What It Takes To Cut The Government Even A Little

I do not disagree with the proposition that political debate in the United States has become as polarized as at any time in my life.  But, as I have observed on multiple occasions, severe polarization is the inevitable result of the rise -- finally! -- of a movement seeking significant reduction in the role of the federal government.  There is no obvious "compromise" between the basic principle of the progressive left, which is that government can and should solve all of the personal problems of the people with government taxing, spending and regulation, and the basic principle of the economic right, which is that government is incapable of solving the personal problems of the people and only makes things worse when it tries.  The one principle says that the government should grow, and the other says that it should shrink.  

What's the "compromise"?  Certainly, neither side finds it acceptable to leave everything as is, in permanent stasis.  The progressive left has a long list of new and expanded spending and regulatory programs that it proposes in order to fix every last personal problem and eliminate all downside risk of life:  more anti-poverty spending (the current $1 trillion per year being woefully inadequate), "green" energy subsidies and "clean power" regulations to "save the planet," single payer health care, free college, free childcare, etc., etc.  We just need to muster the political will to get it done!  The right has a similar list of spending and regulatory programs to be cut or even eliminated:  Obamacare subsidies, "green" energy subsidies and regulations, Dodd-Frank financial regulation, education subsidies to failing unionized schools, public and "affordable" housing subsidies, the national endowments, and plenty more.

Always before the issue on the table was how much the government would grow; the "compromise" was that it would grow a little slower than the left wanted, and some of the new programs would have to wait for a few years.  Now, we have advisor to the President Steve Bannon saying at the CPAC conference yesterday that the administration plans to begin a "deconstruction of the administrative state."  What?  In an era of shrinkage of the government's role, do you actually expect progressives to sign on to a "compromise" to shrink things, but just a little slower?  The whole concept challenges the very legitimacy of their enterprise.

For an analogy, consider the long-deceased Soviet dictator Leonid Brezhnev.  I guess a good half of the population is too young to have personal memory of him.  Here is a picture:

This guy ruled the Soviet Union with an iron hand from 1964 to 1982.  He had plenty of time to award himself gazillions of medals and honors!  For everybody else in the Soviet realm, it was a long period of stagnation and decline, not to mention repression.  Brezhnev is most famous for the "Brezhnev Doctrine," which held that any piece of territory once in communist hands must forever after remain in communist hands.  The underlying rationale was obvious, although it generally went unstated:  if any piece of territory, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant, were to leave the communist sphere, that would call into question the fundamental legitimacy of the whole project.  And if that ever happened, the entire house of cards could collapse very quickly.  In the end, that is exactly what happened.  From the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 to the final collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 was barely over two years.  Right up until the final collapse, there was no possibility of "compromise."

And that, I suggest, is exactly what is going on with the crazed resistance of the left to the new Trump administration.  He's hardly done anything yet!  Why the insanity?  The lead article in the New York Times today describes the demands from the Democratic Party "base" for "all-out war" against the Trump administration:

Democratic Party leaders will gather in two cities this weekend to plot strategy and select a new national chairman with the daunting task of rebuilding the party’s depleted organization. But senior Democratic officials concede that the blueprint has already been chosen for them — by an incensed army of liberals demanding no less than total war against President Trump. . . .  [S]purred by explosive protests and a torrent of angry phone calls and emails from constituents — and outraged themselves by Mr. Trump’s swift moves to enact a hard-line agenda — Democrats have all but cast aside any notion of conciliation with the White House.

The answer is that the entire legitimacy of the enterprise is at stake.  What happens if taxes and financial and energy regulation get cut and economic growth actually increases?  What happens if green energy subsidies and climate regulations get cut and rescinded and world temperatures remain steady or even decline?  What happens if "anti-poverty" spending is cut and poverty actually declines, or if education spending is cut and educational results actually improve?  If any of these things are allowed to happen, the floodgates will open!  Literally half or more of the federal bureaucracy could be exposed to elimination.  

So I'm not sure that Trump himself has a whole lot to do with this.  We're just seeing what we need to go through to cut back the government, even by a little.