Working class voters who elected Donald Trump hoping that he would be a populist champion should see by now that they’ve been conned. After campaigning on promises of “draining the swamp” and bucking the elite establishment, Trump is surrounding himself with millionaires and billionaires who will use his newfound political ascendancy to pursue policies that will further decimate the working class.
Trump is putting together what will be the wealthiest administration in modern American history. His announced nominees for top positions include several multimillionaires, an heir to a family mega-fortune and two Forbes-certified billionaires, one of whose family is worth as much as industrial tycoon Andrew Mellon was when he served as treasury secretary nearly a century ago. Rumored candidates for other positions suggest Trump could add more ultra-rich appointees soon.
Many of the Trump appointees were born wealthy, attended elite schools and went on to amass even larger fortunes as adults. As a group, they have much more experience funding political candidates than they do running government agencies.
Their collective wealth in many ways defies Trump’s populist campaign promises.
While Trump was dismissed as a foolish amateur, he brandishes a keen awareness of how to manipulate the resentment of uneducated whites toward the coastal elites–even though he himself is closer to those elites than his own supporters. Judging from his attempts to stir up controversy over Hamilton and flag-burning – all while distracting everyone from his legal battles and appointments of white supremacists – it’s safe to say that Trump plans to continue this strategy of distract-and-conquer for the next four years. If it continues to be as successful as it has been to date, then it will likely be eight years.
But for anyone who still holds out hope that Trump may govern as a champion of the people, his choices for his cabinet should dampen any such expectations. Which is more likely: that a billionaire surrounded by other billionaires will dismantle the rigged system that made them billionaires, or that a billionaire cleverly used economic and racial resentment to trick the white working class into seeing him as their champion? When put that way, it’s pretty obvious what happened here.
What remains to be seen is how Trump’s base will react to his betrayal of his own campaign promises. Will they realize that they’ve been hoodwinked and turn against their beloved leader? Or will they simply pretend that Trump’s pro-billionaire policies are good for them too? People are partisan and tend to fall in line with their groups, so it’s unlikely that Trump voters will turn against him, even after he abandons every single promise he made to them. After all, they haven’t abandoned him yet, in spite of all the deplorable things he’s said and done.
Regardless, it’s plain for anyone who cares to look that the elite establishment has not been knocked down from its perch. Far from it; they are gleefully seeking jobs in the new administration, which is mostly shaping up to look like a typical Republican ruling class with a racist, xenophobic makeover. At least one can take solace in the fact that Republicans are no longer wearing the mask of civility and have abandoned racist dog whistles for outright racism; such an unmasking clarifies the issue of what the right wing really stands for–and it’s not small government.
In Trump, the elite masters of capitalism have found their champion. While he distracts the public with superficial controversy after controversy, the unchecked bankers and businessmen will move fast to dismantle the social safety net, deregulate the economy, crush organized labor, curtail civil rights, disenfranchise minorities, and accelerate the destruction of the environment.