The scariest part of Trump’s first year as president isn’t how abnormal he is, it’s how normal he makes everything else look by comparison.
Keeping track of the Jacksonians, Reformicons, Paleos, and Post-liberals.
I like to start my classes on conservative intellectual history by distinguishing between three groups. There is the Republican party, with its millions of adherents and spectrum of opinion from very conservative, somewhat conservative, moderate, and yes, liberal. There is the conservative movement, the constellation of single-issue nonprofits that sprung up in the 1970s —
- gun rights,
- right to work
— and continue to influence elected officials. Finally, there is the conservative intellectual movement: writers, scholars, and wonks whose journalistic and political work deals mainly with ideas and, if we’re lucky, their translation into public policy.
But Trump’s theatrics were also very convenient because they disguised the fact that he cannot now, or ever, deliver on his signature promise to create a “great” infrastructure program. This is why Trump “infrastructure weeks” have become a standing joke in Washington. LaTourette was right: The Republican Party is no longer interested in spending public money to solve big problems if doing so gets in the way of cutting taxes.
LaTourette explained this in his rough-and-ready way back in 2011 when he called the 2010 tea party class of Republicans “knuckledraggers that came in in the last election that hate taxes.”
One of those newcomers was Mick Mulvaney, now Trump’s acting chief of staff and budget director. From the moment Trump, Pelosi and Schumer announced their convergence on a $2 trillion infrastructure plan last month, Mulvaney began sabotaging it. “Is it difficult to pass any infrastructure bill in this environment, let alone a $2 trillion one, in this environment? Absolutely,” Mulvaney said.
He was far from alone because the entire Republican leadership in Congress is now part of the Knuckledraggers Caucus. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly signaled that he had absolutely no interest in a big infrastructure plan if it required rolling back any part of the GOP’s 2017 corporate tax cut.
Democrats argue that because business is clamoring for infrastructure, it would make sense to ask business to foot part of the bill. They have suggested raising the corporate tax rate to 25 percent from the 21 percent enshrined in the 2017 law and pulling back on some of its other provisions.
No way, say the Republicans. A “nonstarter,” declared McConnell. Faced with the choice of bridges collapsing in a heap or reining in the tax giveaways, the bridges don’t have much of a chance.
Note that the meeting Trump sabotaged was about how to finance the plan. He had no way of coming up with anything constructive because, for all of his bravado, he is totally under the thumb of Congress’s conservative ideologues. His tantrum was part of the coverup no one is talking about: The emperor has no money.
This fact underscores a widespread misunderstanding about our politics. “Normal” Republicans are regularly described as privately horrified with Trump. Trump is said to have engaged in “a hostile takeover” of the GOP.
In fact, it’s Trump who has been taken over. He campaigned as a different kind of Republican, and his infrastructure promise was a major component of his antiideological image. But on all the things the ideologues and right-wing business interests care about —
Trump caves in.
We know the president’s boast that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any votes.” Perhaps Republicans in Congress wouldn’t go that far. Otherwise, they’ll keep standing with him as long as he prostrates himself before their tax-cutting god, even if this means showing he is too weak and powerless to fix the roads.
The movement’s main founder, Robert A. Mundell, wrote prolifically on the subject avant la lettre in top economics journals in the 1960s and 1970s. Mundell’s protégé at the University of Chicago, Arthur B. Laffer, did the same, then branched out to a consulting business where he put out some 50 papers per year that dilated on supply-side economics.
But “everyone knows” that supply-side economics’ main, if not exclusive concern was with tax cuts, and that’s good enough for Mark Thoma. Cui bono from burying the true history of the objectives of supply-side economics? Fiscal-cliff corner-cutters and their enablers, but certainly not sincere political economists trying to master our recent history for the purpose of getting our once-great economy back in good repair.