Eulogy for a fake populist presidency


Ally Zacek | The DePaulia

We are gathered here today to remember the 45th presidency of the United States. A one-term presidency born by a historic upset. A victory delivered by union democrats of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Voters who had handed these upper Midwestern states to Obama over Romney/Ryan in 2012 turned them red four years later in order to vote for what they thought was a different kind of Republican, a populist distinct from the corporate Romney/Ryan GOP types of old, a candidate who forgoed their stale bromides about “limited government” and tax cuts in favor of bashing NAFTA and endless foreign wars.

But as president, the populist campaigner who had won 72 percent of the white working class vote – 44 percent of the electorate – compared to Romney/Ryan’s 64 percent, governed as if his base had shouted “cut the tax!” on the 2016 campaign trail rather than “build the wall!” Outsourcing his legislative agenda to Paul Ryan, a man wildly out of step with his own base, the policy-averse president devoted his crucial first year in office with full control of Congress to pursuing the speaker’s wildly unpopular policy agenda of cutting taxes for the donor class whilst attempting to scrap entitlements for the working class (i.e. repealing Obamacare).

This discrepancy between the way Trump campaigned and the way he actually governed, leaving aside the many tweet storms, eventually came to a head in March of 2018 with the passing of the omnibus spending bill: Trump’s last chance before the blue wave of the 2018 midterms to make good on his signature “build the wall” promise.

It was then, while the media was so engrossed in the Stormy Daniels story – wrongly believing it would rupture Trump’s support amongst evangelicals – that the self-proclaimed “master negotiator” signed a $1.3 trillion spending bill with money for a $60 billion tunnel in Chuck Schumer’s district, $700 billion for the Pentagon to fight the forever war in Afghanistan he had promised to end and, most notably, not a dime for his border wall. However, the bill, as if to mock Trump, did have border wall funding… for Jordan and Tunisia. The president was so browbeaten that Chuck Schumer’s PR man, Matt House, couldn’t resist mocking him via tweet: “I, for one, am tired of all the winning.”

And so, as the media obsessed in March of 2018 about the yawn-inducing Stormy Daniels saga, the omnibus bill did what Daniels and the Access Hollywood tape before it never could: It turned Trump’s base against him.

All at once pro-Trump Twitter realized they were likely never getting their wall (nor e-verify, nor any reduction in immigration). Instead, Wall Street had gotten their tax cut, big business had gotten their deregulation, and Paul Ryan had gotten his agenda. But the Ohio union Democrat who shouted “build the wall!” had gotten absolutely nothing. He had been taken for a ride after taking a socially and professionally ostracizing position in favor of the president.

Trump’s most fervent allies – from Ann Coulter to Mike Cernovich – took to Twitter to express a rage they had never expressed against Trump before. Fox’s Jeanine Pirro called the bill “a betrayal.” A representative pro-Trump account tweeted as Trump signed the omnibus, “I turned the television off! There’s no point in listening to somebody LIE straight to your face. There is NO WALL!”

Trump had run out of time to deliver to his populist base. Whether out of ignorance or intention, he had squandered the invaluable first year of his presidency to pursue the agenda of Paul Ryan, a man who had decisively lost the pro-union, pro-Trump democrats of the rustbelt with his anti-entitlement, anti-union message in 2012. He had spent seven months on a failed attempt to repeal Obamacare rather than send an immigration bill with wall funding or e-verify to the GOP controlled congress – an initiative that the pro-immigration, Ayn Rand devotee Ryan had zero interest in.

Thus Donald Trump and the GOP lost the house in 2018. In a sign of things to come, a pro-union Democrat deep in a heavily pro-Trump Pennsylvania district, Connor Lamb, won an upset victory in a March special election. Tellingly, Lamb cast Paul Ryan as the Republican villain in his race rather than Donald Trump; he had realized, as the president had not, that however divisive Trump’s “build the wall” America-first messaging was in American coastal cities, it remained far more popular than Ryan’s “cut your grandma’s social security to pay for hedge fund manager tax cuts” governing philosophy.  Ironically, the latter would be end up being the agenda that Trump would fatefully decide to actually enact as president.

Blocked from building the wall or delivering any of his immigration promises beyond upping deportations, he would go on to lose in 2020 while trying to run on tax cuts and Paul Ryan Chamber of Commerce Republicanism. His blue-collar base would never recover their enthusiasm for the man who had promised them a wall, only to cut corporate taxes instead. Thus, an erratic one-term presidency, full of shiny and meaningless PR bluster, came to a close in a sad and dejected state.