Who Needs A Break: The Trump Vision

Donald Trump has not built a border wall with Mexico, slapped punitive trade barriers on China, revived American coal mining jobs, drained the lobbyist swamp, repealed the Affordable Care Act or made America Great Again (except perhaps inside his own head).

That doesn’t mean his presidency has not had consequence. Its biggest is little noted – he is making major shifts in who pays taxes and fees, and alternatively gets various forms of support from the government. It’s not surprising that a “populist” president would use government aid as a tool to redistribute wealth. Populism is rooted in the (often correct) belief that insiders rig markets against the public, often harnessed to the (usually unjustified) faith that a demagogic leader adept at expressing popular resentments can be counted on to defend the people from this elite rigging of the economy.

But it is somewhat surprising to look at just who Trump thinks “need a break” from government, and who needs less support, and should “pay more as their fair share.” The list that follows is partial, and not all of it has been embedded yet in final law or regulation. But it’s quite remarkable, nonetheless.  And it describes a moral universe of fairness quite different than the one most Americans grew up with.

(These two columns are independent ― the money given to those on the left was not necessarily paid by a specific group on the right ― it all flows through the federal government. Each gain or loss is linked to a citation.)

The mechanisms by which Trump has shifted opportunity and wealth from one group of Americans to another varies; in some cases it’s achieved by tweaking the tax code, in others by defunding key insurance programs for vulnerable populations, or relaxing government rules which required businesses to pay their employees, or not to harm customers, neighbors or the environment. In other cases all that was needed was to stack key regulatory agencies with lobbyists and advocates for the regulated industries. (That’s why I’ve posted a link to every example – I found some of them hard to believe.)

But in all these cases, and many more I didn’t list, the ultimate impact was clear; Americans like hedge fund managers would have higher post-tax incomes, and folks like working parents putting their kids through college by working for their university would have much, much smaller ones. Life would be easier for banks and oil companies and harder for farm workers and veterans.

Populism has come in many flavors, but never perhaps in such a plutocratic one; it appears that when the President promised to stand up for the “forgotten American” he had in mind a very different “forgotten” group than most voters imagined.