Turn on the news for any length of time and you’re guaranteed to hear about the candidacy of Donald Trump. His rhetoric, policies and speeches all reek of demagoguery, xenophobia, and racism. Let’s not kid ourselves when asking: how can Donald Trump actually be this successful in a presidential race? He is simply a product of 30 years of short-sighted policies.
The story starts with Ronald Reagan. Reagan is the champion of conservatism in today’s America. Guiding Republicans in office today, even 15 years after his death, isn’t his most impressive feat. Rather, it was convincing America that trickle-down economics actually works. Reagan was praised for his support of union-busting tactics, his tax breaks to large corporations, his deregulation of environmental protections, his deregulation of the Federal Communications Commission, and the list goes on. How did he convince working class America that this was acceptable?
America was just recovering from a recession; jobs were scarce and things were more expensive. It was the perfect economic climate to convince people that deregulating everything which needed regulating was a good idea. He also enacted policies that pitted the middle class against each other. These policies were disastrous, completely destroyed minority families and communities, and in turn, damaged race relations within America. The persuasion and the distractions put in place by Reagan would set the tone for American politics for the next two and a half decades.
The next to take office was George H.W. Bush. Elected in 1988, after being Reagan’s right-hand man, Bush only furthered the conservative agenda. Now that the Cold War was over, America’s military industrial complex needed a new enemy. We looked to the Middle East and found Saddam Hussein. Hussein was an infamous dictator who had shamelessly murdered thousands of his own people. While he was an evil and grotesque person, he posed no real threat to the national security of the United States. Regardless, Bush pushed America into a new era of perpetual warfare and occupation. This would end up taking thousands of lives and costing hundreds of millions of dollars.
After George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton took office. Clinton is often credited with sustaining a budget surplus and leading America through the booming 90s. What is often overlooked when talking about his legacy, though, is his support for disastrous trade agreements and the deregulation of large banks.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was supported and pushed strongly by Bill and Hillary Clinton, cost Americans over 1 million decent paying jobs. Although it wasn’t all felt at once, American manufacturing fled to poorer countries in search of lower wages and less regulations. But on top of his support for NAFTA, Bill Clinton supported the repealing of Glass-Steagall, the most comprehensive antitrust legislation put in place by Franklin D. Roosevelt. The repealing of this legislation allowed banks to gamble with ordinary Americans’ money, and was a large factor in the economic collapse of 2008.
Lastly, George W. Bush. George W. Bush’s legacy is beginning to be felt now than ever. George W. Bush’s war in Iraq was the largest foreign policy mishap in American history. After convincing the American people that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks, Bush made the call to invade Iraq. His wingman, Dick Cheney (who, by the way, was the CEO of Halliburton, one of the largest American military contractors) was a staunch supporter and advocate for the war. In total, it cost more than twice the American lives lost in 9/11. Over 350,000 innocent Iraqis died and America spent four trillion dollars. It is worth noting that the media was hardly critical of the war, something of a first in American history and something that we still see today.
Today, we have Donald Trump and his very viable candidacy. Trump is a direct product of American policy for the past thirty-plus years. The loss of jobs through disastrous anti-worker policies and harmful trade agreements has only established and grown his base of supporters. The culture of fear, racism and xenophobia that we constantly hear about is a product of the endless conflict we seem to throw ourselves into. The drums of fear are beating rampantly throughout Trump’s rhetoric and among his supporters.