Goodbye to Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan will be retiring from congress this November. He is unlikely to return, despite being a shoo-in for (re)election in the future. The landscape is different now than anything he ever envisioned, with a blustering, ignorant demagogue barking orders at anyone and everyone in sight. Or insults of course. Paul Ryan was not made for these times. He is fading away quickly.[1]

John Boehner resigned from the House after years of futility trying to wrangle the Freedom Caucus into line with mainstream GOP policy. He is by all accounts a happier person today; occasionally surfacing to proffer his opinions on his old buddies seems to sufficiently satisfy any remaining politics jones[2]. Thus Paul Ryan, wunderkind and future face of the GOP was handed the thankless task of Speaker of the House in 2015.

Although it is not inconceivable that dealing with luminaries such as Jim Jordan and his flock would be enough to force Ryan (and everyone else) to flee to the nearest golf course, it is clear that the tipping point in the abrupt cessation of Ryan’s once bright political future is Trump, and Trumpism.

It is important to understand that Paul Ryan has had just 2 employers in his adult life: his family’s business and the federal government.[3] Ryan is essentially a career politician, propelled to easy electoral victories by his family’s dominance of private and public life in Janesville, his hometown in Wisconsin. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it hasn’t been that rough a road to head of the House for young Paul. And that is the most ironic part of the whole equation: the ride was going to stay smooth, as the party was bending over backward to hand him the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. Had he announced his candidacy he would have been the prohibitive favorite. Alas, it was a nomination he did not want in the slightest.

In 2012, running with deeply flawed and out of touch Mitt Romney, Ryan got a taste of what national politics were like. Although largely (not entirely) insulated from the anything goes rough and tumble of a national run, Ryan got full exposure to the way insults, invective and completely unfounded ‘rumors’ and ‘theories’ were flung back and forth. Unlike inside operators like the Clintons and Bushes, or gifted orators such as Reagan and Obama who relished the public forum, or even a borderline sociopath like Donald Trump, who needs a constant stream of real or imagined enemies to rant against while various cronies and bandwaggoneers cheer him on, Paul Ryan does not have the stomach for public conflict.

Compared to oily, ambition-addled ideologues like Ted Cruz or plodding career hacks like Jeb Bush, Ryan was a breath of fresh air. And he certainly looks better too. The problem is, not only was his ambition remarkably lacking compared to his peers, so were his goals. Despite perpetual mumbling about Entitlement Reform, and pointing to the ridiculous, deficit-swelling 2017 tax cut as a signature career accomplishment (coming in the wake of the continuous humiliation of failing to kill off the evil socialist Obamacare, among other conspicuous legislative non-starters), it is hard to pinpoint any real core beliefs belonging to Paul Ryan, outside of a deep commitment to transferring wealth and resources from poor to rich. The House was simply a natural stop for a wealthy and popular ‘businessman’ who has never had to look for a job.

Ryan naturally inherited opportunities that staunch Republican standard-bearers such as Lindsay Graham and Marco Rubio have worked their whole careers to get a sniff of. The Vice-presidential nomination was handed to him with no lobbying on his part; it is still uncertain whether his heart was in it. Certainly his campaigning in 2012, despite the familiar half-smile and easygoing manner, was lackluster. Even so, Ryan escaped the election with his reputation as the GOP’s brightest new star intact. The 2016 nomination was his to lose. But …he wanted no part of it. He was out before anyone could put him in.

What Ryan enjoyed were his wonky closed door GOP policy meetings, where he and his various spreadsheets could outline his case for ‘Entitlement Reform’, the impending Social Security crisis, and various other arguments in favor of increasing income and wealth inequality. The obeisance to graphs and policy papers contributed heavily to Ryan’s burgeoning reputation as the intellectual stalwart of the Republican Party, the face of the future and the moral underpinning for basing government policy on Ayn Rand novels.

After a while these sessions invariably induced both eye-rolling and complete ennui among his colleagues. The donor class was going to get paid with or without his spreadsheets, and his ‘proof’ that only funneling more resources to the rich would avert financial disaster was eventually met with indifference. Well of course – no math calculations needed here, Paul.

