How the White Working Class Got Played

On June 28, 2016 Donald Trump, then the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States, delivered a speech to supporters at a steel factory near Pittsburgh, PA. In his remarks, Trump lambasted the financial elite, free-trade agreements and elected officials for turning their backs on working people and exploiting economic decline for their own financial gain. Trump’s rhetoric was exceptionally unusual for a Republican nominee, at times even reminiscent of themes discussed by progressives like Bernie Sanders during the Democratic presidential primary of that same year. “If we’re ever going to deliver real change, we’re going to have to reject the campaign of fear and intimidation being pushed by powerful corporations, media elites, and political dynasties,” Trump said, “The people who rigged the system for their benefit will do anything–and say anything–to keep things exactly as they are.”

In an election year already swept by populist fervor across the political spectrum, Trump seemed to be speaking directly to millions of disaffected voters who watched in utter disbelief as the media, Wall Street and politicians proclaimed the country’s successful recovery from economic recession, even as their own economic futures remained frighteningly uncertain. Feeling betrayed and forgotten, these voters determined to enter the voting booth in search of any candidate that might voice their anguish and punish the elites they so passionately resented. In his speech outside Pittsburgh, Trump made the decision for these voters painfully clear: “The people who rigged the system are supporting Hillary Clinton because they know as long as she is in charge nothing will ever change.”

The election results of Nov. 8 prove that these disaffected voters, i.e. the white working class, chose to put their faith in Trump, and that decision won him the election. According to exit polls, Trump earned 67% of the votes of whites without a college degree compared to Clinton’s 28%, a margin large enough to flip Rust Belt states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, all of which had voted for the Democratic ticket in the most recent presidential elections. It is clear that many working class Americans put their faith in the Republican nominee in hopes that he would make good on his promises to curtail the influence of the financial elite, rid the government of corruption and restore economic prosperity to the middle class. Now, in Feb. 2017, a month-long look into the economic policies of the Trump administration has already provided more than enough insight into Trump’s real economic priorities.

Unfortunately for those disaffected voters who hoped that Trump might remain an economic populist as President, it seems that the United States is now barreling at an even faster pace toward oligarchy. On Nov. 13, only a few days after his election as President, Trump announced that Stephen Bannon (net worth $10 million), a former Vice President at Goldman Sachs and executive chair of Breitbart News, would serve as Chief Strategist to the White House. On Nov. 29, Trump nominated Steven Mnuchin (net worth $500 million), another former Vice President of Goldman Sachs, as Secretary of the Treasury, and Mnuchin has since been confirmed by the United States Senate. On Dec. 12, Trump announced that he would appoint Gary Cohn (net worth $60 million), the current President and COO of Goldman Sachs, as Director of the National Economic Council. And finally, on Jan. 4, Trump announced that he would nominate Jay Clayton, a Wall Street attorney whose wife is an employee of Goldman Sachs and whose own law firm represents Goldman Sachs in court, as Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Putting aside the absurdity of nominating an individual who has spent his life defending financial firms as Chairman of the governmental organization tasked with prosecuting them, why might this roster of individuals from a single source spark concern?

First, let us consider the reputation of the financial firm of which we speak. For those who might be unaware, New York City-based  banking and investment firm Goldman Sachs has become  notorious for its financial recklessness. The culture of the firm  was described as “toxic and destructive” by one former executive who also complained of the “decline [of] the firm’s moral fiber.” The banking giant famously defrauded investors during the financial crisis of 2008 and was subsequently charged with fraud by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission in 2010. Citizens should find rational cause for concern when individuals with the moral caliber of Goldman Sachs are invited to lay the blueprint for the American economy.

Second, it is important to remember Trump’s own words on Goldman Sachs while competing for the Republican nomination last year. In Jan. 2016, Trump spoke of Ted and Heidi Cruz’s affiliation with Goldman Sachs by declaring: “He’s borrowing from the banks. And, by the way, he’s got personal guarantees, and he’s got low-interest loans, all low-interest. And now he’s going to go after Goldman Sachs? It doesn’t work that way. Goldman Sachs owns him. Remember that, folks: They own him.” These words, juxtaposed with Trump’s recent administrative appointment decisions, are even more revealing when considering that in Aug. 2016, The New York Times reported Trump’s own nearly $1 billion in outstanding loans, at least partly credited to Goldman Sachs. Additionally, Goldman Sachs’ stock has surpassed its pre-recession levels and reached an all-time-high since Trump’s election as President.

Trump’s betrayal of working class Americans does not end there. Trump has also nominated former N.M. Rothschild & Sons investment banker Wilbur Ross (net worth $2.5 billion) as Secretary of Commerce, Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson (net worth $325 million) as Secretary of State and former President and CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment Linda McMahon (net worth $1.35 billion) as Administrator of the Small Business Administration. Of course, I’m sure that all of these individuals are well acquainted with the struggles that everyday working Americans face.

Let us not forget our precious Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.  DeVos (net worth $1.25 billion), a longtime advocate of school choice programs and charter schools, was narrowly confirmed as the 11th United States Secretary of Education on Feb. 7 by a vote of 51-50. DeVos’ controversial confirmation was the only one in history in which a Vice President’s vote was required to break a tie and had received significant opposition for a number of reasons. Oddly, her passion for privatizing education and streamlining financial resources away from public schools was not one of them. Of much greater concern to both Democrats and Republicans was DeVos’ severe lack of experience in public education, her ignorance of basic education policy and her family’s political donations to the Republican party. In fact, DeVos herself admitted during her confirmation hearing that it was entirely “possible” that, collectively, her family had donated over $200 million to the Republican party, prompting U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders to ask: “Do you think, if you were not a multibillionaire, if your family had not made hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?” But we should rest assured that Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos had nothing to do with her family’s financial contributions and everything to do with DeVos’ record as a strong opponent of grizzly bears in schools.

Lastly, Trump’s decision in signing a number of executive orders, memoranda and proclamations has clearly illustrated his administration’s economic priorities. As one of his first actions as President, Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 20 “minimizing the economic burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act pending repeal,” signaling his administration’s intention to repeal health insurance coverage for some 20 million low-income Americans. On Jan. 26, President Trump signed a proclamation declaring National School Choice Week 2017, evidencing the administration’s prioritization of privatizing public education. In perhaps the most ridiculous action that his administration has taken so far, on Jan. 30, President Trump signed an executive order on “reducing regulation and controlling regulatory costs” which effectively instructs his administration to arbitrarily eliminate two prior federal regulations for every new federal regulation that is proposed. Whether President Trump and his administration understand what a “federal regulation” actually is remains unclear.

Worst of all, on Feb. 3, President Trump signed an executive order “on core principles for regulating the United States financial system” which seeks to eliminate the bulk of financial regulations put in place after the 2008 financial crisis. No other presidential action that Trump has taken so far is as revealing. The very fact that a President whose election campaign centered on restoring economic confidence to the millions of working families who had been affected by the financial crisis and following recession would, less than a month after taking office, propose to recreate the very same unsatisfactory economic conditions that propelled him into office is abhorrent. But the fact of the matter is that Trump now inhabits the Oval Office and is now actively working against the interests of those who put him there.

So, to those working-class Americans who voted for Trump and couldn’t see why a billionaire real-estate mogul from Manhattan wouldn’t always have their best interests in mind, please enjoy the next four years. As our public education system crumbles, as millions of us lose healthcare coverage, as clean water and workplace safety regulations are thrown out the window, as the minimum wage is repealed, as the country descends into yet another financial crisis and years-long economic recession, rejoice! Rejoice that we finally have that wall on the Mexican border–because that’s truly what is going to make America great again. •