My dear friend E.J. Dionne has a smart column in Sunday’s Washington Post that is also wrong in one key respect.
The column is titled “Forget Left and Right. This is What Will Determine the Midterms.” Dionne’s point, echoing and crediting Jonathan Chait, is that Trump’s flagrant corruption, rather than an ideological challenge, is what makes him and his party most vulnerable this year.
Dionne and Chait are surely right about the corruption. Trump has become the personification of the swamp that he promised to drain.
But Dionne is off-base to suggest that this has little to do with left and right and that corruption is disconnected from ideology. The ideology of the modern Republican party is kleptocracy.
Far from using government as the counterweight to corrupted capitalism, Republicans use government to steal everything that isn’t nailed down. Trump is only the grotesque extreme of a decades-long trend.
And centrist, Wall Street-afflicted Democrats aren’t much better. That’s why it takes a left critique to get this story right. This is a lot more than a cry for good government.
When Elizabeth Warren declares—as a progressive—that the rules are rigged, she is explaining how the economic screwing of ordinary people is the flip-side of the corporate corruption. And it takes a progressive to make that connection and call for radical remedies that don’t stop with good government.
Indeed, good government can be limited government. Or we can use government, FDR-style, to rein in corporate excess and create opportunities for regular people. This is also what it takes to get Democrats elected and re-elected.
E.J. is surely right that Trump and his cronies are vulnerable for their corruption. But it’s misleading to disconnect this from left and right. If most Americans don’t yet experience Trump’s corruption in this fashion, that’s exactly what progressive leadership is for.