I should probably get out of the predictions business, having so misjudged the country before the recent election. But I will hazard two more. The first: Donald Trump will turn on his supporters. The second: The Democrats will turn on theirs, too.
Trump got a head start this week, floating the names of Iraq war supporters and promoters of a grand, global war with Islam like John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani for the job of secretary of state. Trump voters who claimed that Hillary Clinton would bring on World War III might be surprised by some of the views of Clinton and John Kerry’s likely successor (and Giuliani is a vigorous neocon, too.)
Trump is now part of a global ring of ethno-nationalist leaders of far-right parties in thrall to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. National security experts are shuddering at the demeanor of the people surrounding the next president who are busy mounting what Republican leakers are calling a “Stalinesque purge” of the insufficiently loyal. With the transition team in chaos, and experienced hands reluctant to join such an administration, who knows what kind of bizarre cabinet he’ll wind up assembling.
Meanwhile, to the extent that he is doing something other than trying to figure out what a president does Trump—or rather the people around him who know how to take advantage of an opportunity—are preparing to stack his team with Wall Street and big-business friendly insiders and establishment cronies poised to raid the treasury on behalf of the one percent.
Working-class voters who thought they’d elected a populist hero will soon find out that men who live in golden penthouses are rarely populists, and even more rarely heroic. Trump, who in his own history as a developer preferred mob concrete and Chinese steel to the variety produced in the Rust Belt, cannot bring back the steel and manufacturing jobs lost in Lorain, Ohio or western Pennsylvania. No president can force shuttered mills to reopen, or companies who’ve left in search of cheaper labor to relocate to the United States (or those who have come back to choose expensive humans over cheaper robots.) Even if he manages to slap massive tariffs on Chinese-made goods, the only outcome will be much higher prices at Wal-Mart.
Meanwhile, anyone still wondering why Paul Ryan quietly slipped on his MAGA cap during the election will soon understand. On the off chance Trump pulled off an improbable win, Ryan knew he would be on track to enact his life’s dream: turning Medicare into a voucher program and forcing future of the most popular government program since Social Security into private insurance HMOs. According to Josh Marshall, who cites Ryan’s own website, the “phasing out” of Medicare begins in March.
Trump’s tax plan will sock it to single mothers, by ending the ability to file as head of household and thus raising taxes on unmarried filers. The tax hikes will be higher the more children you have. Anyone who doesn’t itemize deductions will likely get a onetime check for a few hundred dollars, the way George W. Bush did his “middle class tax cut.” Count that as bill money.
Trump’s trade and immigration policies will deliver an economic shock to states like Texas where trade produces a substantial share of the jobs, and which depend on high oil prices. Trump’s North Dakota pipeline (in which he is personally financially invested) will flood more oil onto an already glutted world market, further forcing down prices and putting both the Lone Star state in an unpleasant economic position.
But not to worry, Republicans have a fix, to ensure there is no voter backlash against them.
They are already preparing to reverse their opposition to earmarks, with three red state Senators (from Florida, Alabama and of course, Texas) pushing to revive the kind of spending that helps members go back to their districts with something to show for their time in Washington, and which long greased the skids of congress. You see, most in the GOP never really objected to government spending. They just objected to government spending that might make their constituents look more favorably on Barack Obama’s tenure.
Also watch as the objections to raising the debt ceiling and to infrastructure spending—so vehement during the Obama years—vanish into thin air. This will be a big spending administration, with the full backing of congress. The small number of conservatives preparing to fight back are likely to cave, eventually, in the interests of party unity and maintaining total Republican control.
All the while, Trump fans can maintain their euphoria over taking America back from the multiculturalists, the politically correct, leftie Hollywood and Beyoncé, by purchasing clothing and jewelry from Ivanka Trump’s retail line, which she’ll dutifully model during television appearances, after which her staff will inform the media on where faithful followers can “shop the look.” The Trump children, armed with security clearances and still in charge of the family business and the ephemeral “foundation” will be in a position to stuff the family coffers for four years, African dictator style, with the possible aid of information marked “secret” and thus unavailable to their competitors. And if you expect the fearsome House Republicans who hounded Hillary Clinton over her emails to lift a finger to investigate what already look to be spiraling conflicts of interest, you don’t understand the Republican Party.
