President Trump is offering Democrats a lifeline with his recent efforts to work with their leadership on budget negotiations and the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for illegal aliens. With Republicans showing themselves unwilling to bring their party more in line with the priorities of Trump voters, the president now appears willing to offer the opportunity to Democrats. Will they be willing or able to take it?
The events of the last two weeks are not the first time we have seen an indication from Trump that he is willing to deal without respect to old ideological divisions. His much maligned inaugural address was another such offering to Democrats. Given their response to that speech, it remains highly doubtful that they would now take him up.
At the time of President Trump’s inauguration, I argued that his address was a wonderfully prosaic statement, completely devoid of false poetry and forced alliteration. It was spoken in direct language on two levels. As aspiration, the speech addressed the task of re-stating American identity. On the practical, policy level, however, it did something truly astonishing: it laid out an agenda that in itself would be entirely satisfactory to the Democratic Party and even a substantial portion of the neo-progressive Left. This is where the lifeline was fastened.
The speech offered only a few clear policy implications, but such as they were they all amounted to a proposal to make a deal that is designed to entice Democratic support. He said:
Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.
We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.
To put the matter briefly, President Trump proposed a robust, comprehensive infrastructure rebuilding project, dedicated educational renewal, conscious urban reconstruction, border security, and broad job-creating initiatives. He also implied a substantial military augmentation, but that can well be subsumed in the overall scope of the social policy program he outlined.
What is extraordinary about this is the fact that the social-policy program could be readily embraced by the Democratic Party consistent with its heritage and mission. But there is a hitch; the president proposes to make a deal. All the Democratic Party would have to do in exchange is to accept some modest tax and trade proposals and give up its identity politics. The master of the “art of the deal” has shaped a scenario in which the Democrats in Congress could throw the Republicans completely on their heels by embracing the Trump agenda and paving the way to re-brand Trumpism as old-fashioned Democratic policy.
But the cost! The cost! No more identity politics! That is what it would mean to resume the authority to represent the great American middle. President Trump crafted his inaugural address as if he was very consciously aware of this and thus for its very sake. That is the meaning of his assertion, “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” To the progressive Left, it has been the case for some time that patriotism is simply a screen for racism. They would have to abandon that posture to strike a deal with the president. Would the Democrats strike a bargain that could pave the road to their return to dominance? Or will they cling to the cul-de-sac approach that has for the moment grounded them? That is the question of the hour.
I will be bold enough to predict, however, that Democrats will not be able to make the deal, for they have maneuvered themselves into a position from which there is simply no escape. They cannot abandon constituency politics even for the sake of benefiting their constituents!