If you want a gauge of the state of America, the country that put billionaire Donald Trump in the White House, consider this: the three richest Americans ― Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett ― now have the wealth of the bottom half of the U.S. population, or 160 million Americans. Or consider this: the 2016 Wall Street bonus pool, as former Labor Secretary Robert Reich pointed out recently, was larger than the yearly earnings of “all 3.3 million Americans working full time at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.” And keep in mind that the Trump-Republican tax “reform” bill, if passed, will only make such figures more mind-boggling. It will assumedly send so much more money cascading upward that the copious funding of future 1% elections will be guaranteed for our “democratic” lifetimes.
And if anyone was in doubt about the nature of Donald Trump’s “populism,” he answered that question within weeks of his election when he began appointing the wealthiest cabinet in American history. It was already clear by then who he really thought the “forgotten men and women of this country” were: former Goldman Sachs partners with at least a few hundred million dollars in their pockets.
In this new Gilded Age (in which, I suspect, disparities in wealth may actually become worse than in the nineteenth century version of the same), isn’t it time to stop talking about “trickle down economics” and come up with some new phrase? Gusher economics? We certainly need something that comes closer to capturing the realities of a moment in which, for instance, that tax bill will offer a staggering one-half of its cuts to the top 1% while, as Robert Borosage writes in the Nation, “raising taxes on families earning $10,000-$75,000 over the next decade” and even eliminating a tax credit that incentivizes employers to hire disabled veterans.
With that in mind, in “Twenty-First-Century American Populism” TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon takes a clear-eyed look at the populism of the Trumpian moment, the growing inequality that is increasingly the heart and soul of this society, and what is(n’t) being done about it.