Pragmatic Government in an Age of White Nationalism
Late last week I was interviewed about Trump and his incoming administration, and one of the things that came up was the practical issues involving government, as in, to what extent should the Democrats (or anyone) work with Trump and the GOP to make deals, pass laws and so on. My answer to this was that I was pragmatic about it and that if the Democrats could get something out of Trump and the GOP that they liked, then they should go ahead and take it. Not that they shouldn’t fight (oh, they should), but to take what they can get through the normal processes of government.
Note this interview was on Friday, and over the weekend, among other things, Trump moved noted white nationalist and anti-Semite Steve Bannon into a formal White House adviser role, a move hailed by both the KKK and the American Nazi Party. In retrospect this isn’t entirely surprising — Bannon was already on Trump’s team and honestly it’s not like Trump appears to know many people outside of his family and a small circle of either sycophants or ambitious leeches (Bannon’s in the latter category) — but it is reminder that Trump’s embrace of bigots during his candidacy was not just a cynical move to get into power, to be abandoned once in power. The Trump presidency is going to be dancing to the tune of white nationalism, and so for anyone actually doing business with them, there is a genuine question of moral hazard.
So the question is: How to address pragmatic governmental action an age of moral hazard? If Trump and the GOP, for example, introduce a well-funded infrastructure bill that will create jobs that will benefit Americans (as they certainly will, since the federal government only doesn’t spend when a Democrat is in the White House), how do Democrats approach that? Do you oppose it because you don’t want to be seen working with a white nationalist administration and its supporters? Do you press for things that you feel will make a difference (someone elsewhere suggested that Democrats should engage with an infrastructure bill only if they got things in it like Trump selling off his business interests and/or making it clear that no business of his could profit from the bill)? Do you go, “I’d support this bill from a Democrat,” and then vote for it?
Each comes with risks: Oppose it, you get pilloried in the Trump-friendly propaganda machine. Embrace it, you get accused of normalizing white nationalism. Try to modify, and you get a bit of both. Pick your poison. On the flip side, it’s entirely possible the GOP will just larder their bills with so much nonsense that the Democrats can just oppose them and not have to worry about the consequences. Remember: Clinton won the popular vote and Trump is coming in with low approval ratings. Despite the screaming of the Trump propaganda machine, and the fact of GOP majorities, he’s not invulnerable. He’s not even close.
And that’s something else to think about with with regard to pragmatic action: Trump and many of his fellow travelers are still viewed with suspicion by other parts of the GOP. If Democrats want to be able to hold the line against some of Trump (or his fellow travelers’) policies, then that might mean reaching across the aisle toward Republicans who, if they’re not exactly moderate, at least understand that they have moral hazards of their own. These next four years will not be normal, folks. Alliances of opportunity will spring up with the enemies of one’s enemies, and so on.
I’m having a hard time with the right answer here — or at least, I recognize that what I usually see as the right answer (take half a loaf when the whole loaf is out of reach) is going to be much more problematic over the next four years than it usually is. I want to believe pragmatic governmental action is still possible, because I think it will be needed. But I also know that that Trump, already a bigot, will spend the next four years with a white nationalist whispering in his ear. And that’s not nothing.