Damage Bigly

Donald Trump
Donald Trump; drawing by Gerald Scarfe

The tax legislation that was just rammed through Congress makes it quite clear that Donald Trump’s first year in the White House has been much more damaging to the nation than that of any other president in modern times. Before this bill, it might have been possible, though wrong, to argue that as president, Trump had brought to his office more sound and fury than action. The notion took hold for much of 2017 that his failures in Congress, along with a series of court rulings, had limited his impact; the failure to repeal Obamacare and the courts’ blocking of the early versions of his travel ban were cited as examples of the supposedly constrained Trump presidency.

No more. The sweeping tax bill gives a huge tax cut to corporations and to wealthy individuals, and will add roughly $1 trillion over the next ten years to the federal deficit. It will widen further the already enormous gulf between the very wealthy and the rest of America. And it sets the stage for an attempt by Republicans in Congress in 2018 to shrink the federal deficit by cutting benefits to a large number of Americans through reductions in Social Security, Medicare, and other social programs.

The end-of-year tax legislation forces a reexamination of quite a few other ideas about the Trump presidency that have taken hold from time to time over the past twelve months. One is the assumption that the Republicans in Congress and their leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan viewed Trump merely as a temporary tool. Once the Republicans got the tax cuts they were so desperately seeking (so this argument went), they would prove more willing to move against him, to condemn his excesses and his outrages. But now that the tax bill has been completed, they seem more wedded to Trump than ever; they will need his support for, among other things, their budget-cutting efforts to follow.

So, too, the passage of the tax bill suggests a new look at the question of what might happen if Trump were to be replaced by Vice President Mike Pence. There has been a sotto voce line of argument among liberals that Pence would be even worse for the country than Trump. The logic of this was that Pence seemed more conservative than Trump and more beholden to financial interests like those of the Koch brothers; at the same time, he is closer to congressional Republicans and thus would be more able to get legislation through Congress. But the tax bill underscores the fact that Trump himself can get spectacularly regressive legislation through Congress; the supposedly “populist” streak that he occasionally displayed during his presidential campaign is sheer fiction, at least when it comes to economic policy.

More importantly, although Pence stands on the far right of the political spectrum, he at least is on the spectrum of ordinary politics, while Trump…


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