats get it for obvious, self-interested reasons, because they’re creating a coalition of the have-nots, the new-comers, and the dependent. Perhaps they went a bridge too far with “Black Lives Matter” and “amnesty,” but if the land that gave us Ronald Reagan can become an expensive, alien, and increasingly incapable bastion in 30 or 40 years of inflowing foreigners, there’s little reason to think it can’t happen to the country as a whole.