In the age of Trump, no one (certainly not Trump), has any interest in spreadsheets, or in calculations or premeditated policy of any kind. Ryan waffled for some time before endorsing Trump, but endorse him he did. After a few months where Ryan played “will he or won’t he”, he not only endorsed Trump but remained increasingly silent as his party pivoted overtly to one openly driven by racism and demagoguery. With nary a spreadsheet in sight. And Ryan has gradually been retreating from any skirmish at all with the new normal. The Trump cabal’s and the Freedom Caucus’ repeated attacks on Ryan were enough writing on the wall for him.[4] A golf date with John Boehner looks better all the time.

  1. In a modern slice of ignominy, typing “Paul” into a browser search field reveals the following suggestions for last names: George, D (“Pauly D’), Rudd, Walker, Patton (‘Paula Patton’), Simon, Bettany, Getty, Shore and Newman. No suggestions for Ryan. The list includes 3 dead people.
  2. In May 2017 Boehner notoriously was quoted that “Everything he’s <Trump> done (in office) has been a complete disaster <with the exception of foreign policy>” See also for the latest.
  3. Strictly speaking this is not true, but realistically Ryan’s political career was launched by his and his wife’s various professional networks and contacts. The only job he has held outside of politics since college was briefly with Ryan Inc. Central, a road grading company that is part of his extended family’s construction empire.


Let’s Relive those Great 80’s Attitudes

Much has been made of Donald Trump’s crassness, bigotry and astounding mendacity. In addition his willful ignorance and eagerness to pursue the smallest real or imagined slight with threats, insults and a whipped cream topping of vulgarity are well-documented and essentially offered up daily and weekly.

Yes, well no need to run through all of that right here – you can get that anywhere (including the great man’s twitter account of course). What is more interesting to me at this precise point in time (which will ideally last for at least the duration of spewing out this essay), is the idea of the Trump administration as both a symptom and a tortured death rattle of 80’s Man-in-Charge. And like it or not, that is where the current version of the Republican party finds itself: firmly looking backwards, and deeply distrustful of a future where widespread gun ownership, casual bigotry and white male dominance might be considered faded symbols of a vanished time.

As a brief digression, there clearly is no real Trump administration. It is quickly morphing into a constellation of sycophants and talking heads (now mostly culled from Fox News’ stable of right-wing commentators and ‘experts’) revolving around Trump as executive policy (subject to change without notice) careens down whatever path looks ripest when the day begins. Soon the last ‘adults’ will be purged (they have been marginalized already) and it will just be the mad king and his court, desperate and eager to anticipate and proactively react to future whims.

So that sort of nonsense is fairly unique* to our grand experiment in Reality Show government. But there is a bit more to the story.

Let’s back up again, to those seemingly long ago days of the Obama presidency. Obama was not a democratic president, of course. He was a black president. In the world populated by 1980s white man, blacks do not run things, most notably the country. Sports and Entertainment? OK. A congressman or CEO here and there? Hey, ‘they’re’ making progress. What a country! And so on. Thus we simultaneously had a Birther movement and the rise of the Tea Party faction, a twin challenge to this Brave New World, a world which shocked the traditional order down to its toes.

Harping on the Birther movement, where Trump got much of his original political notoriety (and popularity among white supremacists) hinged on a central belief: if there’s a black president, it’s due to a con, a crime, a pack of lies and so forth. The Tea Party is a bit more broadly focused but also originated as an arch-conservative reaction to the Obama presidency; at last glance the percentage of minorities in the Tea Party and Birther movements are in the low single digits, to the point where any African-Americans in these groups are newsworthy.**

My generation, the one I very generally refer to as 80’s White Man (and, ahem, woman I guess) was quite possibly the first one that overtly frowned upon racist attitudes. It is very important to note some aspects of (again speaking very broadly) my ‘generation’ (aaargh, just kill me now). One very noteworthy aspect of a difference I have observed repeatedly in casual conversation between the geezers and Millennials is that ethnicity (and in some cases, Jewish identity, real or imagined***) is always noted. In other words, if someone new was hired at work, if there was a new postman, teacher, bus driver, whatever, there was blackness was noted. The whiteness was implied; otherwise the footnote (a black guy, woman, etc.) was expected. In the absence of this qualifier it was assumed to be a white person. Similarly a mixed race couple was very noteworthy and in fact cause for whispers and gossip, even in the so called liberal circles I ran in. Naturally, when no one is referenced without their ethnicity being noted , certain generalizations and perhaps prejudices are noted and/or reinforced****.

