One of my favorite headlines of the still-young Trump administration came from Politico, which wrote this week about President Trump's choice for the number two job at the Treasury Department under the title, "Wall St. relieved as Trump picks Goldman banker as treasury deputy."
Whew — Wall Street really dodged a bullet there! I'll bet they were chewing their fingernails to the quick worrying Trump might go with some Marxist economics professor or labor union official. At last, Goldman Sachs can have some representation in this administration.
Of course, they have plenty of representation already — Trump's treasury secretary, the head of his National Economic Council, and his chief strategist are all Goldman Sachs alumni. And even if so many of Trump's top advisers weren't literally from Goldman Sachs, there wouldn't be much doubt about what sort of policies this administration is pursuing.
But wait — what about all that "populism" stuff we heard so much about during Trump's campaign?
It hasn't actually disappeared. It's just that when we used that term, we oversimplified things, spreading the inference that a certain kind of anti-elitism that Trump genuinely embodied would translate into a broader set of policies focused on the interests of working people.
No one believed that more than the people who voted for Trump. And no one's going to be paying for it harder.
Let's begin with the administration's first major legislative initiative, health-care reform. The Republican plan, which President Trump is aggressively advocating, is essentially a class warfare blitzkrieg, directed not up but down. It cuts taxes on the wealthy, kicks poor Americans off Medicaid by the millions, eliminates the subsidies that middle-income Americans get and replaces them with stingier tax credits, and promotes vehicles like health savings accounts that only people with lots of disposable income can take advantage of.
Many Republican-leaning states, which are particularly dependent on the federal government for help with programs like Medicaid, have the most to lose from the Republican bill. It would hit the rural areas that went so strongly for Trump particularly hard. Oh, and the opioid addiction crisis that has ravaged so many white working-class communities? The Republican health-care plan could threaten coverage for drug treatment that millions now rely on.
That may seem at odds with the things Trump has said about providing "insurance for everybody" or not cutting Medicaid. But those kinds of statements are treated by his administration as gaffes that those who write the actual policies have to explain away, not actually follow.
The best thing for working people will be if the effort to repeal the ACA simply fails. But what's next on the agenda? Tax reform, always the most urgent of Republican priorities. Among other things, Republicans want to bring down the top tax rate, get rid of the alternative minimum tax that ensures that rich people can't get away with paying little or nothing, and eliminate the inheritance tax (Ivanka, Don Jr., and Eric are counting on it).
Once that's done, Republicans will get to dismantling the Dodd-Frank law passed in the wake of the economic meltdown to restrain Wall Street. Because the bankers really have been suffering under too much government oversight. As part of that effort, Republicans are particularly eager to eviscerate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has been way too successful in protecting consumers.
If you're a member of the economic ruling class, you're probably feeling pretty good about how the Trump administration is working out. You see, it turns out that when Trump shook his fist at the "elites," he was only being half sincere. The xenophobia, racism, and sexism he so proudly proclaimed were certainly populist, in that they attacked a value system from which many of his working-class supporters felt alienated. But it was a rebellion of attitude, one that said that "political correctness" imposed from above was keeping people from speaking their minds and telling those they don't like to go straight to hell.
Trump was happy to have people believe that attitudinal rebellion would go hand-in-hand with an economic rebellion, one that put the interests of the little guy ahead of the interests of the fat cat. And for some people, the cultural and attitudinal appeals were enough. They loved the supposedly straight talk this most dishonest of candidates delivered, shouting the things they'd been told were too offensive to say out loud.
And they believed that he'd revive places that had been left behind by a changing economy. So what happens when he fails to deliver? What happens when coal miners don't start streaming back into the mines? What happens when China doesn't bow down before Trump's superhuman negotiating skills and give us back our old-fashioned, labor-intensive manufacturing jobs? What happens when his voters join a long line of people who fell for the Trump scam, from the casino investors he left holding the bag when he declared bankruptcy to the people who thought Trump University would teach them how to get rich?
Who knows, maybe they'll decide that the few populist promises he kept will be enough for them. "Sure, half of Trump's economic team is from Goldman Sachs and I lost my health coverage, but those effete Northeastern liberals are mad, and that must mean he's doing something right ... Doesn't it?"