(Caricature of Donald Trump is by DonkeyHotey.)
Trump had promised his followers that his presidency would be different, but he has flip-flopped on many issues. His presidency is turning out to differ from the failed administration of George W. Bush in only one aspect -- it's more racist.
The following is part of a thought-provoking article by Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine:
The Bush presidency was the most comprehensive governing failure of any administration since at least Herbert Hoover, and it ought to have poisoned the party’s national brand as deeply as it did Hoover’s GOP (which did not win another presidential election for twenty years). But the Republican Party managed to largely skirt the reputational fallout from the Bush catastrophe. It did so, in part, through the tea party: Conservatives hailed right-wing protests against Barack Obama as a call for ideological purity, cleansing the supposed big-government, cronyist tendencies of the Bush administration. The Republican Party of the Obama era insisted it had learned the lessons of the Bush years, when its agenda had devolved into little more than shoveling cash to K Street. The post-Bush GOP was allegedly sadder and wiser and filled with righteous abhorrence for the temptations of lobbyists and deficit spending.
Those lessons have all been forgotten. The Republican government, under Trump, has retraced the steps it took under Bush — from the obsession with tax cuts for the rich, to the vanishing line between the party’s paid lobbyists and its public servants. The reality is that, contrary to the willful misreading of conservatives elites, the tea-party revolution was not fundamentally a reaction against deficits or crony capitalism: It was a heavily racialized backlash against social change. And that spirit — the true animating spirit of the grassroots right — has lived on in Trump’s presidency.
My magazine story from a few weeks ago identified Trump’s ethnonationalism as the one clearly successful strand of his presidency. Trump has drawn from a relatively continuous line of thought, running from his early history as a landlord who excluded African-Americans, to a demagogue who publicly demanded the execution of five innocent minority teenagers, to a politician who ultimately brought the alt-right into the Republican coalition. His agenda for law enforcement, immigration, and national identity has reinforced the unifying ethnonationalist theme that allowed him to prevail over his more orthodox Republican competitors. In the weeks since my piece was published, that agenda has continued to race forward. The Department of Homeland Security is ramping up its capacityto assemble Trump’s promised deportation force. And the Department of Justice is eliminating a commission on forensic science, which had refuted some questionable methods used by law enforcement.
As my essay argued, Trump’s ethnonationalism reverses a trend in the Republican Party: Beginning with Bush, it had repudiated its Southern strategy and attempted to craft a racially inclusive message that would broaden the constituency for its oligarchic economic agenda. Bush and his ideological heirs sought to compromise on immigration while taking seriously minority concerns about discriminatory law enforcement. Trump has reversed Bush’s aspiration for a racially inclusive party completely, while rediscovering his economic blueprint.
The Trumpian mix of K Street economics and Breitbartian racial messaging is not a perfectly natural one. Trump’s vicious ethnonationalism makes his wealthy advisers and donors (many of them the same people) uncomfortable, especially the portions that disrupt their transborder workforce. And Trump’s elitist economic policy is the opposite of what his downscale white base thought he would deliver. But it fits together closely enough to function. The political reality Trump has discovered through trial and error is that he is delivering each constituency the thing it most craves. Trump’s white-identity politics satisfy his voting base enough to make his plutocratic economics tolerable. And the financial and political elite are willing to swallow their qualms about his ugly ethnonationalism because they are going to get paid. If you thought George W. Bush was generally swell, but too racially inclusive, you are going to like Trump’s presidency.