This era in politics is unusually selfish, spiteful, and stupid, which tempts one to assume that previous eras weren’t selfish, spiteful, and stupid. But that’s not true, of course: Placing one’s electoral interests above the good of the country isn’t a problem that originated in 2016 with Donald Trump.
In 2011, for example, Democrats and Republicans came surprisingly close to a grand bargain that would have traded entitlement reform and spending cuts for tax hikes. Why the deal fell apart remains disputed, but the looming 2012 campaign was surely a factor. Barack Obama feared alienating liberals by tinkering with the social safety net; John Boehner feared a grassroots Tea Party revolt over taxes—or, really, for compromising with Obama on anything.
What was best for America long-term wasn’t best for the two parties’ electoral fortunes short-term, so the former yielded to the latter. That’s essentially the whole history of our decades-long descent into fiscal insanity in one sentence, no?
It didn’t start with Trump, and it won’t end with him once he’s gone.