Don't believe the populism of Trump's inaugural address. Our president is a plutocrat.
It's official: Donald Trump is now president of the United States.
President Trump's inaugural address was — by his usual standards, at least — relatively restrained and moderate. He thanked the Obamas for their help, and disavowed prejudice, saying that "whether we are black, brown, or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots."
But it wasn't all exactly inclusive feel-goodery. Hardly.
The major theme of Trump's speech was the same fearsome and bleak brand of populism that animated his campaign. He described factories "scattered like tombstones across the land," and lamented supposed plagues of "drugs" and "gangs."
"This American carnage stops right here and stops right now," America's new president vowed.
Of course, Trump presented himself as the savior to solve all our problems, the personification of the restoration of democratic legitimacy over a self-dealing Washington establishment. "We are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people," he said.
It's a noble sentiment — and an open fraud.
To my jaundiced left-wing ears, Trump's evisceration of the moneyed elite rang uncomfortably true. He lamented the very real fact that the Washington area (especially the suburbs of northern Virginia) has become incredibly rich while de-industrialization has devastated vast swathes of the hinterlands. "Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of the country." While this is an unfair reading of the entirety of the Obama years, for a huge fraction of the country — beset by outsourcing, foreclosure, opioid addiction, falling homeownership, and stagnant or declining wages — it's also a lived reality.
These are real problems, and despite his borderline-apocalyptic rhetoric, Trump is at least theoretically right to skewer America's past leaders for failing to solve them.
However, there is precisely zero sign that America's 45th president is going to do anything to make good on his fiercely populist promises.
On the contrary, every action he's taken so far signals the opposite. His Cabinet is filled with wealthy bankers and donors to the Republican Party. Every agency designed to protect citizens is going to be staffed with zealous partisans of the predatory businesses they are supposed to oversee. Trump's budget — copy-pasted from the ultraconservative Heritage Foundation — promises incomprehensible amounts of austerity, so that stinking rich people like Donald Trump might pay less in taxes.
Consider health care, obviously a major political focus during the Obama years. During the campaign, journalists conducted many interviews with Trump voters on ObamaCare who were frustrated they could not get access to Medicaid (largely the fault of their own Republican governors and/or a very flawed law), and just blindly trusted Trump to come up with some better system. Something "terrific," surely.
These people are about to get run over by a train.
Congressional Republicans are preparing to repeal ObamaCare, and have no plans whatsoever to replace it with anything even halfway decent. On the contrary, the Heritage budget includes additional savage cuts to Medicare (41 percent) and Medicaid (47 percent) over the next decade. If passed, tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of people will be killed due to lack of insurance. Why? So that stinking rich people like Donald Trump might pay less in taxes.
Even on trade, Trump's signature issue, there's little he can do given that most manufacturing jobs have already been outsourced or automated away. And there's little sign he is actually interested in the industrial policy and careful renegotiation of trade deals that would restore American competitiveness (instead of sparking a zero-sum trade war). Almost his first act as president was to make it harder for people to buy a house:
JUST IN: In one of first Trump admin. orders, Dept of Housing & Urban Dev. suspends reduction of FHA annual mortgage insurance premium rates
— CNBC Now (@CNBCnow) January 20, 2017
So what can you expect from the Trump administration? Endless tweets about tiny handfuls of jobs President Trump is "protecting" here and there, presented in a rhetorical facade of faux-populism, while corporate American runs wild in an orgy of corruption and looting. Some populist.