The Master Builder

Donald Trump is a builder. The first thing he pledged to do in his election night victory speech was to ``begin the urgent task of rebuilding our nation.''

``We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals,'' the President-elect promised. ``We're going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none.''

That kind of talk thrills the white working class voters who put him over the top. What they hear is ``jobs.'' It also piques the interest of progressive Democrats. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told the AFL-CIO executive council, ``[Trump] spoke to the very real sense of millions of Americans that their government and their economy have abandoned them. And he promised to rebuild our economy for working people.'' What some progressives hear is ``economic stimulus plan.''

But Trump is freaking out Tea Party conservatives. What they hear is ``big government.'' Conservatives are ideologues. They care how things get done. If a project looks like big government, conservatives are instinctively against it. Developers like Trump don't care how things get done as long as they get done. That's what his supporters like about him. He's a ``doer.''

Trump drives conservatives crazy because he's always taking positions and then changing them. Is he going to deport eleven million illegal immigrants? Maybe two or three million who have criminal records. Is he going to kill Obamacare? Maybe he'll keep a few popular provisions. Remember, Trump is a deal-maker. His positions are all starting positions. Everything is negotiable.

Meanwhile, Democrats are horrified by the radicals and extremists Trump is appointing. He has named a secretary of education who doesn't believe in public education. An environmental protection administrator who doesn't believe in climate change. A labor secretary who opposes worker protections. A national security adviser who traffics in conspiracy theories. What's next -- a secretary of state who doesn't believe in diplomacy?

Trump's appointments reflect his defining attitude: defiance. He won by defying the leadership of both political parties. That's the way he intends to govern.

Trump's infrastructure plan defies conservative ideology. It looks to conservatives like a reboot of Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan. Still, a lot of congressional Republicans are likely to support it because Trump is a winner. He didn't just win the White House. He saved the Republican Senate. It's like Richard Nixon going to China in 1972. Only a Republican could do that.

To Tea Party conservatives, all government spending is evil. But not to American voters. They see a big difference between spending on public works, which is what Trump is proposing to do, and spending on social welfare programs that Democrats favor.

Public works spending involves benefits that are available to everyone and that people cannot provide for themselves, things like good schools, fast highways and gleaming new airports.

Social welfare spending is targeted by need. It helps disadvantaged people get things that others are able to provide for themselves like housing, food and medical care. Middle class voters are O.K. with that as long as they are convinced that the benefits are going to the ``truly needy'' and that no one is taking advantage of the system.

Steve Bannon, Trump's chief strategist, sees Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal as a model. The New Deal was not a social welfare program. The Great Depression was like a natural disaster that affected everybody, the just and the unjust alike. When the Democrats took over in 1933, they did not attempt a massive social welfare program. They came up with an ambitious program of public works.

``We're going to build an entirely new political movement,'' Bannon told the Hollywood Reporter. ``It's everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I'm the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it's the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything.''

Sounds like big government conservatism -- the exact opposite of austerity plans that small government conservatives in the U.S. and Europe have been pushing since the Great Recession. Trump's plan, like the New Deal, will be driven not by ideology but by experimentation. ``We're just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks,'' Bannon said. ``It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution.''

Bannon sees Trump as the leader of a new coalition that will pull together ``America First'' conservatives and populists. Bannon calls it ``an economic nationalist movement'' united by opposition to globalization. Totally different from the kind of austerity plan that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Tea Party conservatives are pushing.

Builders do not think small. Trump's plan sounds like the sort of thing populist demagogues have done since the Roman empire -- massive public works projects to put people to work and build national greatness, sometimes with dangerous consequences. In Trump's words, ``Make America Great Again!''