The Axe on the Table

Author: Gary Hart

Historians and political scientists analyze the world in terms of nation-states.  The nation is the people and the state is the government.  When a gap occurs between the people and their government, even a democratically elected one, a variety of things can happen on a graduated scale from a new election to a revolution.

The new Trump Administration is not the first to be led by a president with a low approval rating.  It is the first where that low rating occurred so soon after an election.  Even presidents such as Harry Truman who experienced low approval at certain points, came back to be considered by history and reflective opinion to be somewhere between better than average and outstanding.

Aside from this early opening slump, the other rare circumstance for the new Administration is that its Party controls virtually all of government, not only the White House and all the executive agencies, but also both Houses of Congress and soon the Supreme Court.  This partisan accumulation of power in effect sets aside Constitutional checks and balances, leaving one Party, and only one of its wings, to dictate policy and its application.

Several factors contribute to the public unhappiness with the President and many in the Congressional majority, even though they claim to be carrying out the promises they made during the recent election campaign.  One is the gap between propaganda and reality.  Stunning numbers of those supporting repeal of Obamacare did not know it was the same as the Affordable Care Act.  When asked if they believe there is too much government regulation, a large majority concur.  The same people object, however, to elimination of clean air and water regulations, worker safety rules, food and drug regulations, and much else.

When asked if taxes are too high, a large majority say yes.  But the same people are angered at tax cuts for the rich.

The difficulty is that those now running the government mean it when they propose to cut taxes, including for the wealthy, slash regulations across the board, eliminate government agencies that deliver services the public expects, reduce public pensions and privatize Social Security and Medicare.  The people, the nation, thought they voted for a scalpel that might disadvantage a few others but not an axe that chopped off whole elements of society.

Those now in power have been sharpening the axe for decades, in some cases since the age of Franklin Roosevelt.  Now, the time they have been waiting for has arrived.

Elimination of the “administrative state”, the professed goal, is guaranteed to produce an everyman-for-himself society with unsafe food and drugs, polluted air and waterways, dangerous working conditions, lower wages, reduced childhood nutrition, and the elderly and poor further marginalized.

Were the dangers not so great, it might be interesting to observe the results of a domestic and international experiment in populist nationalism that casts off security alliances, exiles immigrants, withdraws from trade treaties, lets climate temperatures (and oceans) rise, and cancels much of the New Deal and Great Society.  Decades of progress now under siege did not result from the hated liberalism; it was bipartisan.  The massive rejection of that progress is also a rejection of moderate Republicanism that believed in free trade and responsible regulation.

Despite the nonsensical notion that Trumpism is a revolt against the “elites” (consider the Cabinet), it is instead a revolt against social progress, mature government, and a civilized society.

In the absence of checks and balances and a mature sense of history, we have entered dangerous waters where the gap between the state and the nation will only widen.  When the radical wing of one Party achieving its objectives, there will be no wide-spread demonstrations of public gratitude and affection, no town hall meetings at all, and only repeated rallies of the dwindling true believers.  Even those rallies will be smaller and much angrier.

3 Responses to “The Axe on the Table”

  1. Tim Conner Says:

    Thanks again for a long view and one not filled with the usual inane and intemperate repartee that we see in the mainstream media.

  2. Eric Jacobson Says:

    In my view, this essay is written (with customary eloquence) as if rightist Republican Ted Cruz not Donald Trump was nominated and elected. Yuge difference. That’s why all the real, conservative, Republicans are upset. Trump has ended Reaganism and stolen the GOP right out from under them.

    Why else are David Brooks, Bill Kristol, George Will, David Frum, Rich Lowry and the whole National Review crowd are so unhappy? Answer: They know Trump’s still a conservative Democrat (which he officially was most of his life), not a real Republican. For (important) example: The 1% is now answering to the U.S. president re American jobs (at mild expense to their bottom lines) in ways they never did to President Obama and never would have under Clinton had she been elected. True: President Trump’s not yet a “working class hero” but I say again: Let’s give him a chance. And frequently remind him that his re-election chances turn on him fulfilling his promises to become one.

    A different dynamic is happening on the Democratic side:

    Elite Democrats and their corporate media allies so totally abandoned everyday people in our country that they allowed a populist Republican to run to the left of the lackluster Democratic nominee and win.

    Democrats now railing against Trump are deserving cuckolds: They broke the social contract with their traditional base, ran off with a more attractive social cohort and are now livid (most hysterically so) at both the seducer (who they are calling every epithet in the book) and the seduced (who they now vilifying and shaming as deplorables, etc.). Ahem!

    (I hasten to add in all earnestness: The level-headed host of this site is NOT among these formerly faithless now unhinged Democrats.)

    The net result is that Donald Trump and his motley crew of anti-establishment patriots (securely) have “the whole world in their hands.” They appear to know it, and so far so good (with 1 or 2 exceptions). I doubt they’re going to drop it.

    It would be best for mainstream Democrats to deeply reflect on their role in Trump’s ascendancy. Like Dick Cheney during Vietnam, they had “other priorities” while every metric of social decency was declining for the vast majority of the American people. This goes back 40 years!

    As I said in conclusion to a rather hard-hitting comment in the NY Times yesterday (one I was surprised they published and which might be of interest to readers of this space): Trump’s not perfect but he’s a “party of one” standing alone with his 62 million voters, fighting the establishments of both old parties and their robotic anti-Trump rank-and-file voters. Unless and until he does something major wrong anyway (and he hasn’t thus far with the exception of the botched military mission in Yemen): More power to Trump and less to the media and their 2 party duopoly establishment masters. See .

  3. Patrick Hanley Says:


    One thing we can be sure of in the long view of history is that vacuums are filled.

    You diagnose – correctly – the widening divide between the state and the nation. At the national level, perhaps abstracted from day-to-day comings and goings, the nation (i.e. 100,000 well-placed nationals) has elected a celebrity who stokes and reinforces perceived injustices, and reinforces a worldview assembled in neglect and self-loathing. Meanwhile, at the local level, the ‘state’ has never been so integral to peoples’ daily lives. Even as rhetoric has damned government services, technology, social upheaval, and fragmentation of the body politic has exploded the number of services delivered at the lowest levels of government. In a sense, municipal and state-level governments remain ‘stuck’ to policy out of necessity, while national politics are able to fly high on national fictions. Unfortunately for the localities, the national government has the keys to the Cadillac, so to speak.

    So in that vacuum, as Washington pulls away from Springfield, as the federal state pulls away from the national populace, do we see a larger role for the states? Perhaps a new, liberal, ‘states rights’ movement (with a painful dose of irony)?

    I also wonder about aggravating splits within the national parties. How can a local government, dealing with real life-or-death of public policy issues fall in with a national agenda hellbent on dismantling insurance programs, pulling social aid, and defunding public education? Of course, these governments have done just that for years. But, I wonder – and suspect, that two decades of underfunded, under-resourced public institutions have rotted the ability of the local government to deliver meaningful and effective services. I wonder – and hope – that local elections will send politicians with righteous indignation to city councils and state houses, and demand a new administrative order, unmoored from national sanction.

    In any case, a thought provoking post. Thank you for your continued publications on the state of things. I very much appreciate your sharing.

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