Though it may still seem unbelievable to many, Donald Trump rode a wave of anti-establishment populism to victory last November by galvanizing a large chunk of disenfranchised Americans. “We’ll drain the swamp,” this (supposed) billionaire born with a platinum spoon in his incredibly large mouth told us. As his crowds grew and grew, the political establishment on both sides of the aisle watched in horror as Trump’s rabid, red-hat-wearing hordes turned out en masse for a man who uses a literal golden toilet and expected him to improve the life of the common man. The Trump campaign was in many ways a nonsensical horror show of hateful half-truths and no-truths—but his ability to get elected on a “populist” platform provided America’s political establishment a much-needed lesson in how fed up the country is with them.
The problem with Trump’s brand of populism is that it is constructed entirely of deceit and lies—an undeniable truth emerging more with each passing day.
Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and the ghost of Eva Braun conjoined with a nut cracker and a bottle of gin (Kellyanne Conway) masterfully preyed upon the insecurities of people who haven’t seen their lot in life improve over the last few decades and who feel left behind and ignored by the political establishment. Many of these mostly white and rural voters see immigrants, minorities and women as being allowed to cut in line for the American Dream via THINGS like Affirmative Action, feminism and liberal immigration policies. Although the two are unrelated, they see income inequality growing as immigration does and wonder “What about me? Where’s my chunk of the pie?” (Spoiler alert: it was tossed out of a limo’s window and is drowning in “the swamp.”)
The Trump team was able to take these insecurities and project the blame on an ever-shifting number of culprits: Muslims, Mexicans, the media, Black Lives Matter, judges, the truth—basically anyone who wasn’t a middle class white—and give credence to the belief that the American political establishment (especially the Left) wasn’t patriotic enough to be concerned with the average American, and was instead too worried about international altruism and saving the world to do the important work much needed here at home. Exit poll data has shown that people for whom immigration was the chief concern voted for Trump by a 2-1 margin, that 51% voted for Trump simply because they didn’t like his opponent and that amongst voters who said “can bring change” was their top reason for voting for a candidate, Trump took a staggering 82%.
Donald Trump has referred to these folks as “the forgotten men and women of this country” and promised to be their champion, their savior, their liege. Again, this is a man who relieves himself in a toilet made of gold, in a penthouse made of gold, in a building with his name on it, in America’s most expensive city. Ah yes, The People’s Champion. If only Tom Joad could have lived to see this glorious day…
Trump is continuing his campaign in many ways every time he holds a press conference, speaks in public or tweets (see his post-election “victory lap” around the country). In order to keep the fabricated fires stoked, The Wizard of Orange continues spewing his wondrous populist promises from behind his presidential pulpit—and Twitter account—about helping the middle class so they won’t bother to ask what’s going on behind the plutocratic curtain between he and his merry band of billionaires. The belief in his preposterous “Us vs. Them” mentality is absolutely essential to Trump’s continued success, so he and his cronies continue to push it to the very hilt, even in the face of a cabinet whose purpose seems to be to make a vast ocean out of the swamp and then build a gaudy hotel alongside it—not drain it.
Beyond gathering the richest cabinet in American history, Trump’s policies have little to nothing in them that could even remotely enrich the lives of these “forgotten” folks. If Trump’s proposed tax cuts are made law, the richest of our country will see the vast, vast majority of the economic windfall, which means that if the absurdly unprepared-for repeal of the ACA is allowed to continue, 20 million Americans—many of them among the “forgotten” along the rust belt and south—will lose their health insurance as the wealthiest Americans enjoy trillions of dollars poured into their already stuffed coffers.
Consider Trump’s gleeful string of executive orders rolling back banking regulations such as the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, enacted to create more stringent rules regarding banks capitalization (how much money they can lend out and profit from). “We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank,” Trump said recently, “I have so many people, friends of mine, with nice businesses, they can’t borrow money, because the banks just won’t let them borrow because of the rules and regulations and Dodd-Frank.” Someone please get me a golden violin, so that I may better soundtrack this tragic tale of billionaire woe.
