Irina Tsukerman
Irina Tsukerman

Is The Trump Administration All That Different?

Many, on both the left and the right, critics and supporters, have asserted that the Trump administration is like no other in history of the United States, or for that matter, the Republican party. But is the Trump administration all that different?

Trump has been a politically polarizing politician, but policy-wise, his administration is not too different from George W. Bush’s in many respects. And on some things, he basically continued with Obama’s policies. The major difference between him and Obama are 1. conservative judges and 2. deregulation. However, many of these regulations only came into place under Obama, so there isn’t actually a striking difference between the way life was under Bush and what it’s like under Trump. So then, leaving aside, Trump’s personal qualities, why is the reaction to his administration so hysterical, when there isn’t actually all that much that has changed, much less negatively affected anyone in the US? (I have yet to see one person who lost medical coverage because of Trump). Three things:

1. The hysteria started under Bush with completely over the top reactions to Iraq war. Many of the people who expressed their differences over the war were so hateful in tone that I wonder to this day whether they knew who the real enemy was. The people who now fondly recall the Bush eras, tend to forget the utterly hateful rhetoric surrounding the war in Iraq and all the names Bush was called, and so forth. Bush himself was significantly more civil in tone. Trump supporters now call it weakness. I think there is a middle ground between allowing your adversaries to walk all over you and reacting impulsively to every single negative comment about you. Those who think that Trump comes out as strong and in control by lashing out are doing so because they are projecting their own wish to see someone respond to the annoying media and leftist loons. And gratifying as it may be emotionally, it does absolutely nothing for Trump’s image otherwise. No one except his most hardcore supporters actually believes he is a strong president due to that. That’s not to say that people won’t vote for him given no other Republican alternatives. Incumbents tend to win, and most people are doing ok for now, so there is no reason to believe that unless his policy ends up putting us on a crash course, history won’t follow the examples of previous presidents who got reelected despite not being particularly outstanding on any one thing. But let’s not kid ourselves about how Trump actually comes across. Or that someone less polarizing wouldn’t have gotten the same share of attacks. Same people who “wanted” Jeb or Rubio would have turned to calling them fascist Islamophobes the moment they took office and shown opposition to the Iran deal or cracked down on terrorists (and they would have done exactly that).

2. Media – for all the talks about the failing media, there are now many more media outlets than under Bush. These echo chambers started mushrooming under Obama as a reaction to each other. On the part of the left, it was a deliberate strategy of amplifying the message, on the part of the right it was a reaction to a perceived bias in the MSM, and MSM’s unwillingness to cover issues of concern to conservatives or give voice to conservative perspective. All of which is perfectly ok, of course, so long as people are still willing to examine the other side. But neither the journalists nor the readers were willing to do that, although there is a number of very fair minded conservative journalists who do excellent investigative work. But many of them are outright dismissed as political hacks by all of the left, regardless of what they say. Yes, there is bias and tunnel vision on both sides. But I would say that more conservatives are at least willing to hear what the other side says, if only to debunk it, than progressives who don’t even read what conservatives have to say.

3. The rise of activist movements – BLM, Occupy Wall Street, and BDS movements have all contributed to the radicalization of the discourse on the left. And they are not really comparable to Tea Party, which had very specific economic goals, and moreover organized around electing more conservative politicians, rather than just having actions for the sake of actions, or changing culture, or infiltrating the academe. To some extent, I think it’s the failing of the conservatives to utilize the Tea Party momentum to that end. But regardless of that, I think it’s clear that the rise of radical activists galvanized the left, though not necessarily towards any helpful ends such as getting elected. It definitely influenced rhetoric and perceptions, so that even very mainstream, old-school Democrats found themselves having to move to the left in order to keep up with the party messaging and not be left out in the cold. You might say that Trumpism did the the same for conservatives, but ideologically that’s not really the case, because Trumpism didn’t make anyone (not one peson) more “conservative” in any traditional understanding.

It shifted the focus of conversation to particular concerns popular with the conservatives in recent years, but whereas the conservative platform had a broad spectrum of issues and perspectives, Trumpism was a nativist/populist focus on a few very narrow issues to the exclusion of discussion and understanding of anything else. To some extent, it’s more a demagoguic exploitation of deeply personal fears and problems than any political movement that that affects the reasoning of the party about its platform. it’s not cohesive, it’s not based in any principles, it’s reactionary, and unfortunately, it plays on emotions and poor understanding of economics and foreign policy for overwhelming majority of people, instead of addressing their concerns in a thoughtful way (which is the failing of conservatives – and that’s how Trumpism took advantage of the vacuum). It’s not that conservatism holds no answers, it’s that a combination of corrupt or weak politicians, lack of access to broader discourse with the public, and failure to organize conservatives on a grassroots level made the public ripe for a quick takeover by loud over the top brash voices, which are perceived as strong, more confident, more decisive, and having solutions because they tell people what they want to hear.

