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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

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‘Populist’ Trump Punks His Credulous Fans (Again)

There was never any reason to think that Donald Trump’s stump-speech assaults on Wall Street banks and hedge funds were even momentarily sincere — but millions of working and middle-class voters loved his ‘populist’ rhetoric.  

 Emerging from that gold-plated jet, Trump would roar about cracking down on the financial vultures who had fattened while everyone else suffered, as his fans cheered.

 He wouldn’t let those paper-shuffling crooks escape their share of taxes any more. He was paying for the campaign from his own massive fortune, so he would owe allegiance to nobody but the American people. He excoriated Hillary Clinton, who had accepted tens of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, warning that the Democrat would dance to Wall Street’s tune.  He even aired a television commercial, late in the campaign, that vowed to free the country from the “globalist” designs of Goldman chair Lloyd Blankfein and investor George Soros.

 Voters enchanted by Trump’s promises may not have known that he owed his wealth and the continued existence of his business — despite multiple bankruptcies — to bankers at places like Goldman Sachs, UBS, and Deutsche Bank (and still owed them hundreds of millions of dollars). They probably didn’t know how quickly he abandoned his bogus promise to fund his own campaign, turning to Steven Mnuchin, a Goldman Sachs veteran and predatory mortgage lender, to raise millions.  

 And they surely didn’t know that Mnuchin openly boasted he would become Treasury Secretary, the very reward that Trump awarded him — or that various other Wall Street figures, from Commerce nominee Wilbur Ross to National Economic Council chief Gary Cohn, would dominate Trump’s appointments.

 Now they do know — or they should, if they’ve been paying attention. But do they realize yet how badly Trump punked them?

 On Friday, he delivered a multi-billion dollar gift to Wall Street by eviscerating the Dodd-Frank financial regulations passed in the wake of the 2008 crash. One of his two executive orders instructed the Department of Labor to delay and ultimately destroy the fiduciary rule that required financial firms to offer advice only in their clients’ best interest — rather than self-serving schemes for self-enrichment. With that single stroke he encouraged the banks to fleece working Americans of their retirement savings, with an implicit promise that the government will do nothing to stop or punish them.

 According to a report released last year by the Obama administration, the fiduciary rule would save Americans from $18 billion in financial cheating annually. Goldman Sachs estimated that the rule would cost financial firms as much as $25 billion per year. Either way, undoing the rule is an enormous favor to Wall Street — and a gigantic gouge of consumers. 

 At the same time, Trump’s other order directed his appointees to undo the regulations that protect Americans from another Wall Street meltdown — which could again cost millions of Americans their jobs, homes, and health care. Campaign promises to revive the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era law that separated banking from investing, have been forgotten, along with the ‘populist’ pledge to require that bankers pay income taxes like everyone else.

 Indeed, the effective control of Trump’s agenda by banking interests became obvious even before he signed the orders to tear down Dodd-Frank. Within days after taking office, he signed an order that undid a planned decrease in federal mortgage insurance fees, forcing higher costs on hundreds of thousands of American families – -but enriching the private mortgage industry and investors in mortgage securities. Which is another way of saying that he did another favor for the big banks.

 As president, Trump has also effectively abandoned any ‘populist’ attitudes toward the national debt and the federal budget. During the campaign, he advanced the radical idea that debt didn’t matter because the government “can print money,” and hinted that he was prepared to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure investments that would employ millions of workers. But in office, his appointees turn out to be old-fashioned Wall Street deficit hawks who want to slash discretionary spending, which will be ruinous to the economy. And his infrastructure “plan” so far appears to be nothing more than another set of tax breaks for the wealthy. That scheme would mean billions in bond underwriting profits for Wall Street.

In Trump’s economy, there will be winners and — as he would say, mockingly — losers. The winners are the fat and happy bankers he once pretended to attack. The losers are the poor suckers who believed him.

IMAGE: After signing, President Donald Trump holds up an executive order rolling back regulations from the 2010 Dodd-Frank law on Wall Street reform at the White House, February 3, 2017.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

What Do We Tell The Children About Their Country Now?

The hardest problem in the moment of this crushing defeat is what to tell our children — eager, idealistic, and patriotic kids who want to believe that democracy works and that America is kind and just. They have grown up under President Obama and now face the rise of a very different leader, whose sinister and depressing campaign has showed them, at a very young age, the worst side of politics.

How do you tell children that we face a catastrophe?

For the moment, I told them that Donald Trump, in his victory speech, promised to unite the country and be fair to everyone — to be nicer, in the vernacular of elementary school. And it is true that he offered those rote pledges when he took the stage in the early morning hours.

