When Newt Gingrich addressed a Heritage Foundation gathering in December 2016—the month before Barack Obama’s presidency ended and Donald Trump was sworn in as president of the United States—the former speaker of the House of Representatives and author of the Contract with America (more accurately described as the Contract on America) was feeling very optimistic. Gingrich was confident that Trump, as president, would put the nail in the coffin of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and its 1960s sequel, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. And so far, Gingrich has not been disappointed. Between a hard-right presidential administration, a Republican-dominated Congress and an increasingly right-wing Supreme Court, the New Deal and Great Society aren’t dead yet but are definitely on life support.
Not all Americans share Gingrich’s far-right, anti-worker vision for the country: self-described democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders raised a ton of money in 2016. And the fact that Sanders ally Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez just defeated high-ranking Democrat Joe Crowley by a landslide in a congressional primary in Queens and the Bronx demonstrates that there is still a healthy appetite for a New Deal/Great Society revival. But if Trump and his supporters have their way, that won’t happen.
Here are five areas in which the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress could be the death of the New Deal and the Great Society—or at least continue to inflict severe wounds on them.
1. Health Care
Universal healthcare did not come about during FDR’s presidency, but President Johnson and Democrats in Congress did see to it that Americans 65 and older were covered when Medicaid—a wildly popular program—came about in 1965. And Obama, as centrist as he was, brought health insurance to millions of Americans when he signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010. But Trump, with the blessing of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, has fought to abolish the ACA. Although the law hasn’t been overturned, Trump continues to undermine it at every turn by butchering its advertising budget and expanding access to weaker plans that lack solid protections.
While FDR and Johnson were strong supporters of the labor movement, Trump is turning out to be one of the most anti-union presidents in history. Earlier this year, Trump issued an executive order that dramatically cuts official time for federal employees (official time allows union officials to represent all parties in a grievance). And the United Steelworkers have been highly critical of Trump for nominating Judge Brett Kavanaugh—who has a very anti-union, pro-corporatist record—for the U.S. Supreme Court.
3. Food Stamps
Food stamps were among the many positive programs that came out of FDR’s New Deal, and they reduced hunger in the U.S. during the Great Depression of the 1930s as well as during the Great Recession of the late 2000s/early 2010s. But Trump has shown his hostility to the program by favoring stringent work requirements for food stamp benefits. In contrast, Sanders and his supporters, including Ocasio-Cortez, favor protecting the food stamp program for those who need it.
4. The Minimum Wage
2018 marks the 80th anniversary of the U.S.’ minimum wage, which didn’t exist before FDR signed one into law in 1938. Originally 25 cents per hour, the minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 per hour since 2009—and that number is unlikely to increase as long as Republicans dominate Congress and Trump is president. Trump has flip-flopped a lot on the minimum wage; he has encouraged individual states to raise their minimum wages at times yet claimed that “our wages are too high” at other times. But the U.S. needs a higher minimum wage in all 50 states, not flip-flopping. And Ocasio-Cortez, who is a classic New Deal/Great Society liberal in many respects, concurs with Sanders that the U.S.’ federal minimum wage should be increased to $15 per hour.
5. Social Security
During his 2016 campaign, Trump criticized other GOP presidential candidates for wanting to butcher Social Security—one of the New Deal’s greatest achievements—as well as Medicare and Medicaid, two of LBJ’s Greatest Achievements. But in fact, draconian cuts to those programs have been part of the Trump administration’s agenda as well as the agenda of Republicans in Congress. And Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, has warned that if Republicans maintain control of the Senate and House of Representatives after the November midterms, proposals to privatize Social Security—an incredibly bad idea—could very well be on the table. Social democrats like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, in comparison, believe that banksters shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near Social Security.