It became conventional wisdom over the course of the election cycle that Donald Trump was a Frankenstein monster that the Republican Party created through the politics of racial resentment and anti-Obama demonization. This line of reasoning often implied that the Republican establishment was about to receive its comeuppance via a humiliating landslide electoral loss.
Well, that didn't happen. And, as you can see above, chief Senate obstructionist Mitch McConnell—he of the infamous quote about Obama's defeat being "the single most important thing [Republicans] want to achieve"—is looking mighty smug Wednesday. He has some reason to feel good: He'll soon get to push through a vote for a conservative Supreme Court justice and to throw the Affordable Care Act in a garbage can.
But Trump's victory speech early Wednesday morning underlined a major McConnell-related irony. A huge part of the opposition plan executed by McConnell, Paul Ryan, and the rest of the Republican Congress involved choking off the parts of President Obama's agenda that would have helped the working class—the consideration of a public option for health insurance, the expansion of Medicaid, the passage of a stimulus package appropriate to the size of the 2008 recession, and generally the funding of redistributive government spending through higher taxes on top earners. These kinds of potential measures, and even the more limited measures that did pass, were demonized as the socialist agenda of an un-American president. And so even as America's economy recovered in many ways, its inequalities of wealth and income persisted.
The white victims of this process, as we now know, were not happy, and their feeling of economic stagnation was—in addition to the War on Christmas, the suspicion that Barack Obama is African ISIS, and the general feeling that Hillary Clinton is an uppity bitch—one of the things that flipped just enough states to Trump's side to give him the Electoral College.
Look what President-elect Trump described as the first priority of his administration in his victory speech:
We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.
That's a mega-stimulus New Deal–style proposal no matter which party's mouth it comes out of. At the same time, we are all aware that Donald Trump's policy on free trade is that he is very against it. The "trade" section of Trump's website is a list of vows to withdraw from agreements and institute tariffs. It's an aggressive mercantilist promise to use the power of the government to protect American industries that are not competitive internationally, particularly those that are not competitive with China and Mexico.
So your Republican president's agenda is to balance the protection of noncompetitive domestic businesses with a huge increase in public spending (and let's not even mention the massive public-works project known as the wall with Mexico). It's not really socialism—Trump's government is going to take on the cost of propping up big manufacturers without being rewarded via an ownership stake therein—but it's just as "socialist" as, to take one example, subsidizing the purchase of private health insurance. And it's unquestionably Big Government.
I'm not an economic historian, but I happen to have recently read Tony Judt's history of 20th-century Europe, Postwar, and Trump's vision of the American economy sounds a lot like the mixed British economic system that was repudiated by the rise of Margaret Thatcher. (Try to picture a 1970s British car and you get a sense of the pitfalls of overprotection of industry.) Across the pond, of course, Thatcher's rise was paralleled by the ascendance of a free-market, free-trade-extolling American politician named Ronald Reagan who shared her contempt for the encroachments of the welfare state. Among the politicians elected to Congress in the 1984 Reagan landslide was a young(er) Mitch McConnell, and among the Republicans Reagan inspired was a teenage Paul Ryan, whose brother once told the New York Times that Ryan's political views were formed by discussing Reagan during family dinners. Now Ryan and McConnell are the architects of a strategy that has ended in the election of someone whose idea of economic policy is the creation of "millions" of government jobs and withdrawal from the Reagan treaty that became NAFTA. (And who, to boot, wants to forge a military and diplomatic alliance with the KGB officer who runs Russia.)
History repeats itself as farce, I've heard.
With apologies to Hamilton Nolan