No one really wants to discuss the downsides of these “solutions”. That’s old school. That failed. That’s out the door. So at the end of the day, left wing activist movements took the Democratic party through the triumph of cultural rhetoric and socialist economic appeal, while the right has been largely abducted by populist nativism, which actually has very little to do with “nationalism” as most people view it. It’s more like the combination of 1920s nativism/Know NOthing party and early post-revolutionary Soviet Union, with the focus on taking down the corrupt economic elites and installing the Peope who surely knew how to address their own needs. That was actually the underlying political premise of the first years of Bolshevism. Though Trumpism doesn’t embrace communism, it actually has a lot more of socialism in it than anyone would care to admit, and anyone who compares it to Italian fascism or German Nazism is sorely deluded. The underlying premise is actually very particular to early Soviet populism, minus the violence. That Trumpism and left wing cultural activism both rely on Alinsky tactics to carry out their agendas, makes them both more alike than they are different. That’s not to say that Trumpism is practically useless, and that someone who embraces it, cannot execute a policy successfully. But let’s see who’s actually executing some of the more successful Trump policies. Are they actual true believer populists? Or are they hardcore pragmatists, who’d be doing the same thing in any Republican administration? I actually think there are significantly fewer populists in the administration than people on either side of the aisle believe.

I think if Trump were to retire from politics, the movement will quick die down for lack of leadership, so long as more traditional conservatives get their act together and put forth a cohesive vision, which they had failed to do during the election. And I think, results will sooner or later speak for themselves. It may not happen today or tomorrow, but Trumpian isolationism is not consistent with the security demands of modern reality, nor with the economic demands of a colossal economy that we have in place today. All of that will fall by wayside, and Republicans will either feel betrayed once again, or others will emerge to take advantage of the things the administration did right and build on it in a more traditional and thought out manner. It remains to be seen what actually happens. But from the left, no matter who takes the mantle after Trump, expect nothing but more hatemongering, dismissal and Alinskyite tactics. To contrast with conservatism, they are forced to rely on the polar extreme, simply because of who their constituency is. I am not sure how the left can ever roll back the excesses of intersectionality given the generations of mindless drones it has produced. If they do try to do so, it may end badly.

Meanwhile, the GOP has some demons of its own to exorcise.

We no longer have the specter of Hillary haunting our upcoming electoral future. How are Republicans going to motivate the voters into turning out en masse to the Congressional elections next year when a) the momentum is with the Democrats, who are staunchly opposing Donald Trump (and any Republican initiative) b) Republicans are disunited and ready to eat each other alive c) many Republican Congressmen are retiring, so many of the spots will be up for grabs and d) Republicans have thus far failed spectacularly to deliver on their promises?

You cannot keep scaring people with imaginary boogeymen forever, and you cannot keep feeding them incoherent and half-baked promises that your own state’s constituents don’t actually want or you are not ready to full-heartedly sell to them and to fight for in Congress. You also cannot keep backing Obama-lite foreign policy that leaves us and our allies less secure and dominated by aggressive and tyrannical powers. At the rate we are going, we are facing a massive and well-deserved blowout… which will not teach anybody, anything as Republicans, after each loss, will continue to use DOnald Trump’s unpopularity or failure of any particular candidate to align with him, for this loss rather than engage in self-reflection on how party can do better.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you can bully people into supporting a particular candidate at the Convention. You cannot bully them or the entire country into sharing the spirit of the message that candidate brings. That just doesn’t work; GOP’s messaging continues to be behind the times and poorly delivered, and the same “old hands” from their positions of looking down, continue to believe that charging after your own and force feeding cheap propaganda somehow translates into unity building are completely delusional. I do not hope that the Republican politicians will take any lessons from last night’s electoral developments or the very obvious pattern easily observable on the ground, but I do hope that grassroots, sooner or later, and with however many election losses and intersectionality victories it requires, eventually figure it out.

About the Author
Irina Tsukerman graduated with a JD from Fordham University School of Law in 2009 and received her BA in International/Intercultural Studies and Middle East Studies from Fordham University in 2006. Her legal and advocacy work focuses on human rights and security issue, mostly in Muslim countries. She is also involved in diplomatic outreach and relationship-building among different communities.
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