One of my favorite political theories is now going to be tested, big league.
For years, I’ve watched and listened to conservatives as they described all the wonderful, revolutionary things that they would do if ever given the type of unchecked power that they now possess.
- “Entitlement reform,” meaning the privatization of Medicare and even Social Security that millions of Americans rely on for their lifelines.
- “Tax reform,” in which they address the economic dissatisfaction of the middle class by slashing the tax burden on the fabulously wealthy, under the theory that jobs will blossom and the resulting growth will magically shrink the deficits.
- “Devolving power back to the states,” so that Medicaid, food stamps and other popular programs that they don’t dare kill in Washington can be slowly and quietly strangled in state capitols.
- “Deregulation,” in which Wall Street financiers and corporate executives are freed from oversight such as that imposed on them after the 2008 meltdown, in effect stripping consumers of what little protection that government once offered them.
All these policies are of course consistent with traditional GOP ideology. And if you don’t think about the details or their impact on actual living human beings, you can apparently convince yourself that such policies will be popular. You can even blind yourself to the common thread that runs through them, which is that these and many other policy proposals from the right are designed to benefit the economic and political elite while making the average citizen even more vulnerable to economic instability.
That is the core conservative argument, after all: Government has given its citizens too much protection from the purifying fires of capitalism.
My theory has always been that conservatives have been fooling themselves, that as these pretty little ideas start to translate from theory into practice, a couple of things will start to happen: Their elitist nature becomes harder to disguise, and also, they don’t work. They don’t work at all. I think that outcome is probably more likely now than ever, because you can’t expect the challenges posed by a global economy utterly transformed by technology to be susceptible to the economic placebos popular a half century ago. Yet that’s exactly what the GOP believes.
In recent years, we’ve seen smaller-scale confirmation of my theory in places such as Louisiana and Kansas, where conservative revolutionaries came into power and implemented the full range of right-wing economic policies, and instead of success have reaped bitter failure. Now we’re about to witness what happens as that same process plays out on the national scale.
It’s just three days after Election Day, and you can already see it happening. While candidate Donald Trump promised throughout the campaign to “drain the swamp” of Washington lobbyists and take on the special interests, how has President-elect Trump begun the transition process?
By inviting in the swamp creatures themselves to redesign the place to their own liking. Already, special-interest lobbyists are being put in charge of hiring appointees and setting policies for the very federal agencies where their clients have the most at stake. In about every field in which you care to look, the anti-elitist, populist Trump campaign has produced an elitist feeding frenzy. The lions are very much looking forward to being set loose on the lambs.
Given all that, the next few years are going to be fascinating high-stakes political drama, particularly given the fact that conservatives have convinced themselves that they have a mandate for major change. The reality is that their victorious presidential candidate probably lost the popular vote, and Democratic candidates for the House and Senate got more votes than Republican candidates, but that fact will have no moderating influence whatsoever. With control of the House, Senate, White House and Supreme Court, they have no excuses for not acting.
In one sense I’m eager to watch this experiment play out; in another I dread its consequences on actual living human beings, including millions of those who have put these people into power and invested enormous faith in their competence and judgment.
I hope I’m proved wrong; I fear I won’t.