Can Independents Successfully Rule?
Over the years, as disenchantment has grown with the two major political parties, there has been a growing attraction amongst many people to the idea of a President who is truly independent of the political machines -someone who stands above the petty political disputes and has the interests of average Americans in mind as he makes decisions. For many, Ross Perot presented such a possibility in the 1990’s. The television show, Designated Survivor, was largely built on such an idea as well.
The less idealistic have always been critical of such a concept. They have contended that a President without a party would be crippled and largely impotent. In this, admittedly cynical view, stripped of the support of a political party in Congress, a truly independent President would be isolated, ignored and simply “waited out” by the entrenched political interests in the country.
The cynics were right.
It turns out the cynics were right. We don’t have to wonder how it would play out anymore. We can see it on display every day. President Trump, an independent President, who came to power without the support of any major party’s machine, sits isolated and ignored – reduced to what he can do by executive action. The Democrats openly oppose him. The Republicans for the most part stand apart, watching the President twist in the wind, offering no support and biding their time until he returns to private life and they can pick up precisely where they were before he came to power.
For two years after his election as President, Donald Trump enjoyed Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. For two years, having run on the promise to build a wall along our southern border, he had a golden opportunity to secure funding, to begin construction and to make good on his promise. Nothing happened. Republican majorities in both houses sat idly by, ignored the President and let this golden opportunity pass without making any serious effort of any kind to fund construction of the wall. Similarly, they did nothing to address the long-established problems with immigration law, to tighten standards for the granting of asylum, to end “catch and release” or to any meaningful fashion make good on claims that they were supportive of much tougher measures to deter illegal immigration.
Congressional inactivity in support of the President has not been limited to the question of the border, however. The repeal of Obamacare crashed and burned as well. In fact, virtually the only significant measure pushed through Congress during the two years of a Republican majority in both houses was the tax bill. In every other case Republicans majorities failed to show up and stand with their “Republican” President.
The explanation is not hard to find. Donald Trump may have won the nomination of the Republican Party. He is not really, in any meaningful sense, a Republican as the establishment in the party defines that term.
GOP champions free trade, globalization and offshore manufacturing.
The GOP leadership has for decades championed free trade, globalization and the offshoring of manufacturing. The reason is clear. A great many people at the tops of major corporations made a lot of money off these policies, even as average Americans suffered. Donald Trump made the central theme of his campaign and his presidency the rebuilding of American manufacturing. He has pushed back hard on Canada and Mexico. He is fighting and winning a trade war with China. The party elders and their corporate masters are not pleased.
The GOP leadership has talked out of both sides of its mouth for decades on illegal immigration. The Democrats may want illegals here so they can turn them into voters. Many Republicans want them here, because they work cheap, don’t complain to the authorities about working conditions and save employers from the horrible prospect of having to hire American workers who expect a living wage and a safe workplace. President Trump is deadly serious about ending illegal immigration, and a lot of very wealthy, very powerful Republican donors don’t want that at all.
GOP leadership wedded to DOD-centric, neo-con view of American foreign policy?
The GOP leadership has been, since at least 9/11, wedded to a DOD-centric, neo-con view of American foreign policy, which ensures endless war and massive defense budgets. For many lawmakers and their corporate sponsors this is less about keeping America safe and more about corporate welfare and trillions in defense spending. The heads of America’s major defense contractors may not have sons and daughters serving in harm’s way, but they are certainly making a killing off of the building of giant bases in Sub-Saharan Africa, the open-ended conflict in Afghanistan and the continuing surge of American special operations forces into virtually every nation on Earth.
Trump at odds with the elite?
President Trump, while strong on defense, has made it clear that he wants to bring conflicts to a close, pull back on foreign entanglements and bring our troops home. A lot of very powerful people, and the Republican politicians they own, don’t want any of those things.
Former Republican Senator Jeff Flake distinguished himself in his book Conscience of a Conservative by the clarity of his attacks on the President and what he sees as the populist wave of 2016. Most establishment Republicans keep this kind of talk to themselves or to back rooms out of the light of day. Yet Flake’s comments accurately summarize the feelings of a large portion of the Republican leadership regarding Trump, the party and the future.
“Rather than fighting the populist wave that threatened to engulf us, rather than defending the enduring principles that were consonant with everything that we knew and had believed in, we pretended that the emperor wasn’t naked,” Flake wrote. “Even worse: We checked our critical faculties at the door and pretended that the emperor was making sense.”
“Never has a party so quickly or easily abandoned its core principles as my party did in the course of the 2016 campaign….lurch[ing] like a tranquilized elephant from a broad consensus on economic philosophy and free trade that had held for generations to an incoherent and often untrue mash of back-of-the-envelope populist slogans. Seemingly overnight,” Flake continued, blaming “powerful nativist impulses that have arisen in the face of fear and insecurity over the swiftly evolving global economy.”
Flake was just as critical of Trump’s policies on immigration, writing that “We have given in to the politics of anger — the belief that riling up the base can make up for failed attempts to broaden the electorate… These are the spasms of a dying party.” According to Flake, the “nativist impulse” of 2016 is “always destructive, always comes with a cost, and never ends well.”
Democratic opposition to President Trump has been unprecedented in its ferocity and intensity. Republican opposition to the President has been much less visible, yet, perhaps in some senses, more lethal. This President is being left to serve out his term while being blocked at every turn from making progress on the key components of his agenda. Donald Trump may technically be the Republican President of the United States, but in a very real and very damaging sense he is a man without a party.