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Whatever happened to Trumpism?

18 March 2017

9:35 AM

18 March 2017

9:35 AM

Well, that was quick. Along with President Donald Trump’s preliminary budget proposal, Trumpism as a radical new governing philosophy is dead on arrival.

Trump was elected in part by voters who preferred Obama to Romney in 2012. They saw in Trump a different kind of Republican from the green-eyeshades accountants whose passion is cutting government spending on the middle class and the poor. During the campaign, Trump sounded more like a New Deal Democrat, promising a trillion dollars in infrastructure investment, the revitalization of manufacturing, and a less aggressive foreign policy.

That Trump, it seems, is being held hostage in Mar-a-Lago, while the Trump impersonator who used to pose with photographers in front of Washington, D.C.’s new Trump Hotel has taken up residence in the White House. The administration’s first proposed budget is not Trumpism but warmed-over Reaganism, the kind of thing President Ted Cruz or another orthodox conservative might have proposed. There is a massive defense build-up, like those of Reagan and George W. Bush, to be paid for in massive cuts for government agencies hated by the right, like the EPA. Federal subsidies for PBS, the public broadcasting network, and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), equated with hoity-toity cultural liberals in the conservative mind, are zeroed out completely.


The promised plan for infrastructure investment has yet to arrive. Meanwhile, contradicting his campaign promises to support American manufacturing, Trump in his budget eliminates the valuable manufacturing extension program (MEP) of the Commerce Department and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), viewed as hotbeds of ‘crony capitalism’ by the libertarian devotees of Ayn Rand and Friedrich von Hayek.

If the Trump budget seems like something that could have been written by the government-hating conservatives of the Heritage Foundation, it’s because it was. Until the recent confirmation of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Mick Mulvaney, an orthodox budget-cutter himself, Trump administration budget policy was in the hands of the White House Budget Director, Paul Winfree, a veteran of the Heritage Foundation. Much of the budget is based on a Heritage policy paper of a few years back.

In addition to rubber-stamping the budgetary wish list of the Beltway conservative establishment he ran against, Trump with some equivocation has backed House Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan for piecemeal repeal and replacement of Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act). Estimates that millions of Americans would lose their new-found health insurance have inspired alarm among moderate members of Congress and state governors and legislatures. Meanwhile, the far right claims that ‘Ryancare’ is too liberal. Expect a wreck.

In foreign policy, fears that Trump will pull the U.S. into isolationism and destroy the Western alliance and the ‘liberal world order’ have turned out to be laughable. Secretary of Rex Tillerson, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of Defense James Mattis are career members of the foreign policy establishment with conventional views who would not have been out of place in a Jeb Bush presidency. Dubious conspiracy theories about Russian influence on Trump and his advisors, fanned by vengeful Democrats, may prevent closer relations between Washington and Moscow.
All that remains of Trumpism at this point is a moderate crackdown on illegal immigrant criminals in the U.S. and executive orders for temporary bans on travel from several chaotic Muslim countries and Iran which are being held up by liberal federal judges.

Former president George W. Bush has made public appearances recently. His hopes for rehabilitation may be justified. While Trump tweets and feuds with the press, Trumpism is quickly being replaced by a restoration of Bushism under the Trump brand.

Michael Lind is a senior fellow at New America in Washington D.C.

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