Tuesday, November 22, 2016
As demonstrators invaded Brazil’s lower house, seeking return to a military rule (Brazil was under military junta from 1964 to 1985), there were those here in the United States facing a new government vector with equal trepidation. But the reality remains; Donald J Trump is the next president and his party has control of both houses of Congress. The Dems cannot live by making threats of unending refusals to allow votes to reach the Senate floor without further alienating their tenuous constituency… or provoking the Senate Republicans into invoking the “nuclear option” (eliminating the ability of a minority party to block bringing votes to the full Senate by reverting to a simple majority to force a vote).
So what’s a party to do? There are significant elements of Trump’s platform that are anything but Republican policies. In many ways, Trump’s policies are as much anti-GOP as they are a challenge to Democratic platforms. But there a Democratic Party principles embedded in more than a few Trump proposals. Indeed, if Mr. Trump is the newfound champion of the underemployed or unemployed, less educated, white workers – once a clear Democratic bloc – by definition, he ultimately cannot just embrace policies that favor big business at the expense of that constituency. Huh?
Simply dismantling “big government” – without creating something for that working class – isn’t going to cut it. Take for example cross-border free trade agreements that have been a GOP mantra for decades, one of the primary reasons large corporate interests have aligned with Republicans for decades. The Donald opposes these treaties even as so many GOP donors believe they are essential for growth. But “free trade” inevitably exposes marginally-skilled workers to global competition, a wage race they cannot win. See the trend?
Sure free trade makes tons of goods so much cheaper for the rest of us, and abrogating such agreements will result in higher consumer prices, but right now that inevitability is on the back burner, away from political focus because those consequences will not be felt immediately. It’s a can kicked down the road, an American political tradition.
Even as so many in the higher reaches on our economic ladder need that open trade to grow and prosper (what is probably best for overall national economic growth), free trade inevitably displaces a vast number of under-skilled workers whose jobs are inevitably competitively obsolete. Noting that it was precisely this volume of displaced workers who decided the election, both Donald Trump and the Democrats (the latter now distancing themselves from the elites that somehow embraced them) have come out against such international free trade agreements.
This aligns the Dems as the party of the “unrepresented little guy” with Trump’s pledge to undo “unfair” trade agreements… against the rather clear desire of corporate America to open up trade even more. Huh? Republicans may support Trump, but it will be a reluctant support that will draw the wrath of many big donors to the GOP. Yet this “free trade” controversy is one very obvious common ground where Dems can coordinate with the Trump administration. Want more?
How about Ivanka Trump’s proposal, supported by her father, to implement new childcare tax credits and paid maternal leave as one of the cornerstones of Trump’s presidency? Social welfare provisions? Huh? That is clearly a Democratic philosophy and even more clearly a slam to the Republican priority of eliminating social programs and safety nets to the max. More government intrusion into the free operation of American business? Will a Republican Congress fall in line with their leader’s socialist policies, biting the tongues in the process, or will this be a bill that will require uniform Democratic support and a few Republican defectors? Dems have another area of common interest with Señor Trump.
But one of the biggest battles may surround Mr. Trump’s commitment to a massive upgrade and expansion of our rather rapidly-deteriorating infrastructure (it will be “second to none” according to Trump). The GOP Congress has dug in its heels against massive expenditures on anything other than defense. They have snarled against attempts by the Democratic Obama administration to increase infrastructure spending, even though infrastructure is one of the most important contributors to economic growth. They just do not want bigger government or more spending, regardless of the obvious need. What “need”?
Writing for Forbes (4/1/13), University of Houston economics professor , writes: “The Society of Civil Engineers () gives its price tag for restoring a first-world infrastructure. It would take $1.7T to correct our current infrastructure deficit and an extra $160 billion a year – or $1.1T — to meet our infrastructure needs through 2020. Our civil engineers do not tell us the effect of almost $3T in additional spending on the deficit. We should focus on the positive side. After all, what is it worth being able to drive across bridges without fear of plunging to certain death? …
“Even though we do not have the $1.7T for current needs and the $1.1T for later, we would be penny wise and pound foolish not to borrow and spend, say our civil engineers. The $160 billion extra over each of the next seven years would alone raise GDP by $3.1T (a three to one return) and add 3.5 million jobs! What a bonanza!” Oh, that “need.”
Infrastructure development has been an essential Democratic Party priority for a long time, noting that China spends a multiple of our GDP percentage commitment to infrastructure and is growing so much faster than are we. Can the Dems align with Trump’s pledge on infrastructure, an absolute job-creator, and overcome the obvious resistance expected from the establishment side of the GOP? These jobs would make Trump look better in the eyes of his struggling constituency but would fly in the face of GOP fiscal conservatives.
For the Dems, there is a lot more writing on the wall. Extending aging (more from old thinking than physiological age) congressional leadership from wealthy urban districts – folks like 76-year-old House minority leader Nancy Pelosi – is a non-starter for rebuilding a Democratic Party based on Millennials, X-Gen and ethnic/racial/gender minorities. So for Democrats in search of a new direction, the movement already seems to have begun. Sneaky Dems have a plan.
Democrats need to “force Republican leaders to choose between their new president and their small-government, free-market principles. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, elected Wednesday [11/16/16] as the new Democratic minority leader, has spoken with Mr. Trump several times, and Democrats in coming weeks plan to announce populist economic and ethics initiatives they think Mr. Trump might like.
“Democrats, who lost the White House and made only nominal gains in the House and Senate, face a profound decision after last week’s stunning defeat: Make common cause where they can with Mr. Trump to try to win back the white, working-class voters he took from them, or resist at every turn, trying to rally their disparate coalition in hopes that discontent with an ineffectual new president will benefit them in 2018.
“Mr. Trump campaigned on some issues that Democrats have long championed and Republicans resisted: spending more on roads, bridges and rail, punishing American companies that move jobs overseas, ending a lucrative tax break for hedge fund and private equity titans, and making paid maternity leave mandatory.
“Some Democrats are even co-opting Mr. Trump’s language from the campaign. ‘Every single person in our caucus agrees the system is rigged,’ said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan.
“Still, there will be areas of bright-line disagreement. Democrats are speaking out against Mr. Trump’s appointment of Stephen K. Bannon as his chief strategist, and will oppose his promised tax cuts for the wealthy and his vow to deport millions of illegal immigrants.
“What is not clear is whether Mr. Trump will hew to his stated agenda or turn it over to Republican lawmakers who seek a far more traditional conservative program.” New York Times, November 16th.
Pretty obviously, Donald Trump is far more a populist than a genuine Republican voice. Some in his party see a need to move more in a populist direction for the GOP to survive while others are loathe to desert the traditional establishment dedicated to business as the ultimate priority. Can the Dems exploit that rift? Or just go with that part of the flow that they can accept? With demographics rapidly changing against traditional rural-constituency GOP voters, both parties are scrambling to capture these new demos. But in that scramble, is there a path for some constructive overlap between Trump priorities and Democratic principles? Time will tell. Oh did I mention? “It’s the economy stupid!” Yeah… and without delivering that, a politician can only go so far blaming others.
I’m Peter Dekom, and the realignment of American political interests – laced with accelerating polarization and global turmoil – will remain the big story for the next few years.