The Age of Trump
By Mark Uncapher
Picture a presidential election in which discontented voters unexpectedly demolish the old political order. Voters, concentrated in the South and the heartland take on the rich, well-born and well-educated of the East that had been dominating their government and national institutions. These discounted voters’ agendas include dramatically reducing the Federal government’s role and reducing its debt.
2016? Actually this also describes 1828 and the election of Andrew Jackson.
A recurring feature of American politics has been a cycle of renewal in which the “Ins” of the old era are challenged and quite unceremoniously become the new “Outs.” As Thomas Jefferson put it: “I hold it that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” Jefferson’s own election in 1800 represented another of the generational sea changes that sweep American politics.
Eight years ago many believed that Barack Obama’s election represented another such change. That election reflected a revived Democratic electoral coalition and came a generation after Reagan’s reshaping of the political universe in 1980.
Many Democrats and their cheerleaders in the media pundit class theorized that demographic changes, especially the increased proportion of “people of color” in the electorate, would allow their party to dominate elections well into the future.
And yet since their 2008 victory, the Democrat party has gone into a steady and profound decline. After wresting control of the House and Senate, they have lost both. And now, the presidency as well has been lost.
During Obama’s presidency, Democrats lost at least 12 governorships, over 60 House seats and 30 state legislative chambers. After Tuesday’s elections, Republicans will control at least 66 out of 99 state legislative chambers. The Democrats have been reduced to full command in only 13 states. Not since the 1920’s have there been as many Republican governors or House of Representatives members.
While some analysts are fond of pointing to the sharp chasm between “Red” and “Blue” America, the balance of power between the two remains very much in contested areas. Twenty-one House seats held by Republicans were carried by Obama in 2012. Ten Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 represent states Trump won. And of course, Trump could not have won unless he had prevailed in states that Obama had also won.
The Democratic Party’s change in fortune since 2008 should serve as a source of caution for Republicans. During Obama’s first two years, their overwhelming majorities allowed them to force through Obamacare by themselves. The party has yet to recover from the disillusionment and opposition that this very flawed law produced.
Instead, voters have now given Republicans their turn to address healthcare. Yet unless our alternative is a more successful policy, we risk facing similar results in 2018 as Democrats faced in 2010.
Voters have also given Republicans their turn to improve both the economy and the incomes of average Americans. To be sure, our Republican chance comes at a time of significant economic headwinds in the form of massively increased debt and global competition.
The challenge, though, is similar to the one faced by Reagan in 1980. The success of his policies allowed him to run for reelection in 1984 with a theme that it was “Morning in America Again.”
The Obama years also remind us of the limits of unilateral executive action in our constitutional system. Acting without legislative input makes “executive only” decisions subject to future reversal.
The reversal of fortune that the Democratic Party now faces as a consequence of the Obama years should be a sobering reminder that Americans are demanding political consumers. Political mandates are readily withdrawn when voters become dissatisfied.
Voters have given President Trump and a Republican Congress the authority to lead our country. It is a sobering challenge, because in our democracy, without success at doing the people’s business, that mandate can be withdrawn ever so abruptly.
This past week Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell described this aptly: “We have an election every two years right on schedule and we have had one ever since 1788. We’ve been given a temporary lease on power, if you will.”