Rich people don’t have to have a life-and-death relationship with the truth and its questions; they can ignore the truth and still thrive materially. I am not surprised many of them understand literature only as an ornament. Life is an ornament to them, relationships are ornaments, their ‘work’ is but a flimsy, pretty ornament meant to momentarily thrill and capture attention.
— Sergio Troncoso
In a February speech on his campaign trail, then-candidate Donald Trump lambasted his opponents for their cozy relationships with Wall Street bankers. “I know the guys at Goldman Sachs. They have total, total control over [Cruz],” Trump said. “Just like they have total control over Hillary Clinton.” Trump’s campaigns for both the Republican candidacy and the US Presidency were heavily themed on this inside-out approach to posing as a whistleblower of the elite, a billionaire businessman gone rogue, eager to feed other members of his exclusive club to the lions. Americans by the tens of millions — ravaged by decades of predatory loan schemes, joblessness, and unfathomable debt — gathered in the den, fevered by this angst-ridden anti-establishment message, thirsting for the flesh he was to heave from the castle on the hill.
Nine months later, Trump was elected to the office of President of the United States. Taking a page from George W. Bush, Trump successfully packaged his billionaire, elitist self into an average dude sitting on the bar stool across from us. Taking a page from Ronald Reagan, Trump successfully molded the chronic economic woes of the American working class into avenues for racial and xenophobic hatred. Trump’s infamous wall is the modern-day version of Reagan’s mythological “welfare queen” — both masterful mind tricks designed to avert the attention of the understandably ravenous working-class lions away from the ringmasters and toward others in the den. The oldest trick in the book: divide and conquer. The end result: a billionaire businessman buoyed to the highest office of the land by 63 million working-class voters during a time of unprecedented poverty and wealth inequality.
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Predictably, Trump’s ascension to the presidency has ended his inside-out shtick. Much like Barack Obama in 2008, Trump’s anti-establishment marketing assault has culminated into an uber-establishment cabinet. Within six weeks of his election victory, Trump has proceeded to form what some have referred to as the General Billionaires Administration. As of December 7th, Trump’s prospective cabinet topped a combined personal wealth of $14 billion, “more than 30 times greater than that of even President George W. Bush’s White House.” And that represents only half of the total appointees to come. Instead of “draining the swamp” as he promised to do on the campaign trail, Trump has called on his real-estate instincts to expand the swamp into a gargantuan monstrosity of a cesspool. For working-class Americans, this means the President and those surrounding him are even more out of touch with the common struggle than ever before.
Although personal wealth does not necessarily imply the embracing of a blatant anti-worker ideology, it almost always sets this tone through efforts to legitimize said wealth, promote false meritocracies, and push unrealistic narratives rooted in “personal responsibility” and “pulling up boot straps,” all of which ignore the material realities of working-class people. Taken on their words and actions, there is no reason to believe that Trump and his cabinet will be anything but disastrous for working-class Americans.
Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for Education Secretary, wants to privatize education and treat it as an industry among others in a competitive capitalist market. “Let’s not kid ourselves that [public education] is not an industry,” she told a crowd in Texas, “we must open it up to entrepreneurs and innovators.” In other words, run it as a for-profit venture, which inevitably means lowering pay, benefits, and standards for employees (teachers) in order to maximize the bottom line. Not good for working-class Americans who teach for a living, and not good for working-class children whose educations will take a back seat to profit margins.
Andrew Puzder, Trump’s pick for Labor Secretary, has proven to be fiercely anti-worker in his role as CEO of CKE Restaurants. NY’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman referred to this appointment as a “cruel and baffling decision by Trump” due to Puzder’s presiding over a fast-food chain “that repeatedly stole workers’ hard-earned wages.” As an employee at one of Puzder’s restaurants, Rogelio Hernandez called Puzder “one of the worst fast food CEOs,” adding that his appointment “sends a signal to workers that the Trump years are going to be about low pay, wage theft, sexual harassment and racial discrimination.” Not good for tens of millions of working-class Americans who are desperate for living-wage employment.
Ben Carson, Trump’s pick to run Housing and Urban Development, has been consistently opposed to government assistance programs like the one he is about to oversee. Rather than viewing such programs as necessities in a capitalist system that leaves many people without the means to fulfill basic needs, Carson sees them as “socialist experiments” that “attempt to infiltrate every part of our lives.” Carson even said that trusting the government “to use housing policy to enhance the opportunities available to lower-income citizens” can be “downright dangerous.” Ironically, he is now entrusted to do just that. Not good for the millions of working-class Americans who rely on public housing programs to shelter themselves and their families.
