Authoritarian propagandists’ most ridiculous conceit (and most telling barometer of their criminal madness) is that if you tell a “big lie” often enough and long enough it becomes the truth.
No it doesn’t: It remains a lie. And makes the teller appear evermore insane.
So it is with Donald Trump and the Republicans’ “big lie” that Trump was and is some sort of conservative “populist” leading a “movement” and pursuing policies that advantage America’s working men and women who earn wages, as opposed pursuing traditional GOP policies favoring the wealthy, employers and those whose earnings come from investments. See Trump’s famous “closing argument” video here, the first draft version of which is captured here.
Throughout 2016-2017 Trump and the Republicans repeated this big lie about their new populist identity ad nauseam while simultaneously engineering the passage of an infamous tax bill that is 180 degrees ANTITHETICAL to Trump’s populist campaign rhetoric and explicit promises.
For example Trump all but explicitly promised that he would abolish the carried interest tax deduction for private equity, real estate and hedge fund operators which enables them to keep far more of their profits than all other high earners who fall in the highest tax bracket. The tax bill didn’t repeal it! Instead it delivers “big league” for the top 1% who (in addition to having their personal income taxes lowered) comprise the vast majority of shareholders in corporations receiving monumental tax cuts. And its other main provisions are similarly regressive.
As Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz writes: “Central to fairness is the ability to pay. But this tax legislation reduces taxes by tens of thousands of dollars, on average, for those most able to pay (the top quintile). And, when fully implemented (in 2027), it will increase taxes on a majority of Americans in the middle (the second, third, and fourth quintiles).”
Many in those “middle quintiles” will also soon have to cope with skyrocketing health insurance premiums due in part to the tax bill’s abolition of the mandate that all Americans buy health insurance.
And, directly contrary to Trump’s promise that he would NOT cut Social Security or Medicare, the deficits and debt-ballooning effect of the tax bill (along with Trump’s stratospheric military budget) lays the groundwork for House Speaker Ryan and the Republican Party’s planned attack on entitlements in the months and years just ahead. THIS is what Trump has wrought!
Indeed, apart from abolishing the TPP the president has now betrayed every single campaign promise to his working/lower middle class voters who believed Trump’s (mis)representation he was a “blue collar billionaire” who would “drain the swamp” (referring to the decisive sway over American government and society held by K Street and Wall Street) and put the interests of America’s everyday people ahead of Trump’s own 1% kind.
Perhaps most brazenly, Trump has reneged on his repeated promise (if elected) to use his powers of office and persuasion to deter the outflow of American manufacturing and service jobs to cheap labor zones abroad. Instead, in 2017 that trend has accelerated. Jobs belonging to Kenny Johnson and Robert Powell (to name just two) are now going to Mexico. See here. And according to one (seemingly reliable) report, even outsourcing by federal contractors (over which the president has the most jawboning leverage) shot up in 2017. See chart here.
In short: the new Trump-“populist”-GOP turned out to be the same old Reagan-Bush conservative-GOP but on steroids! It was no accident that Reagan had coined the MAGA slogan (although he didn’t make it the centerpiece of his campaign the way Trump did).
With the tax bill’s passage we now KNOW Trump’s entire campaign was a conservative Republican RUSE from the very beginning. For those with eyes to see, the signs that Trump was a fake populist were hiding in plain sight all along:
+ the sheer improbability that Trump had acquired a Ross Perot-esque anti-globalist ideology in his older adult years that he showed no signs of having before (unlike say, Pat Buchanan, who doubtlessly absorbed orthodox GOP isolationism with his “mother’s milk”);
+ the total disjunction between Trump’s (sometimes) reasonable-sounding populist, protectionist and quasi-isolationist rhetoric — eg. hostility to free trade agreements was standard fare in Democratic presidential campaigns (such as that of Dick Gephardt’s) as recently as the 1980s — and the total absence of ANY reputable policy-shop activity to advance these ostensible Trump governmental goals;
+ Trump’s personal reputation as a knave amongst his fellow billionaires and multi-millionaires (attested to by Michael Bloomberg), one who had demonstrated over a lifetime of privilege not the slightest hint of Kennedy-esque devotion to public service or familiarity with the CONCEPT let alone any meaningful record of acts of “noblesse oblige”;
+ the transfer by the rightist billionaire Mercers of their crack political operatives Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to Trump after the