Ever-concerned with how his choices will affect his forgotten and disenfranchised base, Trump brought in filthy stinking rich JP Morgan CEO and friend of the common man Jamie Dimon for advice. “There’s nobody better to tell me about Dodd-Frank than Jamie,” the president said, apparently not thinking it was strange that a “successful business tycoon” such as he needed to be told about the Dodd-Frank Act. After seeking council with the JP Morgan head, Trump looked to former Goldman Sachs banker and newly confirmed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to make “adjustments” to the law. So, men in charge of the banks most responsible for the country’s recent devastating financial crisis via their irresponsibly speculative and dishonest banking practices are now overseeing the laws enacted to keep those companies’ banking practices honest and in check. This is akin to Barney Gumble being given the keys to the Duff factory.
The Trump Brand Wool© hasn’t been pulled over everyone’s eyes however, as the 45th president managed the astonishing feat of achieving a negative approval rating a mere 8 (!) days into his presidency. Compare that to the fact it took each the five previous presidents multiple years to wear out their initial political capital:
In many ways, Trump’s victory was more a rebuke of neoliberalism and establishment politics than it was a case of his dramatically reaching the proletariat’s heart. It seems clear the Democratic Party’s best chance of defeating Donald Trump’s brand of false populism is to eschew the Clintonian, corporate-cash-sponsored ways of the past and embrace an ethos closer in line with that of Senator Bernie Sanders—an actual populist whose campaign the Democratic Party gleefully and snidely torpedoed at every opportunity. A perfect example of how out of touch the Democratic establishment has become lies in the fact many of the most influential Dems in the country missed the January 21st Women’s March on Washington—the biggest American protest of my lifetime—in order to attend a lavish getaway/fundraiser at a resort near Miami thrown by Clinton associate (henchman) and leading Sanders disparager David Brock for around 120 top party donors.
“The people” took to the streets that day, not to $1,000+-a-plate dinners in breezy south Florida. Even if magical progress was somehow made at this fundraiser, the disconnect between the Democratic Party establishment and much of the voting populace seems clear.
This isn’t the first time a dark horse candidate has risen to shocking heights despite a frightening lack of concern for the greater good—Alabama governor, segregationist and all-around shithead George Wallace took five Southern states (come on y’all) and 13.5% share of the votes in ’68. Runs by Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson have also garnered attention over the years but failed to sufficiently inspire enough of the voting population to make much noise. Although Trump and his supporters would like to point to the so-called “Reagan Democrats” of the 80’s for similarities to their improbable rise, the Trump and Wallace campaigns share far more in common than anything The Gipper ever said or did. Beyond the obvious racist similarities, take for instance the rhetorical violence both men enjoyed espousing on the campaign trail: “If any demonstrator ever lies down in front of my car it’ll be the last car he’ll ever lay in front of,” Wallace once said while campaigning. I doubt Donald Trump has ever had to drive himself anywhere, but would that seem at all out of place in one of the president’s tweets? At least Wallace never made thinly veiled suggestions about murdering his opponent (on record at least); I’ll give the racist bastard that.
As technology makes the world—and oftentimes, our differences—seem smaller, culture both at home and abroad is largely shifting towards being more empathic and open-minded, much as it was during the civil rights era. As with the civil rights era, the world is once again evolving at a rapid pace, and those unable or unwilling to evolve with it are once again scared of being left behind and are lashing out. Donald Trump has capitalized on that fear in ways that seem destined to be catastrophic for all Americans in the long run. The most pertinent questions facing the American public seem to be whether or not Trump’s base begins to see the forest for the trees—and if they do, will the beleaguered Democrats be able to take advantage of the momentum Trump’s lies and misdeeds afford them. If not, “the forgotten men and women of this country” may indeed finally locate their long sought after American Dream—circling the drain at the bottom a toilet made of gold.