Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Trumpism Without Trump

Betty Bronson in the 1924 version by Herbert Brenon of Peter Pan, with Virginia Brown Faire as Tinker Bell, via Raiders of the Lost Tumblr.

Shorter Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street ("The Pull of Populism"):
Crude and demogogic, haphazard, hypocritical, and often stupid, but you've got to hand it to the Trump administration, they're doing the right thing.
Which is, to be exact, getting the isms under control, with the "nationalism-infused deficit-financed populism" implementing the "Trumpian or George W. Bushian mix of cultural conservatism and economic populism", which sounds like an item from one of those farm-to-table restaurants (Champagne-braised leg of Long Island rabbit in a bath of fennel-infused truffle broth napped with ginger-cloudberry Ranch dressing) but "is in fact the natural basis for an American center-right majority".

Or in English, if you prefer, he thinks there's something there that might win elections, a composite new ism, and if there are any conservatives who don't like it they should shut up.

This pull exerted itself weakly but meaningfully on the tax bill, which was dominated by a corporate tax cut but also reshaped around the edges to cut more taxes for the middle class and families. It exerted itself a little more on Trump’s decision to replace Janet Yellen as Federal Reserve chairman with Jerome Powell, which amounted to a vote for a looser monetary policy rather than the hard-money approach that Republicans had consistently favored under Obama.
That's funny, considering the stock market lost ten percent of its value the day Powell assumed office, on the belief that he was more inflation-haunted than Yellen was and likely to push interest rates up faster than she would have done, had Trump been able to tolerate an Obama-appointed female in the post. Somebody has been misinformed.
And then on the budget that just passed Congress, Trumpism was more like a Death Star tractor beam, dragging the G.O.P. well away from all its professed Obama-era priorities: Gone was the sequester, gone was all the talk of cutting and capping and balancing, and instead we got a guns-and-butter budget that would have done Lyndon Johnson or George W. Bush proud.
I don't think LBJ would have been precisely proud of it. Of the $128 billion in domestic spending it added over a two-year period (compare $160 billion for the military), $80 billion or 62% is designated for hurricane and wildfire relief, a one-time expenditure that would have had to be appropriated anyway; only $48 billion goes into real raises, in budgets that haven't gone up since 2011, and while all of it is welcome, that's just a lot (to give you an idea of the proportion between what we got and what we need, $20 billion is earmarked for infrastructure, to pay for what everybody agrees should cost a trillion and a half). The Great Society it's not.

GWB, on the other hand, might well see something familiar in it, especially in that deficit tackking $300 billion on to the trillion-dollar plus price tax on the Trump tax bill, beckoning with an invitation to try privatizing Social Security or some other clever Republican trick. What it's doing for "populism" I don't know.

And famous populist Donald Trump complained about it too, not because it wasn't populist enough, but  because it didn't do all the slashing he asked Congress to do last year, as we see from the White House's own budget proposal issued on Monday:
Trump again wants to take a meat cleaver to the Environmental Protection Agency, chopping its budget by one-third. He’s asking Congress to scrap entirely community-development block grants and heating assistance for low-income housing. And he wants to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the national endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, and a slew of other independent agencies....
For good measure, Trump is proposing hundreds of billions in new cuts to Medicare, a program he vowed as a candidate to leave alone and which he generally laid off a year ago.
That whole thing is DOA, naturally, there's no reason for Congress to even look at it. Like South Korea, Congress has benefited in a slightly perverse way from the absence of a working president, regaining some of the autonomy it lost under the relentless negativity of Boehner-Ryan and McConnell, and it's learning that it doesn't have to be so concerned one way or the other about what the president thinks.

But it's crazy for the Monsignor to refer to what they've accomplished as "Trumpian" or "populist". It's Congress, Republicans and Democrats, reverting to something like the good old transactional style that's always sustained them, cozy and somewhat responsible to the constituents, as the Gold Bugs like Rand Paul rage, and that part of it isn't really a bad thing, but you can't say it's what Trump had in mind, if he had anything in mind at all
Combine this flood of spending with the Trump White House’s attempt to get a skills-based and restrictionist immigration reform through Congress, throw in some smaller ideas under consideration, like the Marco Rubio-Ivanka Trump paid parental leave plan, and you have a Year 2 of the Trump era in which Trumpism actually seems meaningful again. Not as a completely coherent agenda, obviously, but as a tendency...
I love that reference to Senator Ivanka there. She designed that parental leave plan the way she designs a perfume, by handing off the project to somebody who knows something about it and giving it a little sniff when there's a sample to check out. Also, the plan is a stalking horse attack on Social Security, as it turns out
Rubio told Politico this week that he plans to fund the program, which would offer six weeks of parental leave, using Social Security benefits, a new idea circulating in conservative circles. Under this system, workers would draw from their Social Security retirement benefits, delaying their benefits once they retire.
—and in this way designed to hurt women with less ample resources than the First Daughter and to draw down the resources of our Trust Fund.

Also I have a feeling Congress isn't going along (based on the interview of Sen. Doug Jones, D-AL, on NPR this morning) with the administration's immigration, balking at two of Trump's "pillars", the overturning of the family-integration system that accounts for most immigration to the US and of the diversity lottery that accounts for 5% of it. Trump is really pissed off, too, apparently, and ordering the legislators not to vote for the new bipartisan plan, but I'm hoping they're really starting to understand what an empty barrel he is:

As for Monsignor Douthat, I've got this sense he's succumbing to something like a Brooksian out-of-it-ness, as the Republican coalition collapses. Last week he was demanding that pornography should be banned. He probably thinks that's "populist" too. But his current fantasy of a Trumpism without Trump with lots of nourishing soup (but no cash) for the poors and no pornography or foreigners is a little sad. No amount of clapping, certainly, is going to bring it to life.

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