No pivot. Just a peeling away of the outer package
Greg Sargent explains how Trump's "populism" is shedding all of its economic components while leaving in place all the nativism and xenophobia.
It was always going to be this way. Trump is an imbecile. Did anyone really believe he could outmaneuver the plutocrats? That he had even the vaguest clue what he was talking about? That his promises were anything more than the hot air the drunk guy at the end of the bar spews at midnight?
Anyway, Sargent succinctly outlines all the ways in which this is coming to pass. It's pretty obvious.
Everyone in Washington is struggling to make sense of Donald Trump’s reversals on multiple issues. The Post reports that “establishment” Republicans are relieved to see him governing more as one of them, as evidenced by his new support for NATO and the Export-Import Bank. Meanwhile, the rising influence of Goldman Sachs banker Gary Cohn inside the administration has some discerning a more “moderate” and “centrist” Trump on various issues, such as our posture on trade with China, and others seeing the emergence of a “pragmatic” Trump.
But please — let’s not forget two really important storylines that continue to mark the Trump presidency, both of which are damaging the country. First, for all the talk about how Trump is backing off of Stephen K. Bannon’s “economic nationalism,” Trump remains fully committed to the policies that embody the nativist and xenophobic side of his nationalism. Second, for all the chatter about how Trump is suddenly getting more conventional, his serial shredding of our norms on ethics and transparency continues to run rampant.
The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Trump’s reversal on the value of the Export-Import Bank and on whether to label China a currency manipulator reflect a “growing reliance on former corporate executives in his White House — and business leaders outside of it.” Meanwhile, the Post reports that White House “moderates” aligned with Wall Street, such as Cohn and Jared Kushner, are “racking up successes in a battle over ideology and control” with the Bannon wing. This will be clear in the coming prioritization of tax reform.
But it has long been obvious that Trump was going to govern in ways that Wall Street aligned GOP elites are perfectly comfortable with. Trump’s agenda has long included elements that conventional conservative Republicans support: deregulation of Wall Street; a rollback of regulations to protect the environment and combat climate change; deep tax cuts for the rich and businesses. All of that has been underway or in the planning stages since the beginning.
Trump’s reversals on trade and Ex-Im should only be surprising if you took his economic populism seriously during the campaign. But there was never any grounds for thinking it amounted to anything concrete at all in policy terms. Trump blustered a lot about trade, but he never detailed an actual agenda on it, let alone one that would help workers. He talked tough about raising taxes for the rich before releasing a tax plan that would slash them dramatically.
Pundits told us for months that Trump’s economic nationalism represented a heterodox combination of hard-line immigration restrictionism and a decisive break with Paul Ryan’s Ayn Randian Republicanism on Keynesian spending and social insurance and the safety net. But the second half of that was always mostly nonsense, and all that’s happening now is that this is getting confirmed.
Bannonite populism supposedly held out the promise of massive infrastructure spending, but it looks more likely we’ll end up with a cronyist tax break and privatization scheme, not a genuine public expenditure. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney declined to say in a recent interview whether Trump would veto a bill that contains Ryanesque Medicare “reforms,” i.e., cuts. In other words, Ryanesque entitlement reform is alive as a real possibility. Meanwhile, on Obamacare, Trump continues to pursue a deal with conservatives on repeal, which means he is moving towards more deregulation, even as he remains fully committed to rolling back health coverage for 24 million people.
But the first half of the equation — the immigration restrictionism — remains fully in force on the level of policy. The administration continues to defend the travel ban in court and remains fully committed to building the Mexican wall. On deportations, the reign of fear is kicking in. Parents are yanking kids from day care out of fear of removal; longtime residents with no other offenses are getting deported; the administration continues to try to strong-arm sanctuary cities into enforcing the federal immigration crackdown. As ABC News reports this morning: “The deportation force looks like it’s coming together – just more quietly than anticipated.”
At the same time, as Matthew Yglesias points out, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is busily implementing a number of xenophobic and draconian policies, even as the Beltway press extols Trump’s “moderation”:
Over the course of the past few weeks, Sessions has indicated a desire to roll back civil rights oversight of abusive police departments, stampeded over states’ objections to immigration enforcement raids at courthouses, dropped efforts to improve forensic science, directed federal prosecutors to dedicate a larger share of their resources to deporting immigrants, launched a new crackdown on high-tech guest worker visas, and indicated a desire to bring back old-school “war on drugs” policies, including a stepped-up federal crackdown on marijuana use.
Wall Street and GOP elites may be glad to see Trump reverting to form on the issues that matter to them. But — while these elites would perhaps like to see immigration reform — how much do they really care about the ugly nativist stuff that’s proceeding under the radar? Meanwhile, the trips to Mar-a-Lago (which use the White House to enrich the Trump family) and the refusal to release Trump’s tax returns and show transparency about his finances (which allows untold other conflicts of interest to remain undetected) doesn’t appear to concern them too much, either. The “economic” nationalism is no longer operative (if it ever was), but the ethno-nationalism and the corruption are running as strong as ever.
I hate to be the skunk at the Mar-a-lago buffet, but that's going to be fine with his voters. They may have come for the "jobs" talk but they stayed for the bigotry.