Populism had a heck of a 2016. Now 2017 is looking iffy.
That’s the thing about public upheavals: They’re all the rage until they serve their purpose — stripping power from one group and awarding it to another. After that, as The Who’s Roger Daltrey would remind us, it’s, “Meet the new boss.”
But will the new boss be the same as the old boss?
Probably more than most Americans suspect; certainly more than hysterical protesters are presaging.
President-elect Donald Trump is turning down the flame on the stew that got him elected: the wall? It’s now partly fencing. Locking up “crooked” Hillary Clinton? Why would we do that? Mass deportations? It’s lawbreakers we’re after. The Muslim immigration ban? Intense regional screenings.
These are signs he is taking the responsibity of the presidency seriously. He seems to realize that national stability trumps Trumpism.
But President Trump still could be different. As an outsider with a conservative Congress, he has a historic opportunity to make fundamental changes. He could be the president who begins dismantling the post-New Deal federal bureaucracy that has gobbled up the middle-class taxpayer and corrupted the free enterprise system with regulatory favoritism.
The average U.S. family now pays $2,000 a year in taxes just to meet interest payments on our $20 trillion national debt. That figure will appear quaint when rates go up. Trump, if he wanted to, could forcefully address overspending.
President Barack Obama traced the fabric pattern for transformative cuts in 2013, however unintentionally. “Essential” federal employees were told to report to work during that year’s budget shutdown. “Non-essential” employees were ordered to stay home.
Trump could be the president with the guts to raise the age for Social Security and impose a means test. He could go nose to nose with congressional leaders on term limits. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says there’s “no appetite” in his chamber for that. No kidding. But might there be in exchange for a balanced-budget amendment? Trump’s negotiating skills could come in handy there.
It’s not change that Americans should fear on the domestic side. It’s stasis — the same old same old that fuels populist rebellions. That we cannot afford.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.