At first glance, Donald Trump’s political program promises another dose of the deadly Reagan virus. In which case it is probably a good idea to recall what happened back in the day.
One starting point is the Panama Canal treaties negotiated by then president Jimmy Carter in 1977 and the rise of the New Right. For the youthful, energetic conservative adherents of that era, giving away the canal was the last straw. They couldn’t take it any longer. Time to act. Reagan became the centerpiece of their movement.
The Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, began churning out policy papers and in the Congress new faces appeared. Prime among them was Newt Gingrich from Georgia. He was quickly established as leader of a new right back bench in the House.
The Democrats laughed at Gingrich and dismissed him as a nut case. Well, they didn’t laugh for long. Gingrich and his followers spearheaded the New Right take over of the Congress, influenced the Supreme Court, and provided many of the ideas for what became the Reagan Revolution– most significantly a sort of reverse Keynesian pump priming of the military. Ideas for health care, deregulation, social welfare cuts, and the expansion of guerrilla warfare—a sort of American foreign legion—came to the fore. Then there was the menacing police state envisioned by Ed Meese.
The Democrats sat back and continued to sneer. They turned their attention to Bill Clinton. He was smart and had come up with a policy called triangulation, which surely would throw the squalid conservatives back into the swamp.
They sat there and happily watched Clinton weave his magic. Wow! A genius at work. Instead of attacking him, Clinton forged an alliance with Newt Gingrich to pass NAFTA. Two great men saving the nation! And then, can you believe it! Deregulating the banks. Who needs enemies when you have the Democratic party digging its own grave?
So what now?
The Democrats are still a passive lot. It should not be hard for Trump to deflect Democratic interests by attacks on the social programs—health care, abortion, federal control of education, the wreckage of labor.
The country is in the midst of building a largely white subculture, cloaked in a rhetoric of white nationalism. Both parties are all for that. The idea is to pick up on nativism and run behind it. It means stop-and-frisk and deportation under loosely drawn immigration rules. Nativism is better than that. It can provide the outlines of an ideology that fills the hole left by anti-communism. Fear of the immigrant runs rampant. As for those who are frightened of white nationalism. Get over it. Have pride in your heritage and your race. Hitler? He’s dead. As Trump might put it, Hitler made some bad mistakes.
As for health care, both parties have adhered to what amounts to a long-standing deal: At all costs avoid anything resembling control of medical costs. Those decision are left to the insurance industry and its allies in the medical equipment and prescription drug businesses. Here the true goal always has been to use government money to increase profitability and “grow” these companies
Trade will proceed under NAFTA. Clinton may be gone, but Gingrich, a key backer of trade deals, is very much alive. It’s hard to imagine him engaging in over-throwing the very deal he negotiated.
If the electoral college was invented to soothe the slave states of the early United States, block grants can be ramped up to provide a firm financial footing. Of course, under the guise of helping the poor when indeed they will enrich the well to do.
If it amounts to anything, infrastructure spending will come in the form of public-private highways. Imagine the New Jersey turnpike underwritten by the Chinese or Koreans. Trump’s dream of a great wall already has been transformed into a long fence, and doubtless will give way to drones and electricon devices. With Sessions as Attorney he can round up quantities of Latinos and people from the Middle East under existing criminal statuates, and deport them under flimsy charges.
Best of all, the new world can be topped off by an ideology steeped in historic American nativism. Keeping the foreigners out will no longer be based in a hatred of communism, but an ideology steeped in the fear of terrorism.