Are we wit­ness­ing a broad re­ori­en­ta­tion of US pol­i­tics in the Trump era?

The National - News - - OPINION - HUS­SEIN IBISH Hus­sein Ibish is a se­nior res­i­dent scholar at the Arab Gulf States In­sti­tute in Wash­ing­ton, DC

Al­most a year into the Don­ald Trump pres­i­dency, it is a good time to re­flect on what it has, and has not, meant over the long run for Amer­i­can pol­i­tics and for­eign pol­icy. In the short term, as I have fre­quently ar­gued, it seems clear it has in­volved a de­gree of al­most cal­cu­lated and wil­ful Amer­i­can de­cline in in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ence and au­thor­ity. But, in the longer term, are we wit­ness­ing the be­gin­ning of a broad re­ori­en­ta­tion, or is the Trump era es­sen­tially a speed bump in a broader tra­jec­tory that will re­main es­sen­tially lin­ear?

In these pages last Fe­bru­ary I spec­u­lated on how, if he played his cards right, Mr Trump might be able to pre­side over a re­draw­ing of the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal land­scape that could per­sist for at least a gen­er­a­tion. Is that hap­pen­ing?

Largely, and prob­a­bly mer­ci­fully, it’s not. In or­der to ac­com­plish the po­ten­tial re­struc­tur­ing I an­tic­i­pated, Mr Trump would have to ini­ti­ate a gen­uinely pop­ulist, pro-labour eco­nomic pol­icy of es­sen­tially Key­ne­sian stim­u­lus through the kind of gi­gan­tic in­fra­struc­ture pro­gramme on which he cam­paigned.

If he could get Congress to au­tho­rise at least $1 tril­lion in new gov­ern­ment spend­ing on badly needed in­fras­truc­tural re­pairs and im­prove­ments, and thereby cre­ate a huge wave of new and well­paid work­ing-class jobs, Mr Trump could prob­a­bly win over labour lead­ers as well as many of their con­stituents and re­ori­ent the Re­pub­li­cans away from tra­di­tional con­ser­vatism.

How­ever, there is no sign of any such pro­gramme. On the con­trary, the Repub­li­can Congress has just ap­proved, to Mr Trump’s ev­i­dent de­light, a $1.5 tril­lion tax cut that will mas­sively trans­fer wealth from the mid­dle and work­ing classes to the rich, ex­plode the na­tional deficit and debt, and there­fore serve as the ba­sis for large spend­ing cuts on ev­ery­thing ex­cept the mil­i­tary.

It’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine the Congress that just passed this gi­gan­tic tax re­duc­tion ap­prov­ing a mas­sive new spend­ing pro­gramme. So the sine qua

non of the to­tal ide­o­log­i­cal re­align­ment I imag­ined seems now unattain­able.

How­ever, other as­pects of the changes I en­vis­aged are de­vel­op­ing. In par­tic­u­lar, the process whereby an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of neo­con­ser­va­tives and other for­eign pol­icy hawks be­gin to mi­grate from the Repub­li­can to the Demo­cratic Party.

As with the process in the 1970s when hawk­ish lib­er­als slowly mor­phed into neo­con­ser­va­tives and bolted the Demo­cratic Party for the Re­pub­li­cans, the cur­rent counter-mi­gra­tion is fit­ful, fraught, un­pleas­ant and non-lin­ear. Yet, it is clearly gain­ing steam.

In some cases, the ide­o­log­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion ap­pears com­plete. The noted neo­con­ser­va­tive in­tel­lec­tual Max Boot, one of the most ve­he­ment “never-Trumpers”, has re­cently writ­ten about how, as a good con­ser­va­tive and Repub­li­can, he used to scoff at the com­plaints of blacks and other eth­nic mi­nori­ties, women and oth­ers and dis­miss the idea of white priv­i­lege. “If the Trump era teaches us any­thing,” he writes, “it is how far we still have to go to re­alise the ‘un­alien­able rights’ of all Amer­i­cans to en­joy ‘Life, Lib­erty and the pur­suit of Hap­pi­ness,’ re­gard­less of gen­der, sex­u­al­ity, reli­gion or skin colour.” His ar­ti­cle might as well have been called “How Trump Made Me a Lib­eral,” and, in­evitably over time, a Demo­crat.

Former Repub­li­can con­gress­man turned jour­nal­ist Joe Scar­bor­ough, once a fol­lower of key Trump sup­porter Newt Gin­grich, has been inch­ing to the left for many years. But his re­cent scathing at­tack in The Wash­ing­ton Post on the Repub­li­can tax bill as a plun­der­ing of work­ing-class pock­et­books by rich plu­to­crats might have been writ­ten by not merely a Demo­crat, but a Bernie San­ders ul­tra­l­ib­eral. Mr Scar­bor­ough’s jour­ney from right to left, while largely un­der-chron­i­cled and sel­dom an­a­lysed, is one of the most dra­matic in con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

But one need not be­come a full-blown lib­eral to have left the now-Trumpian Re­pub­li­cans, as Ge­orge Will, who has bound­less con­tempt for Mr Trump and all his works, has demon­strated. He has for­mally left the Repub­li­can Party but re­mains a com­mit­ted con­ser­va­tive. Un­like most of the oth­ers, it’s hard to imag­ine Mr Will vot­ing for Democrats, or at least ad­mit­ting to it, on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. But, in the long run, where can he go?

Mr Will, and oth­ers such as Bill Kris­tol, son of one of the found­ing neo­con­ser­va­tives, Irv­ing Kris­tol, have hinted at the cre­ation of a new, cen­tre-right third party. They must know this is struc­turally im­pos­si­ble in the Amer­i­can sys­tem. Such sen­ti­ments are in­vari­ably an un­happy way sta­tion in the of­ten dis­mal jour­ney from one af­fil­i­a­tion to the other.

Many con­ser­va­tive Re­pub­li­cans, who now rightly feel adrift and with­out a party, have no such il­lu­sions.

Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist Jen­nifer Rubin, among oth­ers, has been blunt about the need for all right-think­ing peo­ple to hold Re­pub­li­cans ac­count­able for their back­ing of Mr Trump at the polls, par­tic­u­larly in the up­com­ing midterm elec­tions.

There are count­less other com­men­ta­tors and colum­nists who have spent a po­lit­i­cal life­time on the right and as com­mit­ted Re­pub­li­cans but who are now iden­ti­fi­ably some­where on the road to per­ma­nently re­align­ing as Democrats. At the very least, this one part of the grand re­ori­en­ta­tion I imag­ined back in Fe­bru­ary is ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing.

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