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COMMENTARY: Trump conned people with phony populism


A populist fever has swept the nation — or so we’ve been told.

President-elect Donald Trump’s narrow victory on Nov. 8 was almost universally labeled by pundits as a rejection of establishment norms. Even the most liberal members of the mainstream media at least partially bought into the narrative that he would head to Washington, rip American government from the clutches of corporate interests and hand it back to working people once and for all.

They all missed something critical: Trump’s brand of populism is really thinly veiled corporatism.

Trump has turned off many wealthy Wall Street bankers and corporate interests with controversial remarks on race and immigration, but his set of policies is what they’ve been dreaming of all along. His supposed populism is really an experiment in handing the already rich and powerful more influence, hoping it will somehow help the little guy.

Take Wall Street reform. Hillary Clinton was labeled from the start as a puppet of commercial and investment banking. Yet it is the supposed populist Trump who made deregulating banks and financial institutions a centerpiece of his economic platform. Dodd-Frank — the massive piece of legislation containing expansive consumer protections and reigns in excessive risks in the financial system — will soon be history if Congress cooperates with Trump.

Trump’s cabinet is already starting to take shape, and the short lists for each position are filled with Washington insiders, investment bankers and powerful lobbyists. JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon was reportedly in the running to head the Treasury Department.

The new administration also plans on deregulating the fossil fuel industry, letting Big Oil and Big Coal trample our environment at a time when climate change is as pressing as ever. Harold Hamm, a billionaire pioneer of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), is on the short list to manage our nation’s public lands and waters as the interior secretary.

The Paul Ryan budget, which Trump mostly adopted in September, would thrust millions of working people and families into poverty with massive cuts to programs like Medicaid, food stamps, Pell Grants and the Earned Income Tax Credit. The white working poor who voted Trump into office would be among those hurt the most by these cuts.

Donald Trump conned the American people with his phony brand of populism, and we must fight back with an economic and environmental agenda that puts working class and middle class families first, rather than large corporations.

Instead of pinning Trump’s win on racism or bigotry, Democrats must acknowledge the economic anxiety that pervades Middle America and its causes. Globalization has torn communities apart throughout the country and left millions of workers without a place in the modern economy. We must equip them with the skills that they need to compete with workers abroad by making college and technical training affordable and accessible to every American. We must end the War on Drugs that targets and oppresses the poor. We must strengthen and expand the tools that allow hard-working Americans to climb the economic ladder.

Most importantly, progressives must reject politics of division that has corroded the Democratic Party. To survive as a political force, we once again must learn to empathize with struggling Americans, rather than label them racists or bigots. The Democratic Party used to be the party of the poor and middle class and a check on big business. The party must return to its economic roots that once made it so successful.

Only then can we truly have a populist revolution.

Connor O'Brien is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in economics.

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