Pity the poor, right-wing hack. The order is out: the Trump administration has been a triumph, and should be, erm, trumpeted as such, on the first anniversary of his inauguration, to be marked by — urghggh — a government shutdown and a Republican-controlled Congress against a Republican president. Triumph indeed.
The shutdown is Trump’s failure of course, whichever way it spins. What President can’t get a spending package through his own party? One with zero political skills or application. It joins a list of failures.
Trump has failed to dismantle Obamacare, failed to replace it with a better system, made no change whatsoever to the Obama admin’s policy and practice, failed to make even a beginning on a border wall. The much trumpeted 3% growth is simply a smooth continuation of the steady (and low-jobs, low-wage growth) upward trend of the Obama-era recovery. There have been successes, such as rising wages. They have come from Trump’s politics, but in a roundabout way.
Illegal immigration has fallen since his election (hence a fall in deportations), thus tightening labour markets. Hence, selective wage rises, such as Walmart’s recent bump — which also had a political purpose, of supporting corporate tax cuts. Other successes — such as the rapid confirmation of circuit judges — have been due to a Republican hold on both houses, and the tax bill was designed in Congress.
Trump is too lazy and ignorant to do anything much but not veto stuff, and the White House staff are divided and incompetent. In foreign policy, in realpolitik terms, Trump administration — now led by hawks, with the isolationists driven out — is abandoning soft power extensions of US power, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (designed to create a US-oriented power bloc), and aid to Pakistan — a vacuum that China will happily fill. Simultaneously, it is extending hard power, such as the plan to station 30,000 troops in Syria and northern Iraq, to carve out a pro-US Kurdish state — which involves supporting the longtime Stalinist guerrilla/terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), against Turkey, a NATO ally. And to top it all off, a shutdown of government, by a party in control of the presidency, House and Senate.
Yep, it’s all going great. So why — as Henry Ergas, plaintively whined last week — aren’t the polls reflecting it? (Henry’s a free-market Hayekian, whose consultancy firm went bust, so he knows a thing or two about treacherous numbers).
The answer is twofold: the Republicans’ attempts to abolish Obamacare were deeply unpopular, because tens of millions have now benefited from it, many of them Republican-leaning independents. Secondly, the stats being used to suggest a boom are the same overly generalised stats that fooled the Democrats into thinking there was a nationwide recovery underway. But if growth is confined to the coastal zones, then it can roar ahead without lifting rural Ohio, Michigan or other Trump victory zones. If unemployment is 4.1%, down from 4.9%, it may be because a new tranche of people have given up looking. At this stage we don’t really know. This brief report from Ohio, a state Trump won handily on the promise of bringing good manufacturing jobs back, is indicative. Unemployment is down because of rises in admin and service jobs, offsetting a fall in transport, utilities, etc.
That would help explain Trump’s great political anti-achievement: the huge swings to Democrats everywhere, in special elections in 2017. As Fivethirtyeight has it, Democrats have an average 12% shift across the nation — something that has only developed since Trump took office. Leaving aside the Alabama Roy Moore result, the most spectacular victory against a Republican (one not accused of pedophilia) has been in Virginia. Old Glory leans Dem in presidential elections these days, but it used to be Republican even in state contests. Not in 2017 (its out-of-cycle election year), where the Democrats won the governorship by nine points, and a range of very progressive candidates chased some good ol’ boys out of the legislature. Since out-of-cycle elections are usually the preserve of older, whiter folks, that is a very bad result indeed, and indicative of the right’s major problem: Republican-leaning independents will stay home in droves, Democrats can win seats off a low turnout, and progressives are increasingly running in (and winning) party primaries for such contests, throwing out do-nothing timeservers.
Yeah, Trump’s having a stonking year. A White House with no direction, rubber-stamping whatever Congress sends through, with special prosecutors crawling all over it, a President who lives at the golf course, and the possible loss of the House in 2018, about six years before Democrats believed they had a chance at it. The pro-Trump right are like the President they idolise: hacking away in the rough, to no great result.