For those expecting a seismic shift in US politics, Donald Trump’s first day basking in the glow of his election victory suggest the changes will be less than dramatic. Already surrounding himself with the furniture of the Republican Washington establishment, campaign promises are being diluted before Trump has even placed his hand on the bible. As the dust settles, this presidency is already looking like it might be more business-as-usual than anyone might have initially expected.
Sure, Trump will spend his time reversing the progress made by President Obama. The most disastrous about-face will surely be Trump’s determination to extricate America from the global climate change deal, placing him as the only climate denier among major world leaders; even the likes of Rodrigo Duterte and Vladimir Putin are on board. But every incoming president overseeing a party-power transfer trashes the work of their predecessor, Obama included. Some of these changes will be chilling to those who felt like America had made eight years of progress, only to see that progress trampled into nothing. But then anyone old enough to remember the Clinton-Bush transition will surely remember that this feeling is hardly new.
Trump’s campaign was a horrific roller-coaster of racist and misogynistic abuse, and fact-devoid outbursts that frequently contradicted each other. Policy pronouncements, which were few and far between, were a cocktail of bone-chilling fascism and nationalist drum-beating that was enough to whip the media, liberals and Trump supporters into a frenzy. Certainly, some of these policies – banning Muslims from America, building a wall and making Mexico pay for it, punishing those who have abortions – were extreme in a way not seen from a Republican presidential candidate before. Senior Republicans, including George W. Bush, queued up to denounce them as extreme, positioning themselves as political moderates in comparison.
But these policies are likely to be abandoned or significantly diluted now that Trump is in the Oval Office. Building the wall is prohibitively expensive, and making Mexico pay for it is a deluded fantasy. Already it’s hastily been downgraded to a fence. Banning Muslims from America would be totally unconstitutional, and virtually impossible to implement. Even Trump had to backtrack on his punishments-for-abortions diatribe. None of these policies that shocked the world have a chance of becoming reality.
So what does that leave us with? If not a wall, then surely a punitive immigration crackdown. If not punishments for abortions, then probably just attempts to make procuring an abortion more difficult. If you can’t ban Muslims completely, perhaps a racist campaign to harass, intimidate and criminalise them. Sound familiar? That’s because these are all policies that characterised the Bush era of Republican leadership. There’s nothing new here. Other Trump campaign cornerstones – climate change denialism, American exceptionalism, gender conservatism and misogyny, irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthy – fall straight from the traditional Republican bible.
It is hard to see how a Trump administration could be more disastrous than George W. Bush’s. Bush oversaw a campaign of calamitous human rights abuses, from the extrajudicial detention of terror suspects, to torture and rendition. His illegal war in Iraq, the single most catastrophic foreign policy blunder since the Second World War, led to deaths spiralling into their millions and destabilised the whole Middle East. The after effects, which include almost total social collapse and widespread poverty in Iraq, as well as the spread of militant terrorist groups across the region and further into the world, are still being felt a decade later. These actions caused significant damage to America’s international reputation, which has since recovered under Obama’s tenure.
Bush’s evangelical Christian beliefs led to the pushing of discredited abstinence-only sex education in AIDs ravaged sub-Saharan Africa and similar anti-abortion, creationist and anti-contraception messages onto young Americans. He oversaw a staggering increase in income inequality, and his right-wing economic policies contributed significantly to the 2008 financial crisis. Bush transformed a $1.9 trillion dollar budget surplus into a staggering $1.2 trillion dollar debt, largely through a $1.5 trillion tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and obscene military spending on calamitous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His dismal response to Hurricane Katrina was wholly inadequate and brimming with underlying racism. His record on gay rights was dismal.
Will Trump’s policies be bad for America and bad for the world? Of course. But they were bad for the world last time a Republican was in power too. Don’t believe the hysteria. For the next four years, it’s nothing more than Republican business-as-usual.