Wednesday July 06, 2022


August 18, 2016

Trump’s populism, like so much of his public image, is a deceptive marketing ploy. When it comes to actual policy, Trump is proposing mostly the same regressive ideas that Republican candidates from Ronald Reagan to Mitt Romney have been peddling for decades.

The cornerstone of Trump’s economic agenda is a massive income tax cut that would disproportionately benefit the very wealthy. Trump is also proposing a special 15-percent tax rate for “pass-through” income that would enable many top earners – who account for more than two-thirds of such income – to be taxed at a much lower rate. And like most establishment Republicans, Trump would abolish the estate tax, which applies to an infinitesimal percentage of the wealthiest Americans.

Trump is also doubling down on the philosophy behind Romney’s oft-mocked declaration that “corporations are people.” Trump’s plan would cut the corporate tax rate by a whopping 20 points – twice what Romney proposed in 2012 - from 35 percent to 15 percent. Meanwhile, he is proposing a moratorium on federal regulations, promising more of the lax oversight that is responsible for economic and environmental disasters in recent years.

These supply-side policies will do nothing to help the working-class voters Trump claims to represent. But they are exactly what you would expect from the economic brain trust he recently unveiled, which is dominated by white men, including “several billionaire bankers and investment managers.” (In fact, Trump only added women to the team on Friday in response to criticism.)

Trump’s most notable deviation from his party’s corporatist agenda is his opposition to trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But as Economic Policy Institute president Larry Mishel has argued, Trump’s posture “is a scam.” While Trump complains that the United States doesn’t “win on trade,” making vague promises to negotiate “better” deals, he also has a long history of manufacturing Trump-branded merchandise abroad. There is simply nothing in Trump’s record or policies to indicate that he is actually concerned about the workers affected by the trade policies he laments.

“Donald Trump fashions himself a populist, but his economic plan just recycles the failed policies of deregulation and massive tax cuts for the rich and corporations,” Mishel wrote in response to Trump’s speech. “If such policies were effective, we would remember George W Bush’s presidency as one of great prosperity instead of a period of stagnant wages for blue- and white-collar workers.”

By contrast, Clinton is campaigning on a platform full of populist economic ideas that Sanders helped mainstream during the Democratic primaries – from expanding Social Security, to a $15 minimum wage, to cracking down on Wall Street.

The challenge now for Clinton and the party is to not back down. With a growing number of Republicans abandoning Trump’s sinking ship, Clinton should not reward them by sacrificing any part of her agenda for the sake of an endorsement, especially when that endorsement is unlikely to last beyond Election Day.

Instead, she should make clear that in defeating Trump she also intends to defeat his ideas by unapologetically embracing the progressive populism needed to move the country forward.

This article has been excerpted from: ‘The Phony Populism of Donald Trump’.