Sunday, January 22, 2017

Don't call him a populist

Apparently they knew I was coming.

This is the Women's March in New York, to which some accommodating women (daughter and friend) brought me. Somebody said 200,000, together with 500,000 in Washington and some really humongous number in LA. The helpmeet had to go to work, but one of my sisters was at the Washington one, and another in a larger party in New York but much further uptown from where we were, so that we never managed to connect.

In fact there were tons of men, of course, some (not me!) managing to look very cool in pink pussy hats. We dutifully chanted, "Her body, her choice" in the responsory. For a while we marched behind a bit of an activist brass band, a wonderful phenomenon I remember from the leadup to the Iraq war, not necessarily very sophisticated from a musical point of view—only the sousaphone player had a clear sense of harmonic improvisation, and there was some weird repertoire choice, in which "Bei mir bist du shein" was the oddest. But in "You are my sunshine", heedless of its origin as a composition by Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis (1944-48, 1960-64), the crowd sang "You'll never know, dear/How much I love you/Please don't take/My health care away."

When I got home, the first-floor apartment door nearest the elevator was decorated with a poster from the march, and some anti–pussy-grabbing language—Melissa, rich youngish white mom, had apparently been there, maybe with her own teenage daughter, and pleased enough with herself for going that she wanted to advertise it to the rest of the building. That was a surprise of sorts. I know she's a Democrat, but hardly an activist. Trump's offended her so much that she needed to protest.

That's the blessing of Trump, maybe; that because he's so egregiously awful himself, he calls attention to the awfulness of the Republican agenda in a way nobody of mildly liberal sentiments can miss. He suggests it's OK to assault women! And so do all those mealy-mouthed southern Republicans like Jeff Sessions, if you give them a chance, only the public never noticed it before.

There's a certain amount of push from the thoughtful media to resist treating Trump as a Republican; he's not a "conservative" but a "populist". He's against free trade! (He has said, "I'm a free trader. The problem with free trade is, you need smart people representing you.") The Times reports his inaugural address in a tone of panic for what's happening to Republican tradition:

Inaugural Speech Dims G.O.P. Hopes for a More Conservative Trump Agenda


George W. Bush, January 2001:
Together we will reclaim America's schools before ignorance and apathy claim more young lives. We will reform Social Security and Medicare, sparing our children from struggles we have the power to prevent. And we will reduce taxes to recover the momentum of our economy and reward the effort and enterprise of working Americans.
Donald J. Trump, January 2017:
“Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families,” he said.
Bush's speech didn't mention trade or "foreign affairs", but did allude to the system of military alliances in which we've lived since World War II: "We will defend our allies and our interests. We will show purpose without arrogance. We will meet aggression and bad faith with resolve and strength." So does Trump's: "We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism". Trump didn't mention Social Security or Medicare at all.

Bush said of immigrants only that it was a good thing for them to adopt American values: "ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests, and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every child must be taught these principles. Every citizen must uphold them. And every immigrant, by embracing these ideals, makes our country more, not less, American." Trump's speech echoed Bush's in alleging that our school system creates ignorance: "an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge."

Oh, and neither Bush nor Trump said a word in their respective speeches about industrial or financial regulation. That, together with the insistence that their tax plans are for the benefit of the masses, is the tell. Inaugural speeches aren't about what the program is, they are about the advertising campaign.

If you want to know what Trump is planning—to the extent he's planning at all—don't look at his speech, look at his cabinet choices. Like George W. Bush (for those first six years before he managed to dump Cheney and Rumsfeld), he doesn't have much at all, on his own, but he has handlers helping out with the marketing. But it's the cabinet, in this case as much as 16 years ago, that tells what he has in mind, as Doyle McManus and many others have been letting us know:
With Trump, “you will have no idea each morning what’s going to happen,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said earlier, “because he will have no idea.”
Maybe. But if you watch what Trump does, not what he says — which at this point, mostly means the choices he makes for Cabinet positions — he doesn’t look unusual at all.
In Trump’s picks for economic and domestic policymaking jobs, there’s a consistent underlying thread. And no, it’s not that so many of them are billionaires. It's Republican orthodoxy.
Don't get distracted by embarrassed conservatives, and their stenographers at The Times, pretending it isn't.

Dag Hammarskold Plaza.

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