What Binds Ryan’s Post-Truth Agenda to Trump’s Post-Policy Politics: Racism

Personally, I’ve never found the dichotomy of establishment vs insurgency to be a very helpful way of understanding what is going on in the Republican Party right now. Another way of looking at the tension is to frame it as a difference between being post-truth and post-policy. Prior to 2008, David Roberts described the post-truth nature of the GOP.

Republicans thus talk about “taxes” and “spending” and “regulation” in the abstract…They talk about cutting the deficit even as they slash taxes on the rich and launch unfunded wars. They talk about free markets even as they subsidize fossil fuels. They talk about American exceptionalism even as they protect fossil-fuel incumbents and fight research and infrastructure investments.

In short, Republicans have mastered post-truth politics.

While they worked to reduce taxes on the wealthy, get rid of government regulations and “drown government in the bathtub (all of which benefit the top 1%), they had to convince everyday Americans that their policies would actually help them.

After the Bush/Cheney era and the Great Recession, being post-truth didn’t work very well anymore. Most Americans saw very clearly what happened when the Republican agenda was enacted. Rather than re-think that agenda, they simply went post-policy and obstructed anything President Obama and the Democrats tried to do. In order to rally their ground troops in support, Republican fanned the flames of racism, fear and anger. As I’ve written before, Donald Trump is the epitome of post-policy nihilism.

With the release of his anti-poverty plan, it is clear that House Speaker Paul Ryan is attempting to revise the Republican post-truth playbook. While he is trying to convince everyone that he’s really concerned about poverty, his proposals are pretty much the same-old same-old stuff that Republicans have been peddling for decades now. Here is how Jordan Weismann described it:

Most of the agenda is a rehash of, or at least a variation on, material Ryan has trotted out before. Inspired by the welfare reforms of the 1990s, the speaker still wants to push more safety net beneficiaries to go to work, devolve more program control down to state and local officials, and yet somehow increase accountability and carefully monitor results.

Beyond that, the plan proposes to eliminate sections of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform legislation and get rid of the President’s new “fiduciary rule,” which requires that investment professionals act in their clients’ best interests when offering advice on their retirement accounts. Yes, you read that right. These are things Ryan included as part of his “anti-poverty agenda.”

So, if Donald Trump is post-policy and Paul Ryan is post-truth, where do their agendas come together. Jonathan Chait gave us the answer.

There is nothing inherently racist about Ryan’s policy agenda. The arguments for enormous, regressive tax cuts, deregulation of finance and carbon pollution, and large reductions in spending assistance for the poor may be unpersuasive, but they have no intellectual connection to racism. The trouble for Republicans is that building a real-world constituency for these policies does rely on racism. Conservatives stopped the momentum of the New Deal in the mid-1960s only when they associated it with support for the black underclass. Republican politics has grown increasingly racialized over time, a trend that has dramatically accelerated during the Obama era.

In other words, just as racism has been the fuel that ignites the post-policy positioning of Republicans over the last few years, it has been exploited for decades as a way to divide and conquer support for the progressive agenda.

While Ryan might appropriately denounce the overtly racist things Trump says, the policies he is in the midst of unveiling will continue to rely on the dog whistle racism of post-truth politics.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.