What Bidenism Owes to Trumpism

Because he’s a Democrat, there’s no anti-tax pledge to fall afoul of, so he can do all this while promising explicitly to raise taxes on the rich. But he’s also ditched the deficit anxieties of past Democratic administrations, he’s got a full-employment Federal Reserve behind him, and following Trump’s lead, he’s just going to run up deficits until inflation finally bites.

You can tell that these moves are well suited to the political moment because the Republicans don’t know how to counter them. They’re stuck betwixt and between, unable to fully revert to their pre-Trump positioning as deficit hawks (who would believe them anymore?) and unsure how to counter Biden when he just seems to be making good on Trump’s promises.

So you get Republican attacks on the infrastructure proposal for including too much noninfrastructure spending or conservative attacks on the family benefit for undermining work incentives. These are detail-oriented critiques, and sometimes reasonable ones — but they effectively concede a lot of ground to Biden’s general vision instead of setting up a sharp ideological contrast.

Are there any limitations on this fulfill-Trump’s-promises approach? The immediate one is in immigration policy, where Biden’s coalition won’t permit him to co-opt Trump’s hawkishness or even revert to the policies of the Obama era. So it’s the Biden White House that’s caught between approaches, trying to deliver both a humanitarian welcome and enough border security to keep the flow of migrants manageable.

The Biden bet seems to be that you can have a version of economic nationalism without its usual anti-immigration component — that protectionism via tariffs and industrial policy can go together with a looser immigration policy. If unemployment rates get low enough, this might be right. But a plausible liberal nationalism still probably requires a sense of basic order and stability at the border, which is eluding the Biden team for now.

Then the longer-term issue with Bidenism as Trumpism 2.0 is that since the Democratic Party increasingly represents the winners of globalization, from wealthy suburbanites to Wall Street and Silicon Valley elites, a politics that requires these interests to sacrifice for the sake of redistribution will eventually create fissures inside its coalition.

Yes, Biden can probably get a modest corporate tax hike and a higher tax rate on the highest earners. But his party’s eagerness to restore the state and local tax breaks that Trump curbed tells you something important about where power lies in liberal politics, and how little appetite there is among Democrats for tax increases that really bite the upper middle class.