Updated: Jan 20, 2021
By Gabriel Devine
The era of Trump draws to a close. In the years preceding and the years during the trump presidency, one word seemed to be floating around the lips of the popular commentariat. "Populism". This scary word sent shivers through the hearts of every technocrat in the western world. The rise of this "populism" was attributed to many factors, the post-industrial decline of many western towns where the sparse population amplified their voting power. It could also be the shifting demographics and house they relate to society and the economy. Millennials don't own property so why should they care what happens to stamp duty or the land value tax. Young people, just like older people, wanted a change. They wanted to see either themselves or an avatar of their beliefs take public office.
Populism was seen around the globe. The Bolsonaros and Dutertes of the right and the Sanders and the Italian 5-star movements of the left. There was a seeming rejection of the modern system. France had to run the most milquetoast inoffensive and centrist they could find in the form of Emmanuel Macron to defeat the populist LePen who was capturing huge support despite her borderline fascist views. In the UK, we have seen The Lib Dems haemorrhage support over the past half-decade whilst "sensible" centrist parties like the Independent group for change (or whatever they ended up calling themselves) completely fail to launch.
Many say that populism seeks to combat and overthrow the establishment, if we were to measure Trump through this lens then he could be seen as the complete opposite. He may well have been one on the 2016 campaign trail. Here the priorities or at least messaging were "draining the swamp" and "locking her up" but as soon as he took office he fits squarely into the GOP machine. Many during the 2016 Republican primary thought that Trump would end up absorbing the Republican party to his will, well, in reality, the reverse happened. Trump did everything the GOP wanted him to do. He passed his tax cuts that punched a huge hole in the budget due to the lack of accompanying spending cuts.
This appealed to the GOP as it mainly aided those above the middle class rather than the middle class it was supposed to be for. The appointment of supreme court justices is another thing the GOP got out of trump. Unless Biden makes the unlikely move of packing the court, the next 40 years of supreme court cases will have a conservative bias. Don't think that the GOP are the only establishment force making out like bandits from the trump presidency, the democrats, the intelligence services and the media are all benefiting from this administration. All assets of the supposed "establishment".
The democrats have been benefiting by having nightly news and popular culture reject the Trump presidency. Democratic voters will do anything to not have the orange man in office and if that means settling for a corporate Democrat who promises never to stop fracking, then so be it. Democrat voters can't bargain when the stakes are so high. They have to accept whatever they are given even if it's not what they really want. We know that more social democratic policies are far more popular with Democratic voters. 80% of democratic voters support Medicare for all and huge numbers support student debt relief and other more "radical" policies (It bears repeating that what is seen as radical in the USA today was being done by centre-right governments in Europe in the 50s and 60s). Every boondoggle or fiasco in the Trump president gave Nancy Pelosi another thing to condemn next time she is interviewed. It gives Jake Tapper another thing to sullenly grimace about on the evening news, softly muttering to himself "this isn't my country, this isn't my country". Something he never thought during the Iraq war funnily enough.
The media is fully complicit in the Trump election. The sought to gain viewership by covering the "crazy" Trump rallies, exposing millions of people to his one-liners and buzz-words. People might laugh at first but when they hear a man on television running for public office for the first time in their life talking about things that actually matter to them. Maybe it’s something benign like wanting to bring back jobs that you have seen leave your small town. Or maybe, more sinisterly, you have been worried about the Mexicans crossing the border and Muslims in your community. These were not talked about before Trump and his brazen attitude aided the network news to grow and bring in millions of viewers dying to see what Trump did next. Every radicalised viewer was a dollar in CNN, MSNBC, FOX News, or any other news network's pocket.
The intelligence service is another establishment that has been lionized by the Trump president by liberals who really should know better. The intelligence agencies of the CIA and FBI were seen by some pundits as a steadying hand, an unaccountable, unelected, secretive, brazenly murderous, steadying hand. The same people who talk about how great BLM is and how much they miss Obama are openly praising the organisation that killed Fred Hampton (and depending on how spicy I'm feeling maybe also MLK but that's a story for another time). I have to ask myself how many lives have to be ruined both in the USA and overseas by these G-men who are accountable to no one for people to write off these tools of empire once and for all. For God's sake, they made a fawning TV movie about James bloody Comey of all people (I looked it up its called "The Comey Rule"). The man who is, 2nd only to the Hil-dog herself, most responsible for Trump's victory.
As we stand at the beginning of 2021 the "establishment" that Trump sought to upend and fix once and for all is more powerful than ever. The Democrats under the control of one Joseph Robinette Biden will slowly begin to roll back the promises they made in the election campaigns I imagine. Controlling all three branches of government will make wriggling out of giving voters what they want and voted for more difficult but one has to remember that in the senate the deciding vote in a split is not the vice president. Its Joe Manchin. The democratic cupboard is still full of skeletons it has to clean out and maybe one could say that a more ideologically coherent party would have far less trouble passing their agenda than a more broad-tent party that the democrats are. But one could also easily argue that their broad tent nature was what brought them their majorities so who's to say.
The GOP is at a crossroads and I don't see the Trump revolution ending quite so soon. He is still the heart and soul of his party. He has captured the base, unlike any other politician. If Trump walks so does the GOP's base. They have to strike a deal. Something to distance themself from the more unruly and insurrectionist-y parts of the Trump administration but also not something that would alienate these fully paid-up members of the Trump Fedayeen who they rely on to come out and vote every 2 years.
It looks like after the January 6th Capitol riot that the intelligence services are about to receive their shot in the arm in the form of patriot act 2.0. Domestic terror from the right has intensified and the American judiciary and law enforcement is lacking for nothing in order to prosecute these insurrectionists at the capitol. Use of this event to pass bills to make the intelligence agencies less legally liable and capable of spying on innocent civilians is a blatant attack on civil liberties and what happens in America will soon follow in the UK.
Looking at the state of America today compared to 7 years ago one could easily assume that a Republican Hilary had won the 2016 election and done everything in his power to strengthen the technocratic establishment and make the government less accountable to the people. So I object to Trump being labelled a populist. He is the very opposite. If not by intention then by his very actions. He is Neo-Con Don after all.
Image credit: The Hill