Tuesday, April 13, 2021

What Do We Owe to Trumpism?


Fender factory, Fullerton, CA, 1950s, via guitar.com.

Oh, please, Ross (Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, "What Bidenism Owes to Trumpism"):

Here’s a somewhat different, more provoking way of thinking: We should regard Bidenism, in its current outline, as an attempt to build on Donald Trump’s half-formed, never-finished policy agenda, in the way that elements of Jimmy Carter’s program found their fullest expression in Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

I’m borrowing this idea from the Bloomberg opinion columnist Karl W. Smith, who recently called Biden’s economic proposals “the coherent manifestation of MAGAism in the same way that Reaganism was a coherent manifestation of Carter-era deregulation.” But the analogy rests on more than just regulatory policy: Much of what we remember as the Reagan agenda was anticipated in Carter-era policies and debates.
For instance, the Reagan military buildup really began under Carter, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan: It was Carter’s C.I.A. that armed the mujahedeen, and Carter who fatefully involved the United States in the Persian Gulf...

That's President Jimmy Carter, that furious militarist who never thought of anything but building up forces for confrontation with the Soviets and unleashing the American plutocracy to poison us all, but Ted Kennedy wouldn't let him. Remember?

No. Industry deregulation in Carter's term was devoted to lowering consumer costs, most notably in air transportation (with the enthusiastic participation of Ted Kennedy, who brought in future justice Stephen Breyer to help, not to mention Ralph Nader), and breaking up monopolies (with incredible success in the beer industry—the wonderful proliferation of local craft brewers in our time and our permanent liberation from Bud and Miller is to be traced to the Carter administration),  and generally attacking excess corporate profits. Deregulation in the Reagan administration was devoted to removing protections from consumers, workers, and the environment, and protecting excess corporate profits. They aren't the same thing.

As to militarization, I've written elsewhere with the suggestion that the CIA kind of rolled Carter in Afghanistan, but the US was always involved in the Middle East (it was in 1943 on the way home from Yalta that FDR met with King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud and proclaimed that "the defense of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defense of the United States"), and Carter's specific contribution (the Carter Doctrine of 1980 and the furnishing of the Rapid Deployment Force) was a specific defensive response (probably an overreaction) to a specific threat to the fuel supply, not the Reagan-era offensive plan to literally win the Cold War in Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia (in the Philippines and in Suharto's Indonesia, where Paul Wolfowitz was ambassador) and Central and South America, as well as Afghanistan.

As for what Douthat calls "Trump populism", meaning Trump's alleged desire to spend lots of federal money on programs to bring joy to the lower orders of the American population, that's always been Douthat's hallucination, that there's a force in the Republican party that would like to follow his and Reihan Salam's prescription for a "Grand New Party" that would recognize its dependency on "mostly white working-class support" by offering to do something for those voters that would improve their incomes, and retirement security, and the like, in return for their loyalty to the authoritarian Christian moral agenda. That kind of thinking may or may not apply to the thinking of the party's new pseudo-intellectuals like Josh Hawley, but it doesn't apply to Trumpism, or what I'd prefer to call Bannonism, because it's just one of the strains that flitted like bats through the cavernous spaces of the Trump brain, and was mainly expressed in the frequent promises to give Americans the best health care ever by some unspecified means that would be revealed in two weeks, and occasional proclamations of Infrastructure Week, alongside the war on immigrants and international trade aimed at the very white working class and its deepest fears.

So now comes Biden, in a sense, to simply scoop up elements of Trumpian populism and try the trick himself. He’s entrenching protectionism in trade policy and arguably broadening the last administration’s China hawkishness. He’s trying to do the trillion-dollar infrastructure plan that Steve Bannon promised but the Trump administration never delivered. And he’s taking the Senate G.O.P.’s inchoate ideas on family policy and outbidding them with new child spending.

That may be what Biden "arguably" is doing, but it's not a very good argument. Biden's broad trade agenda

The President wants a fair international trading system that promotes inclusive economic growth and reflects America’s universal values. Trade policy must respect the dignity of work and value Americans as workers and wage-earners, not only as consumers. The President’s trade agenda will restore U.S. global leadership by combatting forced and exploitative labor conditions, corruption, and discrimination against women and minorities around the world.

Through bilateral and multilateral engagement, the Biden Administration will seek to build consensus around trade policies that address the climate crisis, bolster sustainable renewable energy supply chains, level the playing field, discourage regulatory arbitrage, and foster innovation and creativity.

is indistinguishable from that of any other prominent Democrat in decades. Biden has retained the Trump tariffs on China so far, because that's what he's been given to negotiate with, and there's no point throwing away leverage on the way into negotiations that are going to be very difficult

President Joe Biden disagreed with Trump's approach to US-China relations, but an immediate thawing of trade restrictions is unlikely after the first face-to-face meeting between US and Chinese officials grew heated, sparking an unusually public exchange of diplomatic barbs.
"China is simultaneously a rival, a trade partner, and an outsized player whose cooperation we'll also need to address certain global challenges," Katherine Tai, now Biden's US trade representative, said at her Senate confirmation hearing.

but the basic China policy is identical to Obama's (in formulating which Vice President Biden played a role, obviously), regarding China as an especially serious problem to be dealt with above all by international coalitions (as in the TPP trade agreement, sorry, I still haven't gotten over that), whereas Trump's playdate approach was dominated by his concept of good or bad individual relationships with his fellow emperors and presidents and prime ministers, and wasted years flirting with Xi Jinping and having temper tantrums with Europe and the countries to our immediate north and south.

Biden's approach to infrastructure is also very like Obama's line in 2014, appealing to bipartisanship (Obama loved quoting Reagan on the subject) but complaining about Republicans' reluctance to appropriate taxpayer money

Instead of breaking ground on new projects that would improve the quality of life for millions of people, they voted to give a massive tax cut to households making more than $1 million a year.  Instead of making investments that grow our economy by growing the middle class, they’re still convinced that prosperity trickles down from the very top. If you want to tell them what you think about that, don’t worry, because usually they show up at ribbon-cuttings -- (laughter) -- for projects that they refused to fund.  

The real difference between Obama and Biden in this connection is the chance Biden has to do something about it with or without Republican cooperation, with the surprise Senate majority and surfeit of reconciliation opportunities, and maybe the skill he's deploying to get it done.

Douthat's analysis is pure wish fulfillment, reflecting his longing for a world in which Republicans really are the party of all those simple, manly, anti-abortion factory workers that constitute the majority of the population in his 1950s dreams, and Democrats really are the decadent "winners of globalization, from wealthy suburbanites to Wall Street and Silicon Valley elites" (he still hasn't begun to imagine, even after the Georgia special election, that Black and Latin people play any role in running the party, because he just can't, but he knows very well that the "wealthy suburbanites" who actually do the commuting to Wall Street and Silicon Valley are just as Republican as they ever were—it's the non-wealthy suburbanites that are turning the suburbs Democratic in North Carolina and New Jersey, Michigan and Arizona). 

And in the end, "provoking", that is trolling, because his real aim is to make us question our coolness: "Ha ha, libs, you're the real Trumpies!"

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