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Bush v. Trump and
The Decline of the Republican Party

March 19, 2017
by William P. Meyers

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Knowing your enemy can help you to know yourself

Not long ago I decided I would try to read all of the autobiographies written by U.S. Presidents. There are not that many of them, as they are mostly a modern phenomena. Obviously this would be a long-term project. However, I was off to a good start. Before the decision I already had read Harry Truman's Memoirs and George Washington's Diary (technically not an autobiography). Wikipedia has a list of Presidential Autobiographies, if you want to see the full set.

I am currently about half way through George W. Bush's Decision Points. This is history I lived through. And now I am living through the administration of Donald Trump. Bush's Presidency, from 2001 to the beginning of 2009, is enough in the past to enable me to look at it analytically, despite the mixture of emotions I feel as I read specific parts.

Both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party have evolved over time, but the changes in the Republican Party since 2001 are pretty dramatic. There is some continuity between Bush and Trump, like a strong preference for private enterprise and suspicion of government programs. There is some commonality of background: both are from rich, powerful families and both were capitalists before becoming politicians. Both told enough voters what the voters wanted to hear to get elected President. But their differences are important, (from my point of view) because Trump has Bush's bad qualities, without sharing his good qualities.

One of the several things I've found that leftists/Democrats have forgotten about Bush is that he strengthened Medicare. He did that by adding a prescription drug benefit. As Bush put it:

Medicare's most antiquated feature was that it did not cover prescription drugs. The program would pay $28,000 for ulcer surgery, but not $500 a year for pills that would prevent most ulcers.

When it came time to vote, almost every Democrat in the House of Representatives, plus "independent" Bernie Sanders, voted against having Medicare start paying for drugs. The idea that partisan sabotaging of Presidential programs started in the Obama administration is just propaganda.

Most people don't know that Bush was a history major in college. Or that he read a lot about prior Presidents in an attempt to do his best for the American people. I disagree with most of Bush's decisions as President, including his decision to go to war with the Taliban after only a couple of weeks of negotiations, and to go to war in Iraq.

It would be dangerous to underestimate President Trump, as his political opponents found out in 2016. Clearly, backed by his father's financial resources and political connections, Trump built a real-estate and branded products empire that would make most capitalists proud. I even agree with him, or his campaign rhetoric, at least in part, on a few issues.

The only thing preventing our current President from destroying America, or at least the American economy, is our constitutional Separation of Powers. Donald Trump appears to have a poor understanding of science, economics, history, and international relations. He has stepped outside his specialty (ripping off investors and customers in real estate) and stepped into a world of shit. He was barely competent in his specialty, and he is misapplying what he learned there to the governance of the world.

The Republican Party, meanwhile, has become addicted, from its grassroots to its highest levels, to an ideology that is as dangerous, in its own way, as communism. It's theory is that private, unregulated, capitalism is superior to government in all cases. Further, that government always makes the world a worse place to live. But you have to control government to undo it, and while you are in control, why not help your capitalist friends by tossing come contracts their way?

Moderate Republicans, to the extent there are any left, don't quite buy into this anarcho-capitalist, apocalyptic mind set. In some ways Trump passes for a moderate (if his publicly stated views reflect his true opinions). He's just trying to cut back on federal programs that help people who don't start out in rich families, not to destroy the government he learned he needed to subsidize his real estate development projects.

Republicans (including Bush) are traditionally are for Free Trade, which frees the global capitalist system from interference by bad governments when goods and services cross national borders. Trump is not so sure about that. He wants to protect American capitalists. That is a right-wing view, yet not in harmony with Republican orthodoxy. To gain votes he cast raising trade barriers as protecting American workers. It isn't entirely a lie, and it fits Bannon's white-nationalism mission very nicely.

Donald Trump is also more dangerous than George W. Bush in his lack of thoughtfulness. Bush pushed to the right, but in a measured way. He was for deregulation, but not at the expense of public safety. He was an oilman, and a devout Christian, but he increased funding to fight HIV/AIDS, while Trump's new budget seeks to reduce funding to fight disease both in the U.S. and the world.

George W. Bush had a depth of character that is lacking in Donald Trump. Bush was able to see some of the complexities of the world. Trump sees everything in the simplest of terms. Everything is either the greatest, or the worst.

Complicated problems require complicated solutions. They are often built out of simpler complex solutions, based on pragmatic experience. The Republicans, and Trump, now have two simplistic formulas that they apply to every policy matter (nationalism and capitalism). It is hard to predict how much damage they will do. But if you were preparing for the zombie apocalypse under Obama, I would suggest you increase your preparedness even more while Trump World unfolds.

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