What I could not tell them was that I believed Trump, because there is no evidence that he will relinquish the divisive and angry politics that brought him to power or the rejection of religious and ethnic minorities — and women — that agitated so much of his base. It would be comforting to think that having won the presidency, he will suddenly fit himself to the responsibilities of that office, but knowing what we know about Trump, that seems beyond any reasonable hope.

Instead, we must prepare to cope with a series of crises at home and abroad that will test humanity. Even before the election was finally scored, we began to see the consequences of the destructive choice made by half of the American electorate, as world markets recoiled.

A plunge into economic recession seems highly likely, under a conservative regime whose policy nostrums are certain to make bad even worse. The white working class and rural voters who wanted to “blow things up” by voting Trump are going to find out that he cannot return them to the world in which they felt secure. It is troubling to ask where they will turn — and whom they may seek to scapegoat — when those false hopes are disappointed.

Under normal circumstances, an economic plunge is not a threat to democracy and constitutional freedom, but there are not normal circumstances — and a Trump presidency will be poised to curtail liberty, beginning with immigrants, Muslims and women, and extending to the press and his political adversaries. All that decent citizens can try to do in the face of the coming onslaught is to resist, to protect, and to support each other.

Recriminations over the Democratic defeat have begun already, and perhaps that is unavoidable. Hillary Clinton tried to adjust to the country’s populist mood, but her revisions of the political formula that once drove her husband’s presidency proved to be too little and much too late. She fought hard on the most progressive Democratic platform in decades, but the suspicions aroused against her and her family were disabling.

Now the Clinton era has passed, with all of its high and low points, and a new generation of leaders in the Democratic Party and on the liberal left must summon strength and purpose in this darkening time.

As for the children — all of our children — we will have to seek ways to protect them from the worst to come, and to build hope again for the future. Today, in the dawn of a darkening time, it isn’t easy to imagine how we will do that.

The Tea Party’s Origin Story Is A Myth

Members of the Tea Party position themselves as a populist movement opposed to big government and excessive government spending. They claim that they are average citizens uninterested in politics who are simply fed up with the federal government. Not true, according to political scientists David Campbell and Robert Putnam. Campbell and Putnam have been tracking voters’ political attitudes since 2006 — three years before Tea Party protests began in 2009 — and found that most of those now involved in the Tea Party movement were previously very active in the Republican Party.

“Our analysis casts doubt on the Tea Party’s “origin story.” Early on, Tea Partiers were often described as nonpartisan political neophytes. Actually, the Tea Party’s supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today.”

Though the Tea Party likes to pretend they’re a diverse libertarian movement, their demographics overwhelmingly match those of the evangelical wing of the Republican Party: white, socially conservative, and opposed to the separation of church and state.

“So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.

More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006 — opposing abortion, for example — and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics.”

Michele Bachmann, whose campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has been fueled by the Tea Party, also has a false origin story. A recent profile of her in the New Yorker explains that Bachmann was involved in politics even before she ran for the Minnesota State Senate.

“For many years, Bachmann has said that she showed up at the convention on a whim and nominated herself at the urging of some friends. She was, she suggests, an accidental candidate. This version of history has become central to her political biography and is repeated in most profiles of her. A 2009 column by George F. Will, for example, says that “on the spur of the moment” some Bachmann allies suggested nominating her.

But she already had a long history of political activism—the Carter and Reagan campaigns, her anti-abortion and education activism, her school-board race—and she had been targeting Laidig for a year. According to an article in the Stillwater Gazette, on October 6, 1999, Bachmann was talking about running against Laidig months before she went to the convention. “I tried to present information to Senator Laidig on Profile of Learning, he was not interested,” she said. “And I told him that if he’s not willing to be more responsive to the citizens, that I may have to run for his seat.” She told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that she had decided to run against Laidig a year earlier.”

Millionaire Mitt Romney: I’m Unemployed, Too

Mitt Romney, who is worth hundreds of millions of dollars after a career spent “trimming” businesses (he would say he turned them around) and laying off workers with Bain Capital, showed off his populist side during a campaign swing through Tampa today:

Mitt Romney sat at the head of the table at a coffee shop here on Thursday, listening to a group of unemployed Floridians explain the challenges of looking for work. When they finished, he weighed in with a predicament of his own.

“I should tell my story,” Mr. Romney said. “I’m also unemployed.”

He chuckled. The eight people gathered around him, who had just finished talking about strategies of finding employment in a slow-to-recover economy, joined him in laughter.

The national media will not be as generous with its laughter, and we can be sure this is not the last time an awkward attempt to connect with middle-class voters will dog the Republican presidential frontrunner. [NYT]