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Trump’s (Partially) Vulnerable Legacy

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For a mildly optimistic note, I argue that Trump’s signature legislative achievement is likely to be significantly scathed by the next unified Democratic government:

For all the talk about how Trump was a different, more populist kind of Republican, the tax law he signed is cartoonish proof that the GOP is slavishly devoted to the interests of the rich. And despite the tax “reform” label, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s crowning achievement does not simplify the tax code; it makes the tax code more complex. It was so hastily drafted and contains so many new giveaways to the wealthy that tax attorneys will be among the biggest winners. It’s a huge gift to people who least need relief in a time of increasing inequality. One of the most telling features of the bill is that the modest breaks for the middle class are set to expire in less than a decade, while the corporate cuts are permanent.

As a result, the bill is remarkably unpopular, with surveys suggesting that it is opposed by more than half of the population and supported by only a third. Indeed, since the advent of modern polling, the only major legislative initiative that was less popular with the public was the Republican proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

What makes programs like Social Security sticky is that they provide valuable benefits to ordinary people. Tax “reform” doesn’t qualify. The next unified Democratic government will not pay a political price for modifying the GOP’s deeply unpopular cuts. Democrats will probably not fully repeal the bill — many of the middle-class breaks may be extended, for example — but they can and will substantially increase taxes on the wealthy the next time they have the opportunity.

 If more Supreme Court vacancies emerge without Democratic control of the Senate, though, that’s a different story:

Perhaps most concerning, from a long-term perspective, is the Trumpification of the judiciary. When the Senate confirmed the 49-year-old arch-conservative Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, it instantly granted Trump a durable political “win.” Just how much of a win will depend on future events. Gorsuch replaced Antonin Scalia, another arch-conservative. But three nonconservative Supreme Court justices — the moderate Anthony M. Kennedy and the liberals Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer — will be 80 by the midterm elections. If one of them leaves the court and Trump confirms a replacement, the court will move rightward for decades. This shift would have a huge influence on the course of American politics, not least by sharply constraining what the next Democratic Congress can accomplish.

Even if Gorsuch is Trump’s only Supreme Court nomination, Trump is getting federal judges confirmed at a record rate. He’s packing the lower courts with young, reactionary and, in some cases, comically unqualified judges who will affect American jurisprudence for the worse.

Hope that Anthony Kennedy really likes being the median justice on the Court and that Ginsburg and Breyer remain healthy…

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