I have found that today’s narrative (at least much of it) does not focus on racial***** and ethnic identity. ‘Black’ or “mixed Race Couple’ are not adjectives heard in polite society (mostly …) and my general impression of Millennial and younger attitudes is that there is a comfort level with ethnic diversity that did not really exist in generations prior. I can offer considerable evidence of my boomer peers who honestly did not foster what I would normally call racist attitudes but were generally unable to relate to other ethnicities (mostly African-Americans of course), and in some cases were fearful in doing so and harbored fears (some subliminal in some cases) of the ‘other’, especially if the other were represented by young men, especially young men in groups. In fact a successful encounter with the other side was, instead of being routine, cause for celebration and a path to some greater degree of enlightenment that was desirable in a certain broad sense.******

The whites of Trump’s generation are acutely aware of these changes. Trump himself is someone who came, more or less, of age in the 1980’s, where your ethnicity mattered a great deal, and when the notion of an African-American man as president was absurd, where ethnicity was always noted. Trump is a man who does not read, is obsessed with watching Television and does not even use email, which 80 year old grandmothers use with ease nowadays. His comments and values give him away as a near-relic of a fading era, such as when he mocked the Academy for its low ratings (traditional television is dying and ‘ratings’ concerns have been superseded by content streaming strategies), his obsession with 20th century icons like the steel and coal industries and of course his appalling misogyny and casual, relentless bigotry. Naturally denial of climate science and obeisance to Evangelical religious movements are part of that package (the Evangelical movement has decided that Trump is a perfect exemplar of their ‘moral issues’) *******

All of these areas strike a chord with white people of a certain age, who are afraid that what they believe is slowly being replaced by the ‘other’. And well they should be: It is hard to imagine in America of the 2050’s still in thrall to Evangelical Christianity, still denying even the most obvious and measurable examples of climate changes, still clinging to cretinous energy policies that favor petroleum and coal (!!) over solar. And of course still restricting any positions of power to, essentially, white boomer males (they’ll be long gone of course). Will it be too late by then?

Yes, probably.

After Obama’s reelection in 2012, the now notorious Growth and Opportunity Project ******** (aka the RNC Autopsy Report) was very clear on the GOP’s need to engage younger people, minorities and women, with the only alternative being increased marginalization. And yet the Republicans gained more than 1000 state and federal seats during the Obama presidency. And suddenly the GOP, with notable but sparse exceptions, has become cheerleaders for Trump’s particularly noxious brand of populism*********. Naturally this is mostly political expediency as privately Trump is mostly an embarrassing presence to even the most ‘down home’ GOP hack, but to a large extent Trump is a culmination of GOP obstinacy over race relations, climate change and common sense environmental regulation over the years. They will cast their lot with the fading, frightened Boomer generation for now.


*Of course we can look back to equally unqualified presidents and administrations such as US Grant, the entire Harding experience or even a drunk Nixon threatening to atom bomb Vietnam, but somehow the stakes seem much higher now, and the consequences of foolish action more dire. Perhaps it’s just me.


***Disclosure – your humble narrator is Jewish and I recently discovered an active undercurrent of (admittedly mild) anti-Semitic sentiment in a company where I was a software developer, circa 2011-2013.

****This of course continues to go both ways. If a white athlete in a predominantly black sport (basketball being the obvious example) performs remarkably, their whiteness tends to follow them around as an ongoing adjective in the narrative. Sadly, white basketball players were at one time considered to be ‘smarter’ and more ‘savvy’ than their black counterparts, who achieved their superior results strictly through ‘natural’ athletic ability. There is a good essay on these attitudes here:

*****I recognize that ‘race’ is an invented notion used to promulgate segregationist policies but I’m using it anyway to get from A to B more quickly. Sorry.

******To myself a classic, and somewhat sad example of this, is illustrated in this essay by Chris Offut, one of my favorite writers, but clearly a man not that comfortable around the ‘others’: Ironically Offut is using himself (who is knowledgeable about ‘trash food’) as someone equally reviled by Southern white men as African Americans are, but it is clear at the end of the essay that actually relating to an African American man is not a routine event for him, and cause for (misplaced, I think) elation.



