In the closing ad of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, he promised to oppose a “global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth, and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.”
The ad never used the words “Wall Street,” but the faces you see filling up the the screen — many of whom just happen to be Jewish — include Goldman Sachs chairman Lloyd Blankfein.
In the primary, Trump ripped Ted Cruz for his loans from that firm and, by implication, Cruz’s wife’s employment as a Goldman executive. Last summer, the GOP nominee claimed “Hillary will never reform Wall Street. She is owned by Wall Street!” — playing on the notion that she’d been paid off with the millions she got from speeches delivered to Goldman and other banks.
Wall Street — particularly (((Goldman Sachs))) — was the perfect anchor to toss at his opponents. And you’ll never guess what happened next.
Since won the presidency, Trump has hired three current or former executives of the investment bank for key economic positions to serve in or along side his cabinet of billionaire donors and fired generals, as they plot what is beginning to look like the biggest transfer of wealth to the richest in human history.
A fast food CEO who opposes the minimum wage has been picked to run the Department of Labor. A state attorney general who cuts and pastes from the oil industry is Trump’s choice to handle environmental protection. And the president who has never revealed the full extent of his businesses and has no plans to divest from them is operating a partnership with his daughter/First Lady, who will use his presidential power to open new opportunities to profit around the globe.
Meanwhile, the GOP-led House Oversight Committee plans to focus on intentionally failing to do any actual oversight. The committee will let Trump loot undisturbed, so long as he lets the GOP’s ruthless ambitions for hollowing out the middle class go unchecked.
And Wall Street loves it — as you can tell by the extended orgasm the stock market has been enjoying over Trump. From his massive tax breaks for the rich to Republican plans to privatize everything from Medicare to roads to schools, the bankers won bigly.
As we look back and try figure out what went wrong in 2016 for Democrats, your calculus has to start with the undeniable impact of the two letters from FBI Director James Comey and then include the mysterious variable of foreign hacking weaponized by the complicity of the media in spreading the stolen private information. Despite all this, Clinton still won the popular vote by almost 3 million, as she lost three Democratic strongholds by about 70,000 votes altogether. (And you have to factor in some misogyny unless you want to make a John Roberts-like assertion that American has solved sexism, despite our record of electing zero women presidents.)
However, it’s evident that part of that loss can be blamed on allowing Trump to pose as the scourge of Wall Street as he was acting as its Trojan horse.
Let’s clear some dangerous myths up. Clinton led in nearly swing state when it came to the economy. Trump amped up his support by focusing on cultural resentments of the “the dispossessed” with an appeal so coded to bring out the latent conservatism in our brains that it even won over some Obama voters. But that wasn’t enough for him to win.
“Clinton didn’t need to win over a single white Trump voter to take Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania,” writes New York Magazine‘s Eric Levitz. “She just needed to turn out working class Democrats.”
Clinton’s choice to make those speeches on Wall Street and Bernie Sanders’ effective use of the millions she made as a slur against her character — along with her husband’s role in the deregulation of the late 90s, which passed with veto-proof majorities — made her particularly vulnerable to Trump’s ability to frame her as a shill of the Wall Street elite. But even that wasn’t decisive.
Clinton’s choice to focus on protecting Obama’s legacy from Trump instead of an economic argument in the closing weeks as a defensive stand against Comey likely cost her those crucial few votes she needed, according to pollster Stanley Greenberg.
“This was a ‘change election’ for the new American majority too, and that late turn by Clinton produced disappointing turnout among Hispanics, African Americans, single women and millennials,” he writes. “The African Americans’ greatly diminished turnout in Philadelphia, Detroit and Milwaukee likely gave the states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to Trump.”
She had the most progressive platform in history yet Trump won the change argument because he focused voters on an enemy besides the clown she was opposing. That’s how populism works — you’ve got to give people something big in the status quo to oppose. And it has to be the right thing.
When Clinton targeted the “basket of deplorables” she was rightly calling out the hatred encouraged by the Trump campaign — but she missed the key point. That hatred was used to scam voters, even the deplorables, into ignoring the reality of what Trump would do to them as president.
Immigrants won’t take away your Medicare and Social Security — actually, they’ll help extend the life of both programs. Trump and his Wall Street pals will.
The economic horrors of Trump’s policies were never an issue because his policies were never connected to who would benefit from the ripoff. And the media was so sure he was going to lose that they never bothered to even ask Trump if he would sign off Paul Ryan’s agenda to rip away the safety net.
Greenberg’s new research on Trump voters finds they aren’t troubled by his stocking his cabinet full of bankers and billionaire donors. But they’ll be pissed as hell if his tax breaks mostly benefit the rich as he breaks his promise to protect Social Security and Medicare.
As unpopular as Trump was, he found an enemy that America hates more — rich people who get rich off of you. And he was talented enough to use his experience ripping people off as evidence that he knew how to stop it. Now the payback is coming. Thanks to Trump, the richest — who have never been richer — will be getting even richer still.
Clinton had the agenda but not the populism that worked for Senators Al Franken and Gary Peters as they won in the Midwest just two years earlier. Now the wave of devastation to the middle class is coming, as Trump expects Americans to trade their retirement and health security for a few dollars a day in tax breaks,
Democrats need to make it clear: Trump has betrayed you for Wall Street. And that was his plan all along.
IMAGE: A view of the Goldman Sachs stall on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.