The presidential election of 2016 gave promise to be a watershed in American politics. Donald Trump appeared, a non-politician and rich enough to support his own campaign without selling himself to the usual special interests. He collected all the right enemies. He deflated a whole platoon of Republican celebrities down to their actual pigmy size. He vanquished them by something so simple you wonder why it is not used more often---by speaking to the people about real issues rather than spouting the near-identical and meaningless advertising slogans of his opponents. Something not done in presidential politics since George Wallace a half century ago. Amazing how far just a little bit of truth can go when inserted into the hullabaloo of lies and evasions that is American public discourse.
Most importantly, Trump inspired a despondent American people, nearly resigned to the vanishing of democracy, with hope that the system might develop some responsiveness to their beliefs and interests. Much of the people’s enthusiasm remains. The question is---is it any longer justifiable?
At the time of the election I published a little book called Annals of the Stupid Party: Republicans Before Trump. This book acknowledged the potential for bringing to power a populist revolt should Trump be elected. But the burden of the book was the lesson that Trump’s greatest obstacle to meaningful change would be the Republican Party itself. As I cataloged historically, the party is not a political party but an election machine. Aside from protecting and enhancing great wealth it has no ideas, values, or principles. It exists to provide power and perks to those who participate in the higher levels of its machinery. Its stock-in-trade, long successful, is to position itself as the decent middle-class alternative to Democratic radicalism. That stock is not selling so well anymore, because the customers are being squashed into the proletariat by the policies of the Democrat/Republican party, the leaders of which disagree on nothing important.
With such an institutional nature, it is no puzzle why the Republican party has no real interest in and has never put up any serious opposition to any leftist revolutionary initiative in American society. It is simply the “me-too” side of the one party Duopoly that governs---a.k.a. The Deep State and The Swamp. The election of Trump was only a beginning, as I and every other serious supporter believed. Ilana Mercer, in her book The Trump Revolution, wrote that the hope was not so much in Trump as in a process which he had begun.
I predicted several years before 2016 that a bold independent candidate might appear, one who could reach the people over the jamming of the media. The first requirement for such a person was to find and appoint people who shared the populist vision rather than the usual Republican hacks lined up for office. Trump failed in this first requirement and that has come near to destroying him from the get-go. No cadre of dedicated helpers was found. They were there, but they were never identified or promoted. I take no pleasure in having anticipated this. I see now that it was nearly inevitable.
We are now well into the first Trump administration and the government is still full of Republican hacks and Democratic holdovers. Federal district attorneys are doing little or nothing to curb illegal immigration or to prosecute the crimes of Hillary Clinton, other leading Democrats, and antifa mobs, not to mention the reported millions of illegal alien voters. (If Republicans had done a fraction of such evil deeds, they would all be in court in handcuffs right now.) People high up in the bureaucracy are sabotaging the elected President. Goldman Sachs clusters in the administration as in every previous one. Republicans get their corporate tax break but not the repeal of Obamacare, the issue that all the Republican grassroots was agreed upon.
The Swamp has not been drained. It is a massive and daunting job that is still to be done. The appointment of a couple of preppie Bush Republicans to the Supreme Court means little. That trick has been played so many times it is laughable. The misbehavior and radicalisation of the Left in recent months has led to predictions of increased Republican power after the November 2018 elections. Perhaps; but this will mean nothing unless the right kind of Republicans are elected. It is argued that the Kavanaugh affair has destroyed Never-Trumpism in the party. It remains to be seen who has conquered who.
The two magisterial planks of Trump’s platform were fixing the immigration catastrophe and toning down American global imperialism, especially the deranged hatred of Russia that serves no American purpose. On the immigration issue, although he has accomplished some change of focus, what has actually been done amounts to a drop in the bucket.
On the tempering of “democratic” imperialism nobody can really know what is up. Trump has made some truly statesmanlike moves, such as the opening to North Korea, and has perhaps avoided war by allowing the vicious neocons who he has appointed to the highest posts in his administration to enjoy useless saber-rattling. The danger here is that Trump, like Nixon and Reagan, will forget the domestic base that elected them and become absorbed in the game of foreign policy. That game means that the American people are no longer of any importance except as a base for an international contest that has nothing to do with their wishes or welfare. It is a great temptation for a President---a role of worldwide leadership instead of the strife and drudgery of internal reform. War is always a ready tool in the arsenal of a threatened Establishment.
Trump is thought of as a fighter, but he has not fought where it counts. I am not impressed by Tweets (although people more politically knowledgeable than me tell me it is his great strength). But tweets concern political party battles, not vital long term issues They do not substitute for frank confrontation of his enemies before the people. A revolutionary disintegration of American society is being carried out by the Deep State. Deals do not substitute for fighting for a real agenda. We hoped for a statesman and got a salesman. Of course, in justice we must admit that Trump more than any other President has faced an unprecedentedly hostile and dishonest media, not to mention a population with so many people with a childishly self-referential idea of politics. But so far he has reproached the media (and the Deep State) only as unscrupulous oppositionists. He must confront them as a revolutionary movement that is destroying the American fabric, which is its intention.
Earlier, it seemed entirely possible that by not fighting his real enemies Trump might be ejected from office on a technicality, with the collaboration of his own party leaders, as was Nixon. He seems to have succeeded at least for a time and in some respects in getting the support of the Republican Establishment. The populist appetite for reform has been thrown a few crumbs, but its hunger is intense enough that it may yet break out in a form more forceful.
Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews