Finally, America taking sharp left on economics

Trump rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona, March 19, 2016. Photo: Gage Skidmore

Protectionism, raising minimum wage, raising taxes on rich — this, by popular demand, is economic platform of GOP’s new leader.

It’s ironic: America has been moving left on social issues in recent years because there are more minorities and “millennials” in the population, yet the country is finally, in this election campaign, moving left on economic issues as well because of white, generally middle-aged Middle Americans — mainly those who support the fascistic Donald Trump.

These are the people who, ever since Reagan, exasperated the liberals by consistently acting against their economic self-interest and voting for a Republican Party that so clearly favored the rich and disdained the working class and poor. The reason they voted Republican was the social issues, the symbolic issues, the ones that involved their likes and dislikes, that pitted their culture against liberal, cosmopolitan culture. These are patriotic, traditional Americans, and the Republicans talked like their kind of people, while the Democrats talked like big-city college kids who didn’t know how to change a tire. On economics, these voters said they hated government and taxes, and the Republicans said they did, too, so it was a perfect match — even though the GOP-style economy left these people further and further behind while the rich kept getting more obscenely rich.

But this year the alliance between Middle America and Republican economics broke apart. It happened mainly because Trump jettisoned the GOP’s laissez faire dogma, and instead told Middle America’s inadequately educated whites, “I’ll save you. I’ll get your jobs back. I’ll stop all those businesses from leaving the U.S. and they’ll have to hire you, at good wages.” In other words, protectionism. Prohibitive taxes on foreign imports, and confiscatory taxes on U.S. businesses that dare defy the government. What Republicans call socialism, totalitarianism.

And the salt-of-the-earth white folks of the heartland loved it. Meanwhile, on the social and cultural issues, Trump threw them more raw meat than any serious presidential candidate ever had — the ugliest racism and nativism, the worst abusiveness, the most fuck-you brand of hell-raising — and between that and his economic wonder drug, he left the Republican free-market purists in the dust.

PROTECTIONISM IS AN idiotic idea in this day and age — among other awful effects, it would lose America billions of foreign customers for its exports, and thus cost more Americans their jobs than Third World competition ever did — but the important thing is that Trump, by making this idiotic claim so successfully, has separated Republican voters from Republican economic doctrine. Which is a great thing, because Reaganomics, which has held sway in America since the 1980s (the big exception being the passage — and success — of Obamacare), has helped expand the country’s pool of have-nots, strike fear into the middle class and give the upper class an abominably large share of the nation’s wealth.

Trump — purely by accident, because he doesn’t have an economic idea or principle in his head — has torn down the Republicans’ facade and allowed the party’s educational lower class to acknowledge, very loudly, that economic freedom isn’t working for them, and that they want somebody in charge — say, the next president — to give them economic security one way or the other.

As a result, Trump has had to keep moving left economically — now he’s changed his mind and come out in favor of raising the minimum wage, which is the sort of thing that would have gotten a Republican hanged as recently as last year. In another forced reversal, he’s even talking about raising taxes on the rich. Protectionism, minimum wage hikes, higher taxes on the wealthy — this, by popular demand, is the economic platform of the Republican Party’s new leader.

After this, after Trump’s exposure of the dissatisfaction in party ranks with laissez faire, is any Republican going to try to sell voters on Milton Friedman or the Laffer curve again? I don’t think so. That way has failed, first economically, now politically.

TRUE, IT’S NOT only Trump and his white Middle Americans who are moving the country left on economics; it’s also Bernie Sanders and his white Middle Americans, along with his millennials who believe in equality, and who also believe they shouldn’t have to pay so damn much to go to college. They’re right, of course, and hopefully their nudging of Hillary and the Democrats leftward (except on free trade, where they’re as wrong as Trump), will be a lasting thing. But by far the most significant development — the shredding of America’s economic Right — has come from the heart of the Republican electorate, driven forward by a sociopathic billionaire. If that’s not ironic, I don’t know what is.

This isn’t too good to be true, either: After Reagan, it was Bill Clinton who said “the era of big government is over” as the Democrats joined the Republicans in keeping taxes low, slashing welfare and in general burying the party’s New Deal legacy (until Obamacare). For 3½ decades, American economic policy has been moving one way, right. Now, from the force of reality and the advent of Trump and, to a lesser extent, Sanders, the pendulum is swinging back.

So, assuming that Hillary Clinton wins the November election, which I think is a very safe assumption, the 2016 election campaign should go down as a turning point for the better in American economic history. (And assuming that Trump gets wiped out electorally, which I think is a likelihood, this will have been a healthy year for American national life all around.)

I don’t know if Hillary and the Dems will make things better for average-income and poor Americans; if they don’t, the Repubs could come back to power later — but not with more of their economic bullshit. They can’t make life much easier for the rich or much harder for the poor and working class without turning America into something like a Third World country itself — and without chasing more and more voters away.

The Republicans are going to have to deliver the goods to their struggling supporters, because these people won’t listen to promises of trickle-down anymore. The GOP has no choice but to rejoin the Western world and accept that a mixed economy, one that includes reasonable taxes and reasonable government intervention, is necessary for a fair society.

Remember Nixon’s wage and price controls of 1971? There really was a time, and not so long ago, when even a Republican could have an idea like that. Such times appear to be coming around again.

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