Wednesday, June 14, 2017

America's elective dictatorship: Why Republicans grovel and gush over Trump

John Cassidy (New Yorker) explains Why so many Republicans still grovel to Trump.

Donald Trump is the first President in history to have a Cabinet meeting go viral. If you haven’t seen it yet, you must watch the video of Trump going around the table on Monday morning and eliciting gushing testimonials and expressions of loyalty from his own appointees.

For example, here is a video clip I used in one of my posts yesterday of one person, Reince Priebus, fawning over Trump’s agenda. The riches of embarrassment aside, there is a factual problem with that. Trump has no agenda, at least none that has been working in the traditional sense of proposing and passing legislation. In fact, what he is taking credit for is the hard right Republican agenda. The more his right-wing cabinet gushes and grovels, the more it feeds Trump’s narcissism and the more he lets them do their thing. Here are more snippets from Cassidy.

In his remarks on Monday, Priebus, the former head of the Republican National Committee, offered a clue to the answer. Priebus’s use of the word “blessing” rightly earned him some ridicule, but his assurance to Trump that the machinery of government was working to further “your agenda” was much more significant. Clearly, Priebus and his fellow-Republicans want Trump to believe that the agenda being advanced in Washington today is his, and for the President’s supporters to believe this, too. But that’s not necessarily accurate.

In the place of Trumpism, the Trump Administration is promoting and facilitating a much less popular agenda, which will end up hurting many Trump voters: the anti-government agenda of post-Reagan Republicanism. Controversial policies that conservatives have wanted to introduce for years are making their way through legislative and administrative processes. To be sure, the progress has been uneven, and the Trump Administration still hasn’t passed a landmark piece of legislation. But look closely.

Health care and consumer protection are two examples.

In the Senate, a group of Republicans is quietly working on a health-care bill that, it seems, will largely mimic the toxic American Health Care Act, which the House of Representatives passed last month. (Under the A.H.C.A., subsidies for purchasing health insurance would be reduced; premiums would go up, especially for the sick and elderly; and Medicaid would be slashed.) Just as radical as the contents of the bill is the way that it is being developed in utter secrecy. Evidently, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, intends to keep it under wraps until a few days before he forces a floor vote, which was the same tactic that Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, used in the lower chamber. If things go according to plan, there will be no committee hearings, no input from outside groups, and no independent scoring of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office.

House Republicans, meanwhile, passed the Financial choice Act, last week, which takes aim at the Dodd-Frank financial-reform act of 2010. The House bill would eliminate or weaken many elements of Dodd-Frank, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which helped uncover that Wells Fargo was ripping off many of its customers. On the campaign trail, Trump promised to crack down on Wall Street. But, after the election, he quickly abandoned that promise. On Monday, the Treasury Department issued a report on financial regulation that endorsed loosening many of the post-financial-crisis restrictions that banks face.

Back in the nineteen-seventies, Lord Hailsham, an eminent British jurist, popularized a term for this type of behavior: elective dictatorship. He applied it to the British system, in which a government that has a healthy majority in Parliament can ride roughshod over the opposition. With Trump in the White House and the Republicans running Capitol Hill, elective dictatorship appears to have crossed the Atlantic.

Small wonder, then, that so many Republicans are willing to kiss Trump’s ring. He’s given the G.O.P. what it has long wanted: a White House willing to go along with its reactionary agenda, and a President who provides it with political cover. As long as Trump sticks to his side of the deal, he can expect to receive the loyalty he so prizes.

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