The Signal: grotesque spending priorities in Donald Trump’s final budget before the election. Hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to food stamps, housing assistance, and Medicaid—and work requirements for able-bodied recipients of all three programs. Billions more to be wasted on building the border wall and bulking up the obscene amounts already spent on the military. Huge cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health—at the exact moment the world is facing its most serious epidemic challenge in years. A slashing of funding for the arts. A devastating attack on disability insurance payments and an evisceration of student loan forgiveness programs.
While these stand a snowball in hell’s chance of securing congressional approval, they are markers of what a Trump second term would look like. I guess it’s possible to come up with a more dangerous set of spending priorities, but I struggle to imagine what it would look like.
Make no mistake, under the MAGA hat and the faux-populist Twitter rants, Trump’s economics are those of a plutocrat, and not even a fiscally conservative one at that: His budget, combined with the GOP’s 2017 tax cut package, will lead to trillion-dollar-plus deficits each year for the next decade. If the Democrats can’t successfully run against these inequality-fueling policies of pillage, they might as well close shop. For Trump’s priorities, if implemented, would destroy what’s left of the safety net and finish the hollowing out of America’s working and middle classes, which began decades ago and has had such catastrophic political consequences.
The Democrats’ challenge is to home in on this Signal and not let themselves get distracted by the Noise—both the growing cacophony of unease around the party’s primary and caucus contests, and also the endless drumbeat of Trumpian inanities. Yes, it’s a scandal that a hoodlum such as Rush Limbaugh received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but it’s not surprising given that Trump’s entire presidency has been a love letter to the worst elements of talk radio. Yes, Trump’s firing of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and EU ambassador Gordon Sondland was payback in broad daylight, but, come on, did anybody really think Trump would forgo the opportunity to humiliate those who had testified to his malfeasance?
If the Democrats get too hung up on these gestures, they will simply be falling into Trump’s trap of endless distraction. It’s the big-picture issues that ought to break Trump in November.
The Democrats should be hammering away daily at the insanity of cutting access to health care during a global health emergency. They should be relentlessly focusing on the issue of student debt. They should eviscerate Trump for being AWOL on climate change while Australia burns, the earth had the hottest January on record, and the Antarctic experiences unheard-of mild temperatures.
When the Trump administration is forced to reverse itself on key issues—as it did on Friday, when the Justice Department made a low-key announcement that it would no longer sue the auto companies that had agreed to abide by California’s tougher emissions standards rather than the feds’ weaker one—Trump’s opponents should make sure everyone knows about it.
It’s these Signals that will ultimately bring the wannabe-tyrant to heel. There’s too much at stake to let the Noise dominate the news cycle.