********* It should be pointed out that Congress is increasingly ignoring much of what Trump is asking for. The hopelessly vague demands for ‘Infrastructure’ or ’Immigration Reform’ have gone nowhere

********** Sorry for all the asterisky footnotes

The 4 Rs of the GOP Part 4


As previously discussed, the GOP adheres fervently to its core values: namely a reactionary mindset in terms of fondly looking back to a time when middle aged white men could rule the land unfettered by messy disruptions by women, minorities and other distractions, a perpetually bubbling undercurrent of full-on racism that has now reached full bloom with Trump’s overt embrace of white supremacist thinking (now coming mainstream) as well as random deportations and of course regressive taxation. The latter is the lynchpin that holds it all together and enables the donor class to continue to profit handsomely; ironically most of this strata are probably holding their nose whilst the messy populism stuff happens (certainly luminaries like the Koch brothers would not allow a mob of Middle Americans wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ hats anywhere near their glittery Manhattan fund raisers.)

The great sage, who now looms over the party (and lets be fair, over much of the USA) as more of a mythical figure than an actual president with a well-documented track record that even in the most favorable light is strictly a mixed bag, is Ronald Reagan. While JFK has also ascended to mythical status, especially among Democrats* pining for the good old days when they were young and cute, thus Reagan has become a similar shining symbol for the Republicans. And it can probably be fair to say that the best grade you could give JFK is an incomplete.

Ronald Reagan is fondly remembered as the perhaps the peak of the GOP in the 20th century, a winking, charming unifier. To this day the search for another Reagan is an ongoing obsession (do a web search on ‘the search for the next Reagan’ – you can spend the rest of the day reading all about it).

But what is Reaganism? Is it strictly style points, a friendlier version of Trump’s noxious populism, Paul Ryan’s crude, ill-formed diatribes on entitlement reform, the overt racism and religious intolerance of the current administration and its concomitantly acquiescent Republican leadership?

Yes and no. It was Reagan who seriously introduced the idea of trickle-down economics (a fringe idea that suddenly gained credence with the ascension of Reaganism), and which continues to hold sway. Every Republican budget negotiation has repeatedly linked lower federal deficits with lower taxes, not higher ones. While this sure sounds great (the Trump budget assumes 3% a year growth, due presumable to tax cuts). It is useful to note that deficits have always worsened as a result of tax cuts, and that the resultant economic growth seems to happen (or not happen) independent of tax rates. Another useful aside is that more, not less direct government spending generally results in greater employment and concomitant economic growth.

Thus Reagan ushered in the new normal of permanent huge federal deficits, promulgated forever without any serious regard for balancing the budget (this trend was interrupted briefly during the Clinton administration). This has been taken to fresh extremes by the Trump tax cut, which does not even really paper over the problem of huge deficits – it’s just a fact of life now, and most GOP leaders don’t even bother to lodge any objections whatsoever.**

Another new normal is states’ rights, conveniently used for allowing rather sketchy state policies which include institutional racism, continuing erosion of the church-state divide and various other policies such as ever more permissive gun laws (Open Carry, ‘Stand your Ground’, etc). It should not be forgotten that Reagan made his now-notorious kick off campaign speech in 1980 espousing states’ rights in Neshoba County, site of the notorious murders of 3 civil rights workers 16 years earlier. This was not a coincidence. And Reagan continued to practice what he preached throughout his presidency, all in the name of states’ rights. States’ rights continues to be code for ‘we will not interfere in your local dealings with blacks. We’re with you’.

It is deeply ironic that both Reagan and Trump, two men who could not be classified as religious in any meaningful respect, have become heroes to evangelical America. Reagan’s election ushered in the overt GOP love affair with the Christian Right and Evangelical America. Although Jimmy Carter was an actual born-again Christian, it was Reagan who publicly courted the Evangelical movement (Carter had by now become a ‘traitor’ to the various mores held dear by the Christian Right, such as prayer in schools, overt anti-gay policies, public funds for private exclusionary educational institutions, etc.). Once again, Reagan did not disappoint, and it is important to remember that as AIDS mushroomed into a full-blown medical crisis, the White House did and said nothing (many Evangelicals to this day are still fond of categorizing AIDS as God’s revenge upon gay culture). In fact, Reagan did not mention AIDS publicly until 1987. He certainly mentioned God many times before that, and the phrase ‘God Bless America’ became closely associated with Reagan. More importantly, it is now commonplace for conservative candidates to demonstrate obeisance to the Religious Right.

Thus Trump’s cabinet contains 9 (out of 15 total) evangelicals. We  have to come to a point where a twice divorced serial adulterer and habitual liar comes to be the champion of the Religious Right. Well, it’s all about power, isn’t it? The notion that Evangelicals have now surrendered the last bit of any real or imagined moral authority seems completely incidental and irrelevant to present day politics.