While most of Trump’s own plans have been hidden in vague political rhetoric (“Making America Great Again,” “create a dynamic booming economy” with “pro-growth tax plans” and “new modern regulatory frameworks”), they are mostly taken from the same neoliberal agenda that has shaped American policy for the past three decades, merely repackaged with Trump-speak. If his own business dealings are any indication of how he feels about working people, the Trump presidential agenda will most certainly be anti-worker. Workers have filed numerous lawsuits against Trump over the years, alleging everything from anti-union intimidation to paying below-minimum wages. “In one case, the Trump Organization paid $475,000 to settle a claim with nearly 300 Los Angeles golf club employees in a class-action suit alleging unpaid wages and age discrimination, among other offenses.” In another case, the Trump Organization “settled for an unknown sum” regarding the employment of undocumented Polish immigrants who “were paid $5 an hour or less when they were paid at all,” and “worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week with no overtime.” Earlier this year, workers at Trump’s Las Vegas hotel filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging they were “interfered with, restrained, and coerced” in an effort to avoid unionization. Dozens of similar complaints against Trump businesses have come to light over the years, including alarming trends of misogyny against women employees.
Like most marketing slogans, “Make America Great Again” has no real meaning in regards to concrete plans. Its call on some glorious past allows for an embrace of generic change, and its purposeful vagueness speaks to whatever is important to each individual who embraces it, essentially allowing for a wide range of beauties in the eyes of a wide range of beholders. Trump’s “pro-growth tax plan” draws on the same neoliberal ideology that was implemented by Reagan and survived by every administration since, proclaiming that lowering corporate tax rates will incentivize American companies to stay in the US, which will create more jobs, and will inevitably allow the increased corporate wealth to trickle down to the rest of us. The only problem is that never happened. Ironically, the implementation of such policies actually paralleled the mass exodus of American companies, partly due to free trade agreements like NAFTA and partly due to the globalization of the capitalist system, which allowed for the formation of an international labor pool to replace the industrialized, unionized labor pools that once existed in countries like the US.
Between 1986 and 1988, Reagan lowered the corporate tax rate from 46% to 34%. To put this move in perspective, this rate had stayed between 46% and 52.8% since 1951. The Reagan rate has barely moved since, despite 16 years of Democratic administrations. And it has done nothing to keep American companies home; rather, it actually complemented massive outsourcing of American jobs. In fact, “manufacturing employment collapsed from a high of 19.5 million workers in June 1979 to 11.5 workers in December 2009, a drop of 8 million workers over 30 years. Between August 2000 and February 2004, manufacturing jobs were lost for a stunning 43 consecutive months — the longest such stretch since the Great Depression.” This trend has continued as the US lost 5 million manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2016. According to the Center for American Progress, “US multinational corporations, the big brand-name companies that employ a fifth of all American workers… cut their work forces in the US by 2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million.” All of this despite historically low corporate tax rates. Trump’s solution: double down by cutting corporate tax rates even more.
Remaining consistent with the neoliberal agenda, Trump has also promised to “scale back years of disastrous regulations unilaterally imposed by our out-of-control bureaucracy.” Yet another failed policy direction, tried and tested for decades, being recycled to give already reckless corporations even more maneuverability. Trump plans to repatriate trillions of dollars of corporate money that has been hidden in foreign banks for years. By allowing special immunity to these corporations (which have essentially evaded taxes through loopholes) with a temporary reduction in the tax rate (from 35% to 10%), Trump believes roughly $5 trillion will return to the US (although reports estimate closer to $2.5 trillion). Unfortunately, the last time such immunity was granted, in 2004, “a congressional report noted that some companies used more than 90 percent of the repatriated cash to enrich shareholders, generally through stock buybacks. Corporations that brought home the most cash, in fact, cut jobs.”
Trump’s recycled economic agenda has proven time and time again to boost corporate wealth at the expense of working-class interests. The widely reported deal made with Carrier recently, which was facilitated by Trump and promises to keep 800 jobs in Indiana, is a perfect example of this misguided approach. The Carrier deal was said to include a tax giveaway, the main tool in Trump’s corporate welfare tax plan, which stands to cost about $6.2 trillion in lost federal revenues over a decade. Not only does this approach “starve the beast,” as originally intended by Reagan, it simply does not create American jobs as promised. The past four decades have proven this. The corporate tax rate in the US (which is actually on par with G7 countries, whose rates average over 30%) is not a tremendous factor in why companies move elsewhere. They avoid taxes because they can. There is no reason to believe they wouldn’t avoid them just the same with a lower rate. They also relocate for the “cheap labor,” which is near chattel-slavery levels in some places, and for preferable infrastructures. As the New York Times reported shortly after the Carrier deal, “Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies, never mentioned taxes as the reason for the offshoring move. Instead, it cited its ‘existing infrastructure’ and ‘strong supplier base’ in Mexico. More revealing, United Technologies says it can save $65 million a year by moving operations to low-wage Mexico.”
Trump’s economic plan does nothing to stray from the corporate-friendly neoliberal agenda of the past three decades. In many cases, it doubles down on it. These strategies have never benefited the working-class majority, and they will continue to represent an abysmal failure for those of us who depend on wages and salaries to live — a reality that Trump and his cabinet have never faced. Their out-of-touch, fairy-tale lives will undoubtedly amount to out-of-touch policies, leaving most of us entrenched in our ongoing struggle for living wages, affordable housing, reliable healthcare, and meaningful educations for our children. This struggle must take place in our communities, at our jobs, and in our children’s schools. Rejecting the corporate agenda embraced by Trump will not be easy — but it is a struggle we’ve inherited from decades ago, only with a new face at the helm.