The Trump presidency lurches from crisis to self-made crisis. The Mueller investigation moves closer to putting the President himself in jeopardy. We seriously debate whether he is insane or sinister, or both. Yet no matter whether he is removed from office by impeachment or serves out his term, he has already put in place a fundamental change of course for this country, a shift that will take years, at best, to undo.
No matter whether he is removed from office by impeachment or serves out his term, he has already put in place a fundamental change of course for this country, a shift that will take years, at best, to undo.
The Chief Twit pursues his daily distractions, simultaneously reinforcing his base and driving the rest of us bonkers. But under the radar his cabinet officers are driving major reactionary changes in every field, from environmental policy to health care to immigration.
Frustrated at the failure to formally repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), Trump and his people seem determined to cripple it, without regard to how many millions lose their insurance. We seem to be on the verge of the first major legislative success of his presidency, a tax bill that all objective observers conclude will raise taxes on most people while reducing taxes on corporations and the rich.
The administration is quietly pushing judicial nominations through the Senate at a rapid rate, with the goal of dominating the federal judiciary for decades. In foreign policy Trump seems determined to multiply his enemies while alienating our traditional allies, risking war in both Korea and Iran.
We are in a hole and he is still digging. Even after his presidency ends, we will struggle mightily to escape this hole.
Trump has managed to reset the national agenda in a way that will last. American politics is characterized by long eras in which the major priorities are fairly constant. Franklin D. Roosevelt inaugurated the New Deal era, lasting into the 1970s, when the priority was to steadily increase the scope and coverage of protections afforded by federal and state laws. This was the era of Social Security, fair labor standards and minimum wages, subsidized homeownership (initially just for whites), and, later, the major civil rights laws of the 1960s, and the War on Poverty. The Environmental Protection Agency was also a product of this era, even though it was signed into law by Richard Nixon.
Conservative resistance to New Deal priorities began in the 1940s, came to prominence with Goldwater’s 1964 candidacy, and reached power with Ronald Reagan in 1980. The Reagan Era was marked by unrelenting pressure to roll back as much of the New Deal heritage as possible. Sometimes this was explicit, but since Reagan always had to deal with a Democratic Congress, more often the rollback took the form of changes of emphasis in administering laws. The key point was that priorities changed, from using government to provide needed services, to getting government out of the way of private enterprise. So even though Reagan’s concrete accomplishments were modest, he continued to inspire a generation of conservatives to keep up the struggle. Both Bush presidencies worked within the Reagan agenda. Neither Clinton nor Obama broke free of it: each managed to lose control of Congress after just two years in office.
Now we have Trump, who honors Reagan but is far more radical in the scope of his intentions. He is, to be sure, hampered by his own incompetence in managing the legislative process, but he and his administration are determined to fundamentally reorient this country in a white nationalist, anti-environmentalist, pro-Wall Street mode. To the extent they succeed, all the gains of the New Deal and Great Society era of the 1930s to the 1970s will be erased.
They will have made America Grate again.
It remains unclear whether progressives and Democrats will have the means to stop this radical reaction. We will need the kind of massive and coordinated uprising that the Right staged in 2010 and after, to block the progressive agenda of Obama. Can we pull that off?