Thus the Search for Reagan continues for the Republicans, much as the Search for JFK (they might settle for (Mr.) Clinton at this point, or, for the next generation, Obama) continues on the other side. A well spoken, kindly gent with a twinkle in his eye, continuing those other three R’s of modern Republican policy.

Hmmm, and make sure you take care of the donor class, sir!


*Probably Democrats age 60 and above, to be brutally honest. I think in the next 20 to 30 years, failing a new Democratic superstar, Barack Obama has a good chance to be transformed into a bit of a mythical figure.

**One exception is the Freedom Caucus, many of whom continue to try to hold out for some semblance of deficit reduction. They are not averse to greater kickbacks to the wealthy of course, they just want to eliminate every vestige of the dreaded welfare state

The 4 Rs of the GOP Part 3

Regressive Taxation

Well, the new tax bill was just passed. Sp before getting too much into term paper mode (for which I apologize in advance), let’s just say:

Winners: Corporate shareholders, Pass-through corporations

Losers: er, everyone else?

Ironically, many fairly wealthy folks will get reamed, especially in those bad, bad (i.e. blue, blue) states like California and New York, which are losing a chunk (although not all, as previously considered) of their real-estate and property tax deductions.

The super-rich will do fine as we know – the shareholder class is the one that profits most directly from lower corporate taxes.

And don’t forget, the looming deficits will naturally revisit Paul Ryan’s favorite topic: Entitlement Reform! This is better referred to as increasingly the disparity between rich and poor in the USA, already the most acute of any industrialized country.*

It should be noted that this is a very complex topic. As is my wont, I will (over?) simplify it to make a simple point, and, you know, get on with things.

The period of time I am most concerned with begins with the Reagan era. Reaganism ushered in financial policies notoriously labeled ‘Voodoo Economics’ by candidate George H.W. Bush, in response to Reagan’s espousal of what would variously be referred to as Supply Side, Trickle Down, Laffer Curve, etc.

Here’s the gist of it: if you lower taxes, government revenues will rise. And lowering them for the top tax brackets will create the greatest economic windfalls, as lowering tax rates would lead to greater investment. A critical component of this policy is not just income tax, but capital gains taxes, which have always been taxed at lower rates than ordinary income.

Here is a brief overview of the capital gains argument:

It should be noted that the arguments for lowering taxes on higher incomes are roughly equivalent although not identical.

The right wing of the GOP (i.e. The Old Guard) has generally opposed most (i.e. federal) taxes, whether on income or property. In many respects this thinking (stemming from classic liberalism) is a forerunner of today’s GOP libertarian threads, although conspicuous exceptions are now made for categories such as defense spending, and police activities in general.

There is no real evidence that lower tax rates for the wealthy generate greater economic gains in general or, or, laughably, increase government revenues.** The question is, do the advocates of this policy really believe in it or is it a cynical ploy to simply reward the Republican donor class?

The answer is yes.

The current tax reform bill conforms to the supply side model, but focuses much more heavily on reducing the corporate tax rate. This is not particularly radical, as the difference between the effective and statutory rates in the US is quite broad, and simplifying the rate structure is a laudable goal***

Although it is generally conceded that reductions in effective corporate tax rates generally benefit shareholders (i.e. stock prices), the magic bullet in the tax plan is ‘pass-through’ taxes. These are scheduled to be reduced drastically, and it is widely expected that as a result many corporate entities will be converted to pass-throughs. ‘Surprisingly’, many of Trump’s businesses are set up as pass-through. An added surprise is that this is expected to disproportionately benefit the very top strata (by both wealth and income) of American individuals.

For more analysis of the pass-through and general tax plan ramifications there are many august analysts that will do better than this journal. Or you can read the thing yourself …

I am mostly trying to pivot to the fourth R of the modern GOP: Reaganism. Coming soon!

* Naturally Ryan does not see it this way – to most in the GOP, government dependence on government handouts is a self-sustaining cycle that need s to be broken forcefully and immediately. That the main champion of this viewpoint is a man who has only worked for his well-to-do family business and, yes, the federal business in his entire adult life can be viewed as somewhat ironic.