But it isn’t just Trump who is poised to betray those who voted for him. Some Democrats and their allies are already rushing to get their Trump tattoos, knowing that the coming spending boom helps them too. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia excoriated Harry Reid, the out-going minority leader, who alone came out forthrightly to defend the black and brown women, men, children, businesses and even churches being brutalized by gleeful Trump supporters from the GOP’s white supremacist wing, in cities around the country. Reid, whose Nevada Democratic Party operation was actually successful in the 2016 elections, including getting a Latina elected to his seat, has bravely called out the white nationalists and anti-Semites of the alt-right and stood against the normalization of people like soon-to-be Trump senior counselor Stephen Bannon. But Reid is a lonely voice standing athwart anti-history yelling, “stop,” while his party and the mainstream media fall into a swoon of presidential succession pageantry.
Even Bernie Sanders couldn’t rush fast enough to get on the Trump side of the line, declaring himself a member of the white working class (his and his wife’s three homes and high six-figure income aside) and cautioning Democrats—who belong to a party of which he is still not a member—to start focusing on these voters too. Sanders ran a campaign that echoed Trump’s in many ways; appealing to a majority white, populist audience that hated Hillary Clinton more than it disdained Republicans. A majority of Black Americans were unimpressed, which is why he didn’t become the nominee, and they should be unsurprised that he is dropping them faster than he and his supporters wrote off “the South” as insignificant during the primary campaign.
Bernie is not alone. Think pieces are already being written admonishing Dems to throw black and brown, LGBT, Muslim and Hispanic voters and progressive women under the bus in favor of the never-ending chase for the Pabst Blue Ribbon vote. Democrats continue to practice “identity politics” at their peril, they say; demanding that issues around rape culture, Black Lives Matter and merciful immigration policy be scotched in favor of bucking up men, dialing back blunt talk on race, policing and DREAMers, and emphasizing things like border security. In other words, Democrats must learn to talk more like Republicans and marginalized groups must learn to be quiet. The party has been here before, and ironically, that kind of thinking is what produced Bill Clinton, whose surname, and wife, the very people hawking this prescription loathe.
The message to African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, LGBT people (well, mostly Trans folks, since Trump has declared his movement can live with “the gays”) and women, who stand in the crosshairs of the coming “retail authoritarian” presidency, is that you’re on your own. Your party will not come to your aid. They’ll be too busy trying to ride the Trump train, or to least avoid being tied to the tracks and run over by it in the next election.
There are small green shoots of hope. The coming battle for DNC chair, which could come down to two black candidates: Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison and South Carolina Democratic Party chair Jamie Harrison, is a proxy for whether the party will push a message of Sandersian working class populism or press forward on the ongoing fight for racial justice, voting rights and the rights of the poor. Perhaps one of these men can help the party find a way to do both.
And despite her immediate statement of conciliation to Trump, one can only hope Elizabeth Warren will hold strong on issues concerning Wall Street, once Republicans begin the process of dismantling restrictions on bankers’ worst practices, restoring the robber baron era in lower Manhattan and on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where the “tea party movement” was born amid furious presumptions that Obama would dare to help struggling homeowners instead of their mortgage note holders. We’ll just have to wait and see.
In the end, the lessons of American history, from Reconstruction to the Fusion movement of the late 19th century; that an openness to the aspirations of racial, ethnic and religious minorities will always produce a fierce backlash among the country’s majority population and cost the party dearly, have proven thrice true in the modern era—in the bloody political aftermath of Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama. All three marched the country forward on race, culture and economics, only to cede federal and state governmental power for years to the Republican right, which quickly proceeded, each time, to reward the rich and the powerful on the backs of their working class supporters who just wanted to feel like winners again.
In a sense, who can blame the Democrats for running away? But run they will. Count on it.