By Chris Mills:
Like never before, the president risks the dark.
There are two main interpretations of the Trump era in American politics.
The first holds that the past four-and-a-half-years, since Trump’s de facto capture of the Republican base, has been a sad charade—the opportunistic capture of America’s right-wing and disaffected working-class—a tour de force by a celebrity conman on his last legs.
The second, as liberal historian Thomas Frank surmises, is that his famous voters in What’s the Matter with Kansas? finally “found somewhere else to go.”
Conservatives misunderstood their mandate for at least a generation. Trump voters in some of America’s poorest congressional districts weren’t voting for an adjustment of American status quo—one where the U.S. empire was more unbridled and the international “free” market was less encumbered—but rather, the abolition of the system itself. It’s the ideas, stupid.
Only the most ideological of thinking would fail to concede a morsel of truth in both interpretations. Trump’s celebrity was clearly value-added. But seminal moments from the 2015-2016 campaign trail elucidated a clear agenda: immigration control, trade nationalism, and foreign policy restraint. This red-hot policy troika horrified aged Republican elites but thrilled a significant Republican rump, and most importantly, bequeathed a would-be president with downright star-power and crossover appeal.
Genuine immigration reform has been stillborn in Trump’s first term; his base has forgiven him and will continue to do so. The trade pyrotechnics—a new, justified cold war with China—largely have been a success, yielding an assured paradigm shift on the matter, whether Trump wins or loses in November. A grudging, even underground respect has developed for the president’s mettle on trade matters—“I support Trump’s trade policies only,” as Ian Fletcher, president of the Coalition for a Prosperous America and author of Free Trade Doesn’t Work puts it.
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