Inauguration Morning Opinion

The Nightmare Scenario

How Trump's perverted populism could translate into a second term.

By Josh Feit January 20, 2017

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“Republicans used to build things.”

That’s how a close friend of mine from Eastern Washington’s dad put it back in the 1990s when he informed his son (my friend), that he’d decided to stop voting Republican; dad then cast his vote for a Democratic president for the first time ever, Bill Clinton, for Clinton’s second term in 1996. This was the era when the Newt Gingrich GOP turned Ronald Reagan’s “government is the problem” slogan into a pathology of no-taxes pledges.

“[Gingrich’s 1994] Contract with America freaked him out,” my friend reports about his dad's despondence over the GOP's turn to austerity. “’Republicans used to build things and now they're pledging not to,’” my pal remembers his dad saying. “The D's virtually became the exclusive party of building stuff in his mind. He's not wrong.”

True. Concomitant with the anti-tax orthodoxy was an aversion to government spending, which meant no more Eisenhower Republicanism which had once seen things like massive transportation infrastructure projects. (Some Republicans, of course—and only after being dragged kicking and screaming by a Democratic house and Democratic governor—can still stomach spending on pavement, of course. But that’s in the modern context when infrastructure spending should have been more about mass transit, than about roads.)

But here’s the thing. I’m nervous that my friend’s dad might become a Republican again under a Trump presidency. (He didn’t vote for Trump this time, though, I’ll have you know.)

Here’s the nightmare scenario for Democrats: Like all grand American demagogues, think of populists like Huey Long or George Wallace who built roads and schools and hospitals, Trump may build shit. And he'll do it in a way that sits well with the new era of Republicans.

While Trump was initially seen as an iconoclast who would destroy the party, he may turn out to be their savior and destroy the government instead—or at least defund it as the ultimate culmination of Reaganism.

Rather than build stuff the FDR way—with a robust progressive tax structure— Trump is more likely to replicate (on a national scale) the Carrier model, where the HVAC company got a $7 million tax break to keep jobs in the U.S. at its Indianapolis plant. (Actually, it was Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies, a company Trump owns stock in, that got the tax break.)

Handing out massive corporate tax breaks on a national scale to induce companies to build and hire will do two things (besides helping Trump's stock holdings): First, it will fulfill Trump's campaign promise to the working class to create jobs (making him very re-electable) and second, it will force the government to cut spending in a way Republicans have only dreamed of in the past.

And by cut spending, I mean cutting social programs. (The insider D.C. publication, The Hill, released a first look this morning at Trump’s plans for “dramatic cuts.” Totaling $10.5 trillion over ten years, it's not pretty.)

That’s the nightmare: A perversion of populism that rewards corporations and bankrupts the government while allowing Trump to meet his commitment to the working class—a recipe for a Trump re-election.  

Of course, once the ruse is up and the absence of government spending starts undoing the lives of middle class Americans—bankrupting the government could certainly backfire on Trump and his new Republican party line allies.

For example, the house pro-choice caucus initiated a letter to Trump yesterday that seizes on his pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood, two tangible examples of how government austerity will harm people.

More than 170 members of congress, all Democrats, signed the letter, inlcuding: U.S. Representatives Suzan DelBene (D-WA, 1), Rick Larsen (D-WA, 2), Derek Kilmer (D-WA, 6), Denny Heck (D-WA, 10 ), and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA, 8). Seattle's Jayapal, in fact, signed it twice.

It's worth quoting at length:  

The American people deserve to know how Republicans plan to avoid the devastating consequences of ACA repeal.

Throughout this reckless quest, Republicans have made no promises nor put forward any plans to preserve the ACA’s crucial protections for women.  Prior to the ACA, being a woman was effectively a pre-existing condition.  Women were often denied insurance for having a C-section, breast cancer, or even a history of sexual or domestic abuse.  When women were able to obtain coverage, they were charged much higher premiums than men based on gender alone.  Thankfully, the ACA banned those discriminatory insurance company practices. 

The ACA also provides women with affordable access to the care they need.  For example, birth control and preventive services like breast cancer screenings must be covered without cost-sharing.  As a result, women now save over a billion dollars each year on birth control alone.  Maternity care was also a rarity on the individual insurance market prior to the ACA, with only 12 percent of plans offering coverage, often only with exorbitantly high supplemental premiums.  Today, virtually all plans offer maternity care thanks to the ACA.  ACA repeal would be a major step backward for women because it would allow insurance companies to once again discriminate against women by denying them care and charging them higher prices based on gender.

Adding insult to injury, Speaker Paul Ryan and Republicans in Congress are shamelessly prioritizing politics over patients by proposing to defund Planned Parenthood as part of their plan to dismantle the ACA.  Blocking patients from accessing care at Planned Parenthood would only exacerbate the untenable situation we face with ACA repeal.  During the presidential campaign, even you acknowledged that Planned Parenthood does good work and helps millions of women and men.  Planned Parenthood provides care to approximately 2.5 million patients each year, including tests for sexually transmitted diseases, breast exams, Pap tests, and contraceptive services.  More than half of Planned Parenthood health centers are located in health professional shortage or medically underserved areas.  In fact, one in five women has visited a Planned Parenthood health center in their lifetime.  Access to affordable care in those areas would be severely hampered by blocking access to Planned Parenthood, especially when coupled with the chaos caused by ACA repeal. 

We urge you to give more thought to how defunding Planned Parenthood and repealing the ACA would harm women in every district in every state.  Taking these steps would leave all women worse off.  As President, you will have the power to prevent this looming disaster.  You, more than anyone else, will have to answer to those whose benefits, coverage, and access to care is abruptly ripped away. 

The women of America are watching, Mr. President-elect.

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