A year into the Trump administration, we are seeing the plutocrat’s agenda. President Donald Trump’s semi-literate tweets and crude rhetoric may be populist in tone, but this most assuredly isn’t a populist presidency.
In fact, his feints toward populism are a grotesque con, a giant distraction that entertains Trump’s base while he takes a wrecking ball to social services, to redistributive taxation, and to regulations designed to monitor workplaces and secure safe environments.
This is the most elite-friendly administration in decades, possibly in centuries, stuffed with millionaires and billionaires who have gone out of their way to penalize those who have little. It is eye-opening to count the ways.
Whatever his supporters envisioned, this is the most elite-friendly administration in decades, possibly in centuries. It is an administration the top positions of which are stuffed with millionaires and billionaires who have gone out of their way to penalize those who have little. And it is eye-opening to count the ways.
For instance, as we enter the year-end holiday season, a time when we are supposed to think of the needs of others and the well-being of the least among us, the GOP, at Trump’s urging, is moving to gut what remains of our once-progressive tax systems. The tax cuts will, overwhelmingly, cater to the priorities of the super-affluent – people like the Trumps and the tycoon-president’s Cabinet members and advisers – cutting top-rate taxes for individuals and slashing corporate taxes for high-end businesses.
For poorer taxpayers the proposals represent layer upon layer of added pain: Low-income graduate students may well have their tuition credits considered as taxable income; medium income homeowners in high-cost states like California and New York are likely to have their mortgage interest tax deduction capped; residents of all income levels are going to lose the ability to deduct their state and local taxes from their federal returns; and “reforms” to the health insurance mandate that is a key part of the Affordable Care Act will likely mean far fewer working poor end up with health insurance coverage.
If it were just a series of regressive tax proposals, one could be excused for saying something to the effect of, “Oh well, this is just GOP business as normal.” After all, for the better part of half a century, the party has embraced tax cuts for the wealthy funded with increased taxes and reduced social safety net provisions for poorer and even middle class Americans.
But in 2017, the war on the poor goes far beyond just tweaking the tax code at their expense. A deliberate, and unprecedented, effort is underway to starve the Census Bureau of cash, making it almost impossible to accurately field-test new methods for collecting and inputting demographic data.
This will inevitably result in a large under-count in 2020 of historically marginalized populations: black and brown people, foster kids, the homeless, and, of course, low-income Americans – those hardest to reach, those innately suspicious of questions from authority figures, those most transient and most in need of government assistance. Under-fund the census, and you almost guarantee that poor Americans, and in particular, poor Californians, will end up underrepresented politically when congressional districts are drawn up, and underrepresented financially when federal and state government aid is distributed.
The Trump administration also has launched a full-scale assault on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, arguably the strongest regulatory agency in the country for looking after the financial interests of ordinary Americans. In recent months, Trump’s team has attempted to roll back CFPB rulings on, among others, how payday lenders can operate, making it even easier for usurers to ensnare desperate clients whom they can then charge fees that can amount to many hundreds of percent a year interest on short-term loans.
This week, in a clear act of institutional sabotage, Trump tried to install Mick Mulvaney, a man who has railed against the CFPB for years, to head the agency. Whether this appointment survives a legal challenge is, as of press time, not yet clear.
The list goes on: proposed cuts to food stamps of hundreds of billions of dollars over the coming decade. A discussion about allowing states to introduce work requirements for Medicaid recipients. Cuts to job training programs. Cuts to housing assistance. Cuts to Pell Grants for low-income college students. Cuts to rural health clinics. Cuts to public transit investments. And so on.
As for immigration, having already taken 800,000 DACA recipients hostage, the White House has now turned to migrants from deeply impoverished countries living here under what is known as Temporary Protected Status. They have already ended TPS for Nicaraguans, and shortly before Thanksgiving announced that come 2019 the program would end for Haitian TPS residents too.
With almost no public debate, the lives of upward of 60,000 residents, along with the lives of their spouses and their (mainly-U.S.-born) children have been turned upside down. Hundreds of thousands more TPS recipients, from El Salvador, Honduras and other troubled countries may soon too be subject to deportation.
All of this is Gordon Gecko’s “greed is good” philosophy writ large, made even more toxic by an overlay of racial animosity, and sanctified by the mantle of public office. It is a sort of end-of-empire, end-of-republic, moral senility, a fetishizing of money and of whiteness over community ties and solidarity, of private wealth and ever-growing inequality over any form of communal strength.
This isn’t in any meaningful sense government of, or by, or for the people. It isn’t democracy in action. This is the politics of plunder. It is rapacious and exploitative and wantonly cruel. Government of, by, and for the plutocracy, and ordinary, struggling, Americans be damned.
Sasha Abramsky is a Sacramento-based journalist and author who teaches at UC Davis and has written extensively on poverty. His latest book is “Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.