A certain sense of deja vu pervaded our Wednesday, which recalled a similarly sunny but cool fall day just eight short years ago. We vividly remember how a charismatic but otherwise unqualified candidate had won the presidency with a vague set of proposals and a cult of personality, replacing a president of the opposition and joined by majorities of his own party in both chambers of Congress, and how there was much optimism among so many of our friends that a new era of hope and change had commenced.
Eight years later all the hope has changed to bitter disappointment, which has given way to a charismatic but unqualified candidate of the opposition with a very different set of vague proposals and an even more markedly different cult of personality, but he’s also got majorities in both chambers of Congress, and some of our very different sorts of friends are optimistically talking about making American great again. Maybe this time they’ll be right, but we sense the same sort of pride that always goeth before a fall.
When Barack Obama became president with Nancy Pelosi as the Speaker of the House and Harry Reid as the Senate majority leader, and a squishy Supreme Court as the only remaining impediment to their power, the Democrats were unbearably cocky about it. Their more effusive cheerleaders were predicting 40 years of unbridled power, with the Republicans going the way of the Whigs, and utopia surely awaiting at the end of it. The president who had questioned his predecessor’s patriotism for running up half-trillion dollar deficits immediately started running full-trillion-plus dollar deficits with much of it wasted on a “stimulus package” of infrastructure spending that didn’t stimulate anything except the housing prices in the swelling D.C. suburbs. They also passed a radical re-making of the entire health care sector of the economy without a single Republican vote, promising that people who liked their doctor could keep their doctor and that the average family would save $2,500 a year and not a single dime would be added to those swelling deficits, all of which the Republicans refuted and would later prove to be utter balderdash. On the foreign policy front they immediately reneged on a missile defense promise to the Poles and Czechs, a token of their sincere desire to “reset” relations with the Russians, sold out the anti-communists of Latin America by backing a Marxist coup in Honduras, and traveled the Islamic world apologizing for anything that the United States might have said or done to provoke its 1,600-year-old jihad against the west, none of which has made the world any more peaceful.
After just two years of such nonsense the Republicans arose like a phoenix from the ash bin of history to re-take the House, added to their filibustering minority in the Senate, and had a grassroots “Tea Party” movement urging an ever more confrontational stand. They overplayed their hand enough to help Obama win reelection against a vastly more qualified but easily caricatured Republican nominee in ’12, but the Republicans held their House majority and by ’14 once again controlled the Senate, along with the biggest number of governorships and state legislatures since the days of Harding and Coolidge, which slowed if not stopped the Democratic agenda. That health care makeover was still veto-proof but at least didn’t expand, the debt continued to grow but the deficits were reduced back to those half-trillion figures of the preceding administration, the administration proceeded with an utterly ridiculous deal with the Iranians regarding their nuclear weapons ambitions but didn’t dare call it a treaty and thus settled for an executive action that could be more easily by repealed by a future Republican administration, and Democratic attempts at gun control and illegal immigration reform were also thwarted and the Democrats once again had to settle for more easily-revoked executive actions.
This wasn’t nearly confrontational enough for the more fervid “Tea Party” types, who were constantly telling one another via talk radio that the damned Republicans had just rolled over and given Obama everything he wanted, which came as quite as surprise to Obama and all the other National Public Radio listeners who were always hearing about the Republican’s stubborn obstructionism, so in ’16 they went with a candidate so impeccably anti-establishment candidate he promised to destroy both the Democrats and any Republicans who had ever had anything to with them. Donald Trump was a longtime Democrat and generous contributor to Democratic causes until recently, and had often spoken in favor of a Canadian-style “single payer” health insurance system or even an entirely socialized British-style of medicine, and his signature protectionist trade policies were pretty much the same as the Democratic party’s self-described socialist challenger and portended a similar desire to meddle even further in the rest of the economy, and he was promising to double his Democratic rival’s supposedly stimulative spending on infrastructure, and he was far friendlier to the Russkies and even more hostile to America’s allies than Obama, and just four years ago was criticizing the Republican nominee’s sensible enforcement policy on illegal immigration “cruel,” and he didn’t seem to know much about a whole lot of things, but that just proved he wasn’t one of those know-it-all establishment types who had supposedly proved so spineless. He was rude and crude and quick to pick pointless fights, but that only endeared to him Republicans who had endured eight years of Obama and were eager for confrontation for its own sake.
The anger Trump eagerly embraced made for a very different sort of cult of personality than the hippy-dippy peace-and-love and hope-and-change mantra of the Obama acolytes just eight years earlier, but it has the same indifference to careful consideration of objective facts or the possibility of political compromise, and looks just as likely to overreach. It comes into power along with majorities in both chambers of Congress, and hopefully with a less squishy Supreme Court as well, and we’re sure that the Democrats will soon regret that it’s also empowered by the last eight years of precedents on executive action.
Those supposedly insufficiently confrontational congressional Republicans did force Obama to resort to those executive actions, and we look forward to seeing their unappreciated work rewarded when a putatively Republican president easily undoes them, but we wonder if they’ll bother to resist any extra-constitutional executive actions a president putatively of their own party makes, and we dread seeing what they’ll be. Trump’s plan to cut taxes and increase spending on infrastructure and the military not touch any of the entitlements that take up the lion’s share of federal spending, not to mention his past statements about government-paid health care for everyone, aren’t likely to help with that debt problem that gave rise to the “Tea Party” movement that fueled the rise of Trump, and we’ll be interested to see how many of those Republican congressman who ran on that very issue will mount a dissent.
Throw in the very real possibility that Trump actually meant a lot of that crazy talk he spewed during the campaign about renegotiating the national debt and slapping 45 percent tariffs on Chinese goods and not honoring our military treaty obligations, as well as the very real possibility that the Republican congressmen that the more fervent “Tea Party” types have long derided as spineless will accede to it, along with the certainty that the majority of the country that didn’t vote for Trump will be nurturing their own grievances and honing their own readiness for confrontation, and we can well imagine that the next mid-term elections with also have a certain sense of deja vu about it.
— Bud Norman