Reactions to Trump’s proposed budget from the country’s much-disparaged “elites” has been unremittingly negative, for obvious reasons–if such a budget actually passed, it would eviscerate support for science, the arts, medical research, children’s health, urban redevelopment and transportation, not to mention food for the poor.
As many policy analysts have pointed out, this budget would wreak havoc for huge numbers of Trump voters, which raises an obvious question: why would the administration risk proposing massive cuts to the very programs that benefit his base?
A recent post to Washington Monthly by Nancy LeTourneau offered a chilling answer to that question.
She begins by referencing an article about the budget by Damian Paletta and Robert Costa:
The budget, in its deeply conservative framework, risks alarming some of the president’s supporters…
But a White House official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said Trump saw the shrinking of the “welfare state” as a necessary component of his nationalist, working-class appeal and part of his pledge to “drain the swamp.”
The unnamed official was almost certainly Bannon, who has been quoted as promising that Trump would bring “capitalism” to the inner cities. Bannon’s version of capitalism bears a striking resemblance to Social Darwinism’s “survival of the fittest.” (It certainly doesn’t include government action to level the playing field for people who would otherwise be excluded.) His is a savage, unregulated version of capitalism, and for Bannon, it applies primarily if not exclusively to inner cities.
“Inner city” is code, as LeTourneau notes, for people of color.
That kind of argument works once you have identified the recipients of government programs as the undeserving “them” who are separate from the deserving “us.” That is the divisive lie that Paul Waldman zeroed in on today.
The whole point here is to set “taxpayers” against the supposedly undeserving whose scams and schemes can be stopped with only indiscriminate cuts to social programs. Watching Mulvaney answer questions from the press this morning, that idea came through again and again. Every time he’d get a question about a specific cut the administration proposes — to Social Security disability, to food stamps, to Medicaid — Mulvaney would say that the only people who would suffer would be those who don’t deserve to get the benefit in the first place. “We are not kicking anybody off of any program who really needs it,” he said.
By now, most sentient beings should recognize that as the kind of code Lee Atwater explained when talking about the Southern Strategy.
As LeTourneau points out, this budget gives “draining the swamp” a whole new meaning. The phrase no longer applies to our maligned bureaucracy, or to the people (like the President himself) who have enriched themselves by taking advantage of government programs and tax loopholes; it applies instead to “those (dark) people” who are undeserving parasites living off hardworking taxpayers.
As Gabe Ortiz explains:
Sure, the new 2018 budget slashes billions from food assistance, cancer research, and disability benefits, but the Trump regime has still miraculously found plenty of taxpayer money for two of his favorite, racist pet projects. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney unveiled a budget proposal asking for billions to terrorize immigrant families, expand Trump’s mass deportation force that has been targeting moms and dads with no criminal record, and to build some of that f*cking wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for.
As LeTourneau reminds us, none of this is new.
It is all Republican rhetoric from the past that is being warmed up and repackaged for the present. These are the tactics they have been using for decades now to win over the support of white working class voters and, for the most part, they’ve worked. Why change course now?
Support for “draining the swamp” all depends upon who you think inhabits the swamp.