**This has never happened. Basically, lower taxes = higher deficits.

***Statutory means the rate based on gross the gross, or published, rate and effective refers to the net rate after deductions, expenditures, etc. The corporate tax rates in the US have gradually gone down since the mid-1960s, and corporate tax as a percentage of GDP stands at around 2^ today compared to 7%in the mid-1940’s. See

The 4 Rs of the GOP Part 2


Continuing the theme of the transposition of Democrat and Republican roles (or at least public images), attitudes towards minorities are probably be the clearest indicator of this particular role reversal.

The Democrats were of course the favored in the South until at least the 1970s, an allegiance more or less related to ancient history rather than current attitudes. In 1970 the ‘Southern Strategy’ was explicitly described and espoused by Nixon speechwriter, although it can be argued that the strategy probably originated with Barry Goldwater in 1964. Per usual, this was related to states’ rights, an ongoing euphemism for allowing various forms of discrimination to flourish without those pesky feds getting in the way. By the 1970s the Southern strategy (interrupted by the 1976 election of native son Jimmy Carter) was a staple of Republican campaign tactics. Political campaigns became centered on racial divisiveness, with opposition to busing and the forever popular states’ rights leading the way. Starting with his 1976 campaign Ronald Reagan endlessly harped on the ‘welfare queen’ who drove a Cadillac.*

One of the stunning recent developments is how acceptable racism and bigotry has become. The Roy Moore saga is highlighted by his creepy predatory sexual behavior. No one is mentioning his various bigoted attitudes. To be fair to Moore (eek!) his notorious ‘yellow’s and ‘reds’ quote ( ) quite possibly did refer to a biblical passage. Unfortunately during a Q & A at the same speech however he also praised the 19th century as the last period of greatness for the USA ‘even though we had slavery’ (Hmmm ….).

In a similar vein, Milo Yiannopoulos from Breitbart was a sexy new poster boy for the Brave New World of acceptable white supremacy (oops, alt-right) not until his crackpot racial views were exposed but until he espoused a fondness for boys as young as 13. He appears to be making a comeback, at least as far as being a quotable pretty boy goes.

It should not be overlooked that the sainted unifier Ronald Regan gave the speech announcing his 1980 candidacy at the Neshoba County Fair, 7 miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi. Philadelphia was the site of the Mississippi civil rights workers’ murders and Reagan harped on (surprise!) states’ rights throughout his remarks.

As a sign of things to come (or perhaps that everything old is new again) the recent election in Virginia (which was won by Democrats) featured mostly ads with racist overtones. Republican Ed Gillespie came out prominently in favor of preserving Confederate monuments (is this the new states’ rights?) and ran ads showing scary looking Latinos with the captions ‘Kill. Rape. Control’. This was tied to his opponents (falsely) alleged support for sanctuary cities, as an example of what happens when Latinos get to stay in the US.

Now, the Unites States has a deeply racist** past and much of this thinking has clearly never completely gone away, but the idea of a post-racial society has been so completely debunked that one can only be depressed by the deepening divisiveness to come. And it will get more divisive – in their mad rush to tie themselves to Trump (who has a history of racist behavior and has limited his federal appointments and nominations almost exclusively to white Christians) we will be seeing more of this.

*This person actually existed but of course the true story has much more to it than a Reagan sound bite (read about her here: ) but Reagan was clearly making a larger, and very unsubtle point.

**The idea of separate ‘races’ is in itself a racist invention

The 4 Rs of the GOP Part 1

Reactionary Thinking

In the most general terms, conservatives do not like to be labeled reactionaries. The distinction, which ranges from subtle to meaningless, is that a ‘conservative’ is resistant to change for change’s sake and wants a sober and measured approach to formation of laws, adoption of new mores, etc. A reactionary, by implication, wants to return to a time that is gone. In other words, an out of touch geezer pining for a golden era that has long since passed, and may have been considerably sugar-coated as the years have gone by.

Naturally there are huge degrees of reactionary and/or conservative thinking. It cannot be doubted that the reality of the current GOP’s leadership and political makeup is essentially comprised of middle aged white men. Is this reactionary or have the republicans always been thus constituted?

One of the strange trends we’re seeing is that the Democrats and Republicans are continuing to trade places. After World War II the Democrats were espousing a more domestic and inward oriented policy. In contrast Eisenhower, although certainly not a maverick in this regard, could safely be called an internationalist. Similarly, both Bushes could be described (with reservations) as internationalists, While Ronald Reagan could hardly be described as a beloved international statesman, his actions in Libya and Lebanon (and enthusiastic saber-rattling and commie-baiting) point to someone who subscribes to the ‘America is policeman of the world’ idea.

With the rise of the GOP’s libertarian wing (e.g. Rand Paul) and of course Tea Party (somewhat libertarian and arch-reactionary), these attitudes were frequently challenged and mitigated. However it is safe to say that the Republican elite (remember them?) were always staunchly in favor of free trade policies and an engaged (cynics might say warmongering) foreign policy. Concomitant with the advocacy of free movement of capital was severe hostility to the union movement and, by association, the working class. Labor unions (Teamsters excepted) were solidly in the Democratic camp and their ongoing opposition to free trade (i.e. imports. Exports are OK) put a (sometimes) brake on any democratic internationalist aspirations.

That being said, it should be (quickly I hope) noted that any internationalist tendencies in American foreign policy are recent (i.e. post WW 2). With the exception of Woodrow Wilson’s efforts circa WW I, Isolationism was the rule to the extent that the term did not originate until the 1930’s. And of course, the USA’s refusal to join the League of Nations after the war quickly sunk any ongoing American internationalist aspirations (and the league itself of course).*

Hmmm, guess what? With the populist revolution (or whatever it is), The Republican administration is now completely inward looking, backing out of trade agreements, advocating expulsion of 11,000,000 immigrants and ranting about other countries taking advantage of American largesse (I am not sure ‘largesse’ was the precise term used in the well-researched speeches and reports). But true to this new distorted populism, the working class is now solidly with the GOP. The Democrats are now seen as the urban, elitist party while the Republicans represent the ‘little guy’. The problem for said little guy is that while The Man is happy to let them keep their guns (and is happy to reinforce the view that ‘others’ have taken their jobs), any notion that they will get an increased piece of the pie is absurd. The new tax bill, (which I will not belabor) continue that magical flow of capital up up up and away (apologies to the 5th Dimension) from the lower and middle classes. By the way, did we mention you can keep your guns?

The truth is that the organized labor movement, for good or ill, is responsible for creating the American middle class in the industrial era. They are in their way out. And even greater degrees of inequality (already by far the most lopsided of any ‘Western’ country) continue to be the order of the day. These ‘values’ are the main appeal to the ‘base’, although frequently they are couched in rhetoric meant to display how these attitudes will result in economic well-being.

And, yes, it’s those nagging social issues (the culture wars! Mmmm ….) that really represent the reactionary side. The steady intent to move capital upward, although not a new idea (it’s as old as human history) but is really just a self-interested policy that allows the GOP to repay their donor class.

The populist movement has waxed and waned since its inception in the 19th century as an agrarian push for farmers to gain access to bank credit. One of its most salient features is a general anti-intellectualism – best epitomized in various Frank Capra movies where the ‘common man’ shows greater ingenuity and (yes) ‘common sense’ than the expert. This sort of nonsense has come to full bloom in Trump’s outlandish braggadocio regarding his expertise in… everything. From claiming he had the ‘secret’ solution to permanently defeating ISIS to a steady stream of clownish boasts about his intelligence and business acumen (a laughingstock amongst those who have experienced the Trump MO of bad faith and mendacity first hand), a lack of actual knowledge and experience is now seen as a plus. The outsiders don’t need no book learning.

And it’s all working out marvelously, as a bumbling fool stumbles through government pounding his chest about nonsense while GOP leaders smile beatifically and thank God that at least they passed a tax bill so the donors get paid.

*As far as attitudes towards immigration, it’s a much more checkered history. Nativism (the Nativists tend to prefer the term “patriots”) has had many flavors, veering from anti-Catholicism, to anti-German to anti-Chinese in the 19th century. In the 20th century, starting the in the 1920’s, much anti-immigration sentiment took on a racial tint, focusing on ethnic purity, dangers to the ‘white race’, etc. This bears a striking resemblance to the alt-rights attitudes in the present day, attitudes that have been somewhat mainstreamed after Trump’s election. The focus of the Tea Party also turned sharply away from fiscal austerity and deficit reduction and has become obsessively nativist.

Before we leave this exceedingly brief and superficial analysis (sorry!) of immigration attitudes I should mention that much, if not most of the anti-immigration movements over the years (including the current ones) is concerned with the threat to American jobs, an ongoing concern of both labor unions and various politicians. This has recently been a noteworthy sticking point between organized labor and their ostensibly close allies, the Democratic party