It is comforting to think that Donald Trump is a weird, momentary aberration, and that if we just get rid of him, dignity in politics will be restored. This is false. In fact, the main reason the establishment is uncomfortable with Donald Trump is that his instability makes them nervous about their money.
Anthony Scaramucci is a bit player in politics and no more than a tiny footnote in White House history, but he is a useful illustration of the point. All of the sniping between Trump and Scaramucci obscures the fact that they both subscribe to the same moral code: People are useful to the extent that they can help you, and almost anything is tolerable so long as it benefits you personally. When Scaramucci saw Trump as a ticket to fame and a White House career, he was perfectly willing to tolerate things like the Muslim ban, or calling Mexicans “rapists.” It was only after Trump ceased being useful that Scaramucci had a moment of conscience and declared that it was time for Republicans to be “fearless and brave” in speaking out against Trump’s excesses. Likewise, former Republican South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, who is kicking around the idea of a primary challenge to Trump, who he says does not “deserve” reelection, also says that he would still vote for Trump over a Democrat.
Money comes first. People like to feel warm and righteous about themselves, but ultimately they will vote for their money over everything. Sure, respectable suit-and-tie Republicans may feel a little uncomfortable with the overt xenophobia and racism and child prison camps of the Trump administration—but they did get that tax cut. Hard to argue with the numbers. For the Republican power structure, the ideal candidate would be someone with Trump’s same rapacious pro-wealthy class war tax policies, but a smoother demeanor, who kept the racist consequences of the policies a bit more low key. It is not the actual racism or inequality that bothers them; it is the gauche flaunting of it. Reagan, and Bush the elder, and Bush the younger were all able to execute the basic Republican move of enacting policies that promoted gross injustice while saying soothing words about equality. Trump is not capable of that. That is irksome, yes. But as long as he keeps their money right, they’ll still vote for him. His unstable personality is a concern mostly to the extent that he might do something stupid like start a needless (unprofitable) real war or trade war that will negatively affect investors. The children in cages only bother them on an optical level.
Perhaps I am being too hard on Republicans. This is not really a Republican problem. It is a “wealthy people” problem. There is a significant constituency of rich Democrats who want a pro-inequality, pro-rich economic policy matched with soft liberalism on what are traditionally called “social issues.” Bill Clinton and, to a lesser extent, Obama served this constituency well. Rich Democrats want to get richer and feel like they are “progressive,” even if the consequences of the economic policies that they favor are regressive. This is the sort of Democratic candidate that some people hope for in 2020. When Kamala Harris goes and declares, at a millionaire fundraiser in the Hamptons, “I believe in capitalism,” she is sending a not so subtle signal that she is this kind of candidate. There is a good bit of competition for this lane in the Democratic primaries. Only Bernie and Elizabeth Warren sit outside of this effort to return to the neoliberal consensus—the set of policies that helped inequality continue to grow, even as they graciously allowed people like Pete Buttigieg to serve openly in the military in our imperial war.
To change the things that really need to be changed, you need to take money from the rich. The disgraceful accumulation of wealth at the very top of our society is the anchor pulling us all to the bottom. It destroys democracy, perverts incentives, and captures the government in service of the interests of a tiny elite minority. The Republican party as a whole wants to continue this condition. A significant faction of the Democratic party wants to continue the economic aspects of current American policy—the dominant and underlying cause of the ongoing crack-up of our political institutions and the driver of immeasurable amounts of oppression—while adding in a feel-good patina of social justice. In general, rich people want to remain rich, and get richer. They feel guilty about that to varying degrees. Even the ones who do feel guilty want to have their consciences soothed, rather than to become less rich.
Trump is one evening’s nightmare. Money is the actual monster. Don’t lose focus out there.