The most popular take on Donald Trump is that we've never seen anything like him before. But here's the thing: We have seen something like Trump before -- we saw it with Ronald Reagan.
Now, there are obviously some big surface-level differences between Reagan and Trump. Reagan's public persona was cool, calm and collected; Trump's is ... well, the exact opposite. Reagan had years of political experience before he ran for president; Trump has none. Reagan also was also deeply religious, or at least "spiritual" (he didn't go to church); Trump, I don't think, has ever had a spiritual thought in his life.
But if you ignore those obvious differences and focus on how Trump is running and framing his campaign, you'll see that he's doing the exact same thing Reagan did, only in a style more appropriate for today. In 1980, Republican voters liked button-down politicians; today, they're looking for something more "down-home" and unrefined. Trump, arguably, is the Duck Dynasty version of Reagan.
Like Reagan, he's selling a mythology -- the mythology of US greatness and American exceptionalism. Trump's version of this mythology is a bit more macho than Reagan's "shining city on a hill" sales pitch of American greatness, but that's a difference of tone, not of content.
At its core, Trump's campaign, like Reagan's campaign, is selling voters the idea that the United States, although the "best damn country in the world," has fallen on dark times and needs its greatness "restored."
For Reagan, of course, all this mythology was just cover for what he and his far-right buddies really wanted to do: deregulate the economy, cut taxes for the rich and help the billionaire class regain control of our political system. He and his supporters were looters, and they've looted the middle class over these past three decades to the tune of trillions of dollars in both income and wealth.
Reaganism and Reaganomics was a scam -- a scam that we're still trying to get ourselves out of. And now, Trump is preparing to run pretty much the exact same scam, only 36 years later.
Like Reagan, Trump's created an image of himself as an "outsider" who's the only guy ready to take on the out-of-touch political elites who were running this country down. And, just like Reagan, his real interests lie with the billionaire class -- perhaps moreso, given that he's a billionaire himself.
Case in point: the people he's brought on to help him rewrite his tax plan.
That plan was originally revealed back in September 2015, but has come under fire recently after a report showed that it would add over $10 trillion to the deficit. So in response, Trump changed the plan by raising its proposed rate on the very, very rich from his originally suggested 25 percent to 28 percent, which is still a big drop from the current tax rate for the very rich -- 39.6 percent. And, by the way, when he said a few days ago that the rich would "pay more," he's now clarified that me meant "more than 25 percent," not more than the current 39.6 percent. He's still proposing to cut his own class's taxes by millions. Other changes are expected to come over the next few weeks.
Still, the policy details of Trump's tax plan are less important than the two guys he's hired to help him rewrite it: Larry Kudlow of CNBC and Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. These guys are literally the old Reagan Republican establishment. They're Reaganites to the core, and the fact that they've teamed up with the Trump campaign should end any illusions about Trump's status as an outsider.
Expect more of this kind of stuff as the election goes on.
Republicans know that Trump's populist appeal is a winning formula, especially against someone like Hillary Clinton, who's the definition of an establishment insider. And Trump knows that his real interests lie with the billionaire class (he's part of it, after all), and he knows that he'll need its help if he wants to get elected.
Everything points to the Republican Party shaping Trump in its image, and not the other way around.
All the populist slogans will still be there, just as they were with Reagan, but slowly but surely, they'll become attached to policies that have nothing to do with populism and everything to do with making the very, very rich even richer.
Karl Marx once said that "History repeats itself: first as tragedy, second as farce." Well, with Trump the tragedy and farce are happening at the same time. The US saw this act before with Ronald Reagan, and it's not a good one. It's a scam, and when Reagan ran it, it destroyed so much that was good about this country. Trump will do the same thing.
Don't buy what he's selling; it's not what it seems.