Donald Trump's economic proposals, elusive and less-than-fully-formed though many of them remain, paint a clear picture. His economic vision is not "populist," contrary to conventional wisdom. Though Trump provides some (vague) sops to working Americans, the thrust of his plans would overwhelmingly do what Republican economic proposals have been doing for decades - favor the rich and well-to-do at the expense of everyone else.
Trump does propose renegotiating or bowing out of trade deals that - despite Beltway insider wisdom - adversely affect working Americans. But the overall impact of his proposals is unmistakable. They would dump more money into the hands of the well off, while cutting the legs out from under the already frayed American social safety net that helps ordinary Americans.
Start with Obamacare. For all its flaws, Obamacare has extended health insurance coverage to some twenty million people not previously covered. Replacing it with nothing - Trump's current "proposal" - will not benefit working Americans. It will only exacerbate one of the most morally (and economically) indefensible pillars of American society - the tradeoff between health care versus every other family need, a conundrum that places millions of Americans on the knife's edge of financial ruin at the first serious family health crisis.
Furthermore, Medicaid expansion - the most salutary feature of the Affordable Care Act - has extended coverage to millions of poor Americans who otherwise would be holding their breath until the next costly visit to the emergency room. Indeed, early studies show that Medicaid Expansion - whose full impact on ordinary Americans has been blunted by the unconscionable decision of many Republican governors to reject it - has already yielded positive health results.
Trump's tax proposals are just a more extreme version of standard Republican Oligarchonomics. Under cover of the pleasant sounding phrase "tax cuts for everyone," Trump's plan calls for drastic reductions in business taxes and taxes on the wealthiest Americans. And unbelievably, the "working class billionaire" 'populist' proposes eliminating the estate tax, which doesn't claim a single dollar tax from estates worth less than $5.4 million dollars. Under current law, that affects about 1 in 500 estates. In other words, only the very wealthiest Americans are currently subject to the tax, which is why the Gates family, Warren Buffett and other very wealthy Americans consider calls for its elimination a moral disgrace and public policy mistake. Indeed, there is no single policy proposal that is more anti-populist than this one, a GOP favorite for two decades now.
Even Trump's allegedly populist attack on the carried interest loophole becomes meaningless in the face of his proposed tax rates. The new business rate would be lower than the current carried interest rate, so every rich American who currently benefits from the latter would benefit even more from the former.
Furthermore, every independent estimate of Trump's plans show that he would increase deficits drastically, despite his harping on the "out-of-control" debts run up during the Obama years. Higher deficits are not, in and of themselves a bad thing. But it takes little imagination to surmise who will pay the price when the higher deficits bring the next round of calls for fiscal austerity.
While Trump has been all over the place about a minimum wage on the campaign trail - sometimes he's favored increasing it, other times abolishing it altogether - no related proposals appear on his website. Again, little imagination is required to guess at whether he'd lift a finger to increase the current $7.25 federal rate.
Finally, Trump has been uncharacteristically muted about the financial crisis and its aftermath, especially the TARP and related bailouts that made those chiefly responsible financially whole, the lack of accountability for those same individuals, or its lingering deleterious impact on ordinary Americans. No doubt, that's because despite his rhetoric to the contrary, it's the very people Trump pals around with who walked away scot free from the catastrophe they made (and Trump's recently announced all male team of key economic advisors is a who's-who of American oligarchs).
Indeed, the financial crisis is the Trumpian business model writ large - hypocritical incestuousness whereby wealthy and well-connected private businesses leverage every government-aided loophole and carve-out to make their wealth and then insulate themselves from the fallout when things go south by exploiting those same connections.
(Feel free to regard the previous two paragraphs as overheated. But that's what a real populist would sound like).
Once in office, Trump would be a mortal lock to make life even better for the crony capitalists he claims to oppose. And everyone else will be holding the bag. Calling this man a populist is a sick joke. He's an oligarch in temperament, outlook and practice.
And he'll do his best to run America like one.
(Check out my joint memoir on divorce, written with my former wife - Divorce: A Love Story).