At first glance, it may seem like we’ve been here before. Come January, the Republicans will control the White House, both houses of Congress and, soon enough, the Supreme Court – just as they did for the four years following the 2002 election. How different could it be?
Plenty. It’s not that the all-GOP government of that time covered itself in glory: its chief contributions were the war in Iraq, lax financial regulations and tax cuts so skewed to the wealthy that the level of inequality approached the all-time high that immediately preceded the crash of 1929. And, of course, the lax regulation and economic inequality of the Bush years also precipitated the worst crash since the Great Depression and the most cataclysmic recession since the 1930s.
But the Republican government now waiting eagerly in the wings may soon make Americans feel nostalgic for the good old Bush years. For all of President George W. Bush’s shortcomings, he did not issue dog whistles to white nationalists, nor did he seek to promote that doctrine within Republican ranks, as his support for immigration reform made clear. President-elect Donald Trump, by contrast, rose to power sounding white nationalist themes we hadn’t heard from a presidential candidate since George Wallace.
Nor is Trump that much of an outlier among Republican elites. Well before he declared his candidacy, a raft of Republican governors and legislators were doing their damnedest to suppress minority voting through purges of the voting roles, new laws requiring specific kinds of voter IDs, and curtailing opportunities for early, more convenient voting.
Bush failed to persuade his fellow Republicans a decade ago to legalize the nation’s undocumented immigrants. As a matter of policy, then, the Republicans were already committed to keeping the nation and the electorate as white as possible. What Trump has done is to have taken the racist, xenophobic – and misogynistic and anti-Semitic – beliefs that were voiced on the party’s fringes and brought them into the Republican mainstream.
Indeed, Trump has chiefly put on fast forward the long-established rightward movement of the GOP. Just as the takeover of the party’s congressional delegation in 1995 by House Speaker Newt Gingrich signaled the end of moderate Republicanism on Capitol Hill, so the ascent of the Tea Party, the screeds of Fox News commentators, the rise of the Breitbart alt-right and now Trump’s success signal that even the die-hard conservatives of a decade ago have been marginalized.
For an illustration of how that dynamic plays out, just look at the Midwestern states -- where the new breed of Republicans have controlled both the legislature and the governor’s office since the 2010 elections. In Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan – once union strongholds – those governments have enacted so-called right-to-work laws, significantly weakening workers’ organizations. Previously, such laws were confined mainly to Southern states.
In Kansas, Governor Sam Brownback and his Republican legislative colleagues cut taxes on the wealthy to the point that they could no longer adequately fund public schools. The anti-government, anti-worker ethos previously centered in the white South has now spread to any part of the nation where Republicans control the levers of power.
So it will be in Washington under the new regime. Trump wants to cut taxes on the rich, which the Republican Congress will gladly do – effectively jumpstarting a new round of economic inequality. Obamacare will be repealed, with possibly as many as 20 million Americans losing their health insurance in consequence.
Trump’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court will create a court majority likely to further gut the Voting Rights Act, curtail reproductive rights and cripple the nation’s few remaining powerful unions. Don’t count on the Democrats being able to block Trump appointees via the filibuster – today’s radicalized Republicans will scrap the supermajority requirement in a nano-second to push through their appointments and legislation.
Like the white nationalist party leaders in Europe, Trump doesn’t favor slashing the welfare state for elderly whites – the GOP’s base. So he’s likely to resist a push from more conventional small-government GOP legislators to go after Social Security and Medicare.
They will differ on foreign policy as well, since Trump’s division of the world into good guys and bad seems chiefly based on whether world leaders are sufficiently authoritarian and pay him sufficient respect.
But I suspect few congressional Republicans will stand in his way if his Justice Department and FBI crack down on his political enemies and if deportations of undocumented immigrants soar.
Even without Trump, the Republican Party has been growing steadily whiter, older, more rural, less educated, more prey to fictitious facts and seething biases. The policies of the incoming government will surely express the values of that Republican base.
Beyond that base, nostalgia for Bush may already be growing.
About the Author
Harold Meyerson is executive editor of “The American Prospect.”
The views expressed in this article are not those of Reuters News.