The tragedy and blessing that is Trump

Trump has caused a lot of damage in one year, but he has also awakened the sane world to the lunacy of the right.

Donald Trump baseball bat Reuters
Trump is a particularly ugly wart erupting from the underlying disease, the corporatisation of America and the world, writes Beinhart [Reuters]

The real tragedy of US President Donald Trump is that he swept in Republican majorities with him.

In his first year in office, the only serious bill he passed was the tax cuts. But Mitch McConnell, majority leader in the Senate, and Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, wanted tax cuts as much or more than Trump did, and they would have put them through with any Republican president. And any Republican president would have signed them.

If you recall the Republican presidential debates, all the candidates were for tax cuts. All had plans that would fit on a bumper sticker, benefit the rich, and hurt everyone else. Ben Carson wanted a flat tax of 14.9 percent.

Ted Cruz was another flat-taxer: 10 percent on all income, 16 percent on business, and eliminate payroll taxes … uh … that’s Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance. That’s throw grandma out in the snow time. And don’t call a doctor because there’s no one to pay for it. He also wanted to abolish the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), so that there would be no one to collect the taxes anyway.

Marco Rubio wanted to eliminate taxes on unearned income entirely. There is something fiscally obscene about taxing money that people work for and not taxing interest, dividends, and capital gains, money received while sitting on the veranda sipping mint juleps in the summertime.

Jeb Bush wanted to cut the top marginal rate down to 28 percent. The only thing that seems to be known for certain about Carly Fiorina’s tax plan is that it would be only 3 pages. They all wanted to eliminate estate taxes. Preserving the wealth of heirs of billionaires, for undisclosed reasons, has become a sacred calling for Republicans.

Yes, Trump has also done other damage during his first year in the White House. Primarily with his judicial appointments. But credit, or demerits, for that really go to Mitch McConnell, who blocked the Obama administration’s appointments so that there were seats open if a Republican was elected. They look to be terrible judges, but who’s to say if rabid right-wing judges with very poor legal qualifications are significantly worse than rabid right-wing judges who have some knowledge of the law.


Trump has also appointed people to head government agencies who hate the missions of those agencies. That’s what Republican presidents do. They are totally, madly in love with fossil fuels and find environmental concerns as irritating as an 18th-century chaperone who’s getting between them and consummation. Their attitudes towards banking, finance, healthcare, and worker safety fall into the same general pattern: Don’t let nothin’ get between the rich and more money!

Then there’s the issue of incompetence. Of course, he’s appointed incompetent people to run things. Don’t forget George W Bush, saying “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job” (not sarcastically) to the man he had running the rescue of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Don’t forget that Bush also appointed Dick Cheney as head of anti-terrorism before 9/11, then had Donald Rumsfeld run his wars. It’s hard to get more incompetent than that. It’s what Republican presidents do.

Some people may be very upset about Trump’s foreign policy. Do remember that the previous Republican president turned the love fest directed at the US after the shock of 9/11 into dismay and revulsion. Instead of treating Osama bin Laden as a criminal lunatic, Bush fell into his trap, and declared it a worldwide conflict in which all had to take sides, a policy that has become tragically true.

At this point in his presidency, Trump has one less new war than Bush had in his first year – Afghanistan – and, as far as we can tell, is not actively manoeuvring, as Bush was, for the second one – his real target, Iraq.

There is a real upside to Trump.

When Bush, Cheney, Ryan, and McConnell pursued, essentially, the same policies, with their full panoplies of lies and hypocrisies, they did so with the accepted language and within the verbal norms of political discourse, and were thus treated as acceptable and normal. Trump has brought the lunacy and meanness of Republicans, and the right, out of the closet with so much vulgarity and ugliness that it has awakened much of the sane world. Where George W Bush, for example, engaged in sufficiently vetted and crafted speech that it was hard to call him a liar – however much he was lying – Trump lies so blatantly that it has become impossible not to call him a liar.

This has begun doing something quite profound. It is moving the standard of truth from “there are two opposing views and we should consider them to have validity because they are uttered by people of standing,” to the notion that there are actual, objective facts out there, and if a person of authority, like a president, says otherwise, he’s lying.

Trump’s outrageousness has helped the real media awaken. This is most visible in the New York Times and the Washington Post. They have become great papers again. Deeper, more honest, more original.

They used to be part of the problem. The NYT helped sell the Iraq War. They failed to understand the full financialisation of politics. They treated, for example, Ryan’s economic policies and intellectual pretensions as realistic and sane, instead of ideological and destructive. US politics had become an insider game of fundraising, and financial elites and the mainstream media helped legitimise and normalise that.

All that is terrible about Trump is that he’s a particularly ugly wart erupting from the underlying disease, the corporatisation of America and the world. Alternative facts are what advertising always does. The takeover of the legal system has been a corporate goal since the 1970s. Demonisation of minorities has been a way for Republicans to get elected since Nixon, but also a sideshow of manipulation about social issues that they don’t mind losing on, so long as the real goals – money, power, and immunity – are gained.

The big question is whether the Democrats will remain the party of Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, the party of the big fundraisers. Or will they become the party of policies, ideas, of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Franklin Roosevelt, the party of democracy? 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.