All of Stephen Bannon’s gibberish about the end of the “administrative state” and the revival of some sort of Judeo-Christian nationalism cannot overlook fundamental truths about President Donald Trump: He has destroyed the remnants of conservatism and the notion of limited government, which makes it all the more peculiar that the supposedly wonkish House Speaker Paul Ryan would be applauding so wildly.
As a preliminary matter, let’s dispense with the notion that there is such a thing as “social conservatism.” Trump mentioned no issue supposedly of interest to evangelicals — abortion, gay marriage, religious liberty, etc. There is a reason for that. The social conservative battles by and large have been lost (e.g., gay marriage is never going away). “Values” voters are now tribalists, fueled by resentment toward elites and hatred of Muslims rather than by any positive moral or religious view. If Trump has done one thing successfully, it is his unmasking of the charlatans who have held the GOP captive by denouncing deviations from their code of conduct and policy provision.
Moving on to economics, Trump is in favor of a bigger administrative state, a more intrusive one than former President Barack Obama. He’s creating a bigger, more intrusive deportation force. He’s looking to create something that sounds like universal coverage. (“Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved. And every hurting family can find healing and hope.”) His mix of mercantilism and industrial planning is a repudiation of hundreds of post-Adam Smith trade and free-market policies:
“The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, warned that the ‘abandonment of the protective policy by the American government will produce want and ruin among our people.’
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“Lincoln was right, and it’s time we heeded his advice and his words. I am not going to let America and its great companies and workers be taken advantage of any longer.
“I am going to bring back millions of jobs. Protecting our workers also means reforming our system of legal immigration. The current, outdated system depresses wages for our poorest workers and puts great pressure on taxpayers.”
He spends with abandon — a trillion for infrastructure! And he sees no problem that the federal government should not tackle. (“My administration wants to work with members of both parties to make child care accessible and affordable, to help ensure new parents that they have paid family leave, to invest in women’s health, and to promote clean air and clean water, and to rebuild our military and our infrastructure.”)
The only regulations Trump does not like are those that concern banking or the environment. Fiscal sobriety is out the window. Forget about slowing the buildup of debt or lowering it; Trump is prepared to set off a gusher of red ink, with the fairy tale that growth (hard to grow when you are stifling trade and immigration) will cure all. It was left to the Peterson Foundation to point out, “America’s national debt is already at its highest level since 1950, and is projected to grow rapidly in coming years.”
His foreign policy discussion was so cursory and vague that it is hard to tell whether he has become a conventional Republican or remains a willing partner for proto-fascist states. It does not bother Ryan, apparently, that Trump does not mention Russia, human rights, Cuba, North Korea or Afghanistan. We have no discernible foreign policy views or positions on dozens of issues, and Republicans find that perfectly acceptable.
Trump has indeed taken over the GOP, scrubbed it of principle, responsibility and decency and left its leaders nodding like bobble-heads as he runs through a list of rotten economic policies, which if they came from a Democrat, would be condemned. Those looking for some fiscal discipline, a market approach to trade, a pro-growth immigration policy, reasonable education and training ideas, respect for individual rights and a responsible, cogent foreign policy will need a new party.