A cautionary tale for American Republicans

On the eve of a House vote on the Trump Administration’s first major Bill, The American Health Care Act, it was business as usual for Washington Democrats and their fellow travelers.

Maxine Waters was still calling for impeachment, young anarchists were still beating up senior citizens at “March 4 Trump” rallies, Chuck Schumer was still blocking Trump appointments in the Senate and Adam Schiff was still hot on the trail of a phantasmagoric Trump plot to hand the USA over to the Russians. Liberal media outlets were still hammering home the President’s negatives and much of America’s top drawer meritocracy remained opposed to a man they regard as a populist buffoon who won the Presidency with voters from the bottom end of American society.

Embarrassing America?
Trump’s detractors maintain that he is socially clumsy and inarticulate. His principles are murky. He is inconsistent. He stretches the truth. He is coarse. He is vulgar. He has a towering ego. He is a puppet of Vladimir Putin. He can be a bully and, what’s more, his hairstyle is inappropriate for a seventy year old man. Some go so far as to call him a racist, a bigot, a fascist, even a Nazis. More measured critics see him as a knuckle-dragging, ultra-nationalist who is embarrassing America on the world stage.

Of course, much of this opinion is validated by the unconventional behaviour of the new man in the Oval Office. Trump has assertively contributed to his own low standing; especially among educated professionals and the occupants of some of the wealthiest and smuggest zip codes in the Nation. Like Hillary Clinton, many seasoned politicians and pundits saw Trump people as “a basket of deplorables.” But legions of working class voters admired Trump in a way that many “upstairs people” didn’t. My guess is that, flaws and all, ordinary Americans saw something of themselves in their candidate; or at least more of themselves than they could ever see in Hilary Clinton.

Republicans need to deliver.
The election is history. Promising to “drain the swamp” Trump rallied the people in direct opposition to their governing elites. Coming from nowhere he gave the Republican Party a constitutional majority that controls all of the elected branches of government at the federal level and promises to have a significant effect on the judiciary. His Party also advanced its already strong representation in state legislatures and governorships. In short, despite misgivings about Trump’s demeanor, Republicans are in a better position to improve the fortunes of America than they been for a very long time. Consequently, it is more important than ever for the Republican Party to achieve consensus around a legislative agenda that will move the country forward. The recent debacle over repealing Obamacare was not a good start. Republicans owe the people more than they delivered in their failed attempt to pass an American Health Care Act.

Nevertheless, this not a time for GOP infighting or threats to look to Democrats for legislative support. Republicans are not facing the Democratic Party that Ronald Reagan worked with in the 1980’s. Almost no one in this Democratic Party is prepared to support anything close to the changes in the health care law that were promised by Republican candidates during the election campaign. It doesn’t take a PhD in Political Science to conclude that the party of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren is in favor of expanding, not limiting, the power of the entitlement state. In addition, American liberals have been acquiring positions of cultural influence for more than half a century. During this time the permanent state has grown so large that it is a major factor in everything and is in the process of taking on a will of its own. Those who prosper from government by working for it; or taking from it, are satisfied with this development. Working members of the wealth producing private sector have little cultural power to do much about it.

Fault lines in the American nation
After fifty plus years of post-modern philosophical dominance, a rebirth of the virtues celebrated by America’s Founding Fathers is hardly around the corner There remain deep fault lines in the American Nation. The culture wars that began in the 1960’s are as fierce today as they were in the Vietnam War era. In his latest book, The Great Divide, Canadian author, William Gairdner reminds us that “liberals and conservatives will never, ever agree” and the democratic world, “from Boston to Berlin, from Vancouver to Venice” is divided from within by a “growing ideological incompatibility.” What amounts to a cultural civil war is consuming the energies of western societies.

Only in the USA, the UK and some of her former Dominions has conservatism maintained a sufficient moral and intellectual appeal to reach over the heads of the chattering classes and occasionally win elections. Donald Trump may have begun as an unlikely leader of the conservative movement but he has given its forces a victory that should not be squandered. Had he lost the November 2016 contest, his rise and fall would have been viewed as little more than a comic annal of American political history. His loss would also have disrupted the fortunes of the Republican Party for a generation and cleared a path for Democrats to complete the transformation of America into a militarily weak, Euro-style social democracy beholden to a global economic and political order. Trump’s win restored the possibility of America remaining quintessentially “American;” an outcome that should strengthen the moral courage of liberty loving peoples around the world.

Remember the “Iron Lady”
With the above in mind Republicans looking to repeal and replace an established entitlement like Obamacare, would do well to review the privatization strategies of former UK Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Those who were politically active in the Thatcher era remember the “Iron Lady” as an uncompromising opponent of the British “Nanny State.” Nevertheless, her tactics were anything but politically kamikaze. She understood that just as “nationalized” services were at the heart of the Labour Party’s collectivist vision for British society; so was privatization at the centre of her government’s program to reclaim territory for freedom. Thatcher never overlooked the fundamental purpose of reducing the size and scope of the state. But, at the same time; she did not move forward irregardless of popular headwinds that might have discredited her government and put Labour back in power. She knew that those who would change the direction of a nation through legislation had to produce convincing policies that a majority of legislators were comfortable passing. Consequently, her privatization policy was always breaking new ground. The Conservative Party’s 1979 manifesto was quite cautious on the subject. But by the mid-eighties she had made her case and the dismantling of socialism in Britain was in full stride.

A cautionary tale
Herein lies a cautionary tale for Republican legislators in general and the Freedom Caucus in particular. If so-called Ryan-care cautiously opts for the good that can be achieved now over the perfect that might be achieved in an indefinite future; it might be worth considering what Warren-care might look like in 2020.

(William Brooks is a freelance Nova Scotia writer and Editor of DiscourseOnline.ca)