Every day I hear fans of Donald Trump earnestly telling reporters that what they admire most about him is that he accomplished more than any president in American history. And I hear squeamish Trump voters who admit that the tweeting and the ranting may not have been ideal, but they just love his policies. Whenever I hear this, I have to wonder: What accomplishments and policies are they talking about?
Trump came into office with an economy running at full steam after a slow and gradual recovery from the catastrophic financial crisis of 2008. He instituted a number of policies that were struck down by the courts either partially or in full, such as his odious Muslim ban and family separation policies. He never got his wall built, even though he deployed U.S. troops to the border and precipitated the longest government shutdown in history in an attempt to force Congress to fund it. He certainly didn't "drain the swamp." His own personal corruption and conflicts of interest as president are legendary, and numerous members of his administration were charged with criminal behavior. Many others were dismissed in the face of ethics scandals.
He constantly claimed he was going to bring back manufacturing but all that meant was some flamboyant announcements that never actually materialized. His trade war ended up costing taxpayers both in terms of consumer prices and massive subsidies for producers who faced retaliation, with no discernible change in the behavior of foreign trade partners. He kissed up to tyrants all over the world and antagonized U.S. allies but did not end America's overseas wars as he promised. He failed to repeal Obamacare, the holy grail of Republican politics for nearly a decade.
So what did Donald Trump actually do? He reversed a lot of Barack Obama's policies, like the Paris climate accords and the Iran nuclear deal. The only substantial thing he accomplished through legislation was those tax cuts for the rich — largely the doing of then-House Speaker Paul Ryan.
What Trump really did was dominate the political world and escape all accountability. That's the "policy" his followers love.
But right-wing congressional Republicans are different animals. If they win the majority in next month's midterm elections, they too want to dominate — but they bring a different set of skills and goals to the table. First of all, of course they will vote to extend the Trump tax cuts and offer more to corporations. That goes without saying. Joe Biden will veto any such bill, but voting for tax cuts is a Republican religious ritual. They have to appease the gods of wealth.
Like Trump, they are also driven by revenge and have already made clear they plan to begin broad "investigations" into various Democratic officials and affiliates, including Hunter Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci. Various members have stated they may seek to impeach the secretary of state, the secretary of education, the attorney general and the head of Homeland Security, as well as President Biden and Vice President Harris.
Presumptive Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is trying to soft-pedal all this investigation-impeachment zeal, but as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene more or less told New York Times reporter Robert Draper, either he does what she wants or she'll sic the rabid GOP base on him. She filed articles of impeachment against Biden the day after his inauguration. In fact, she's already filed five of them.
But fired-up congressional Republicans aren't simply going to be content with harassing Biden and the Democrats for sheer entertainment value. In order to truly dominate the political landscape and set the table for Vengeance Tour 2024, they will seek to turn the country, and perhaps the world, completely upside down. To that end, they've been signaling that they plan to run one of their standard plays and hold the government debt ceiling hostage (I wrote about this here last week) to force the elimination of numerous Biden programs and fulfill their long-standing goal of destroying Social Security and Medicare. McCarthy confirmed this on Tuesday. (Donald Trump, let us recall, repeatedly vowed to protect Social Security and Medicare, but there's no sign that he'll try to intervene.)
Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell recently addressed the likely consequences of gambling with government default under the current economic circumstances, and let's just say they are dire. Such a move might not just destroy the creditworthiness of the U.S. treasury, but "might accidentally blow up every other financial market on Earth too... Boom, financial crisis." It's not as if the global economy is especially healthy at the moment as it recovers from the pandemic shock and struggles with the ripple effects of war in Ukraine. Playing these games now is the height of irresponsibility. But that's how the Republican Party has done business for at least the past 25 years.
And as if that weren't enough, they are also planning to re-run one of the great moments in "If he's for it, I'm against it" foreign policy sophistry of the past quarter-century. Kevin McCarthy has suggested that his party not only plans to hold the debt ceiling hostage, but support for Ukraine as well. Apparently, Republicans intend to refuse more military aid to Ukraine because — despite the massive unaccountable sums the U.S. spends on its own military — we just can't afford it right now. (After all, we've got the Space Force to pay for!)
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Tempting as it is to lay this on the new Trumpist "America First" philosophy, that actually isn't true. GOP isolationism goes way back. Just as the government shutdown maneuver comes straight out of the 1990s Newt Gingrich playbook, so too does this gambit to shut down military support for allies in Europe.
Kevin McCarthy's threat to shut down aid to Ukraine isn't actually a product of Trumpist "America First" philosophy. It's old-time GOP isolationism, straight out of the Newt Gingrich playbook.
After several years of watching idly as ethnic cleansing and war crimes took place in Bosnia during the early '90s, NATO had finally concluded it needed to step in to stop the Kosovo conflict from spreading. As dissonant as this was coming from a party that often gleefully endorses violence and claims to worship the military, Republicans fought hard to prevent Bill Clinton from intervening with NATO in the Kosovo conflict, saying that it wasn't our fight and could lead to a wider war. If Ronald Reagan had proposed military intervention, they would of course have wrapped themselves in the flag and started singing "The Yanks Are Coming." But since a Democrat was in office and after 1994 Republicans held the Congress for the first time in decades, they decided it wasn't America's place. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott even snidely pronounced, "Give peace a chance."
Reflexive GOP hyper-partisanship has been with us for a long time, as Salon's Amanda Marcotte illustrates in her recent interview with historian Nicole Hemmer. Trump didn't invent any of this. Divided government gives Republicans a chance to do what they truly love to do, and what their voters demand: Own the libs. If they have to destroy the global economy, accommodate war crimes and explode the Atlantic alliance, that's a price they are more than willing to make the world pay.