PITTSBURGH — In the imaginations of his hopeful defenders, Donald Trump was supposed to transcend left and right. He’d break the Republican Party from the shibboleths of the Reagan Era and create a new ideology mindful of the interests of the party’s working-class supporters.
Trump signaled this regularly. He touted a big infrastructure program. He insisted he would never cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. He said his health care plan would be more comprehensive than Obamacare, at times using the government-oriented systems of Scotland, Canada and Australia as models.
That reinvention project is stillborn because it was never serious. Except on trade, where we still await the fruits of his efforts, his break-with-the-past agenda is dead.
One notable casualty is infrastructure
It barely budged the news cycle when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders effectively interred infrastructure last week, telling reporters that Trump’s promises were unlikely to lead to “a specific piece of legislation” this year.
Trump’s failure to deliver to the voters who hoped he’d be a working-class hero creates a large opening for Democrats and progressives in key swing areas that drifted Trump’s way, especially in the Midwest and Pennsylvania.
But here again, the conventional wisdom is hard at work, this time with cliches that contradict each other. The first is that Democrats have no new ideas about the economy. The second is that they are moving to the left.
But if the second is correct, that must mean that they are offering ideas that are more progressive than the ones they put forward before — which, in turn, means that the first assertion can’t be true.
Here’s the reality: The economic crash of 2008 and Trump’s success among blue-collar voters in parts of the country that have fallen behind moved moderates as well as liberals alike toward a tougher critique of how the American economy is working.
So, yes, there are more adventurous ideas out there, and this week, the Center for American Progress will release an important set of proposals that reflect this new thinking.
The center-left think tank’s agenda begins with a broad infrastructure program to keep the promise Trump broke, a major effort to modernize K-12 schools, and substantial investments to help communities prepare for natural disasters and extreme weather.
Their plan also builds on legislation in Congress to guarantee all families access to affordable, high-quality child care and calls for expanding long-term care services for the disabled and the elderly.
The job guarantee is an innovative gloss on an increasingly popular idea among progressives. Critics of guaranteeing work to the unemployed nationwide have argued that doing so would be hugely expensive and distort the job market. By focusing the guarantee on the 10 percent of Americans who live in the nation’s 676 most economically battered counties, the CAP version contains costs while delivering help to places where the need for new opportunities is greatest.
The affected counties, defined by unemployment and low participation in the labor market plus a variety of measures of poverty and income, are spread across 42 states and include areas that are both urban and rural.
To emerge from the Trump Era, we’ll need new ideas and new hopes. Those plans and aspirations are beginning to take shape. We should start paying attention.
Writes for The Washington Post.