Donald Trump has been at the helm of the Republican Party for the past three years, and from the beginning he has been hailed as the next Ronald Reagan due to his successful outsider approach to politics and policy making. While on the surface it may seem that Trump has been a godsend to the Republican Party, the truth is a little more complicated.
The Early Days Of Trumpism
During his campaign, Trump promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C. In order to do that, he needed to make some major inroads into Congress, which he has largely done; however, much is still unknown about how he plans to implement his populist agenda of tax cuts, increased trade protection, and de-establishment of government institutions.
What Is Trumpism?
It is often said that Trumpism is a type of politics that places a greater emphasis on culture and society rather than traditional government issues like taxes and regulations. While there is some truth to that, it is more complicated than it seems. According to Jonah Goldberg, writing for The American Prospect, “Trumpism is not a coherent ideology or platform. It is a personality and political style.”
Goldberg goes on to elaborate:
“[T]he defining elements of Trumpism are a conviction that the political and media establishment have rigged the system to benefit ‘special interests,’ a sense that the economy is not working for most people, and a desire to bring about change through unconventional means.”
What does this mean in practical terms? Simply put, Trumpism is not a singular entity that can be encapsulated in a tweet or two. Rather, it is a wide-ranging worldview that permeates everything a Trump administration does. As a result, it is extremely difficult to ascertain exactly what Trumpism is or will be. This makes it harder to assess the true impact of the president’s rise to power.
The Next Phase Of Populism
While Trump’s support among Republicans remains strong (he has a 91% approval rating amongst them), his political capital is far from secure. As Goldberg noted, it would not be surprising if Trump’s “populist bravado eventually turns into frustration as he realizes that governing is more difficult than running for office.”
In the last few months, the president has begun to discover this more than ever as his inability to pass any significant legislative measures continues to pile up. Now, as he enters the second year of his administration, Trump faces an uncertain future. If he wants to keep the GOP in line and maintain the support of the lower and middle classes that put him in office, he will need to continue expanding his base of political power.
The good news for Trump is that, for the first time in recent memory, a president’s party traditionally loses its majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in the midterm elections. As a result, he has a real chance of expanding the Republican Party’s power significantly in Congress, which would mean he could continue implementing many of his campaign promises regardless of whether he has the support or consensus of his own party.
What Do The Last Months Say?
Although Trump is still very popular amongst Republicans, his inability to achieve any of his legislative agenda items has given his political opponents a clear opening. As the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward stated last month, “[W]hat started as a noisy, chaotic, outsider movement has turned into something else. It’s become more professional, more like an organized political machine.”
Further evidence of this can be seen in the recent debacle over a border wall with Mexico. As it became clear last year that Trump was not going to achieve his goal of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, his defenders began to change the subject to immigration. However, this tactic did not work. When the congressional budget office announced that it would not be able to pay for the wall as Trump had promised during the election, the president’s popularity immediately took a hit.
There is also the issue of Russia, for which there is also no real evidence of wrongdoing. Rather, as Woodward reports, “[T]he investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election has become a constant distraction for the president and his team.”
In an attempt to save face, White House press secretary Sean Spicer has recently begun referring to the ongoing Congressional investigation into Russia as a “taxpayer-funded witch-hunt.” While this may be good for Trump’s reelection chances, it is an embarrassment for the country. In the face of overwhelming political opposition and an unbiased judiciary, Trump has little room to complain about a “witch-hunt” when he is undoubtedly the target of one.
The Impact On Foreign Policy
While Trump has generally sought to expand U.S. military and economic power abroad, his recent actions suggest that this approach may be backfiring. As the New York Times’s Thomas L. Friedman writes:
“[T]he United States is more isolated than any other country in the world at this point. Not just because of what’s happening at home. But because of what’s happening abroad. Other countries don’t like us. They don’t trust us. They’re right not to. We can’t even get along with our friends right now. We’re being rejected by our allies. The European Union just sort of ignores us. Even our staunchest Asian allies are deeply uncomfortable with what’s going on in Washington right now.”
“[T]hat’s because across the world, people see Donald Trump as a threat. Not just to their interests, but to norms and rules and civil liberties and even the fundamental concept of democracy. They’re scared. And they have good reason to be scared. Because Trump isn’t playing by the normal rules. He’s not saying what would be the typical thing to say. He’s saying and doing the opposite of what people expect.”
Friedman attributes Trump’s foreign policy failures to his “extraordinary expectations” and lack of experience in international relations. The lesson here is that if you want to achieve significant results in U.S. foreign affairs, you may need to follow normal diplomatic channels and cultivate long-term relationships with key players in the industry.
What About The Economy?
While Trump has sought to make the U.S. economy great again through increased trade protection, deregulation, and tax cuts, there is evidence that this approach may not be working out as planned. The unemployment rate is at an all-time low, yet wages remain stagnant and many Americans are left out of the economic growth.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, average hourly earnings have not changed significantly in over a decade, meaning that “most workers have not seen a real increase in pay due to insufficient wage growth.” Further, EPI notes that, as a result of this, “the share of national income received by workers has declined while the share received by corporations and investors has skyrocketed.”
Goldberg also notes that, although the unemployment rate has hit an all-time low, there is still a large number of people who are discouraged about finding a job. Because of this, people who are looking for work are simply going un-employed, which means that even if there are jobs, they may not be able to get them. This is why unemployment is often seen as a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” as those who don’t have jobs may not be qualified to find them.
Trump’s supporters often cite his unpredictability and his willingness to offend as reasons why he should be given a second term. However, as Woodward reports, there are a number of uncertainties regarding Trump’s plans for a second term.
One of the most significant is his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump has consistently expressed admiration for the Russian leader and even once said that Putin “is doing a great job” in terms of restoring Russia to its former glory. Because of Trump’s comments in favor of Russia, many believe that the U.S. government has no choice but to work with the Kremlin.
This view is misguided. Despite his praise for Putin and Russia, the president has also taken a tough stance against the country. He has openly questioned whether or not Russia meddled in the 2016 election and has called for a full investigation into the Kremlin’s activities. Further, he has said that he would refuse to sign a new agreement with Russia prohibiting nuclear arms development unless and until the country completely abandons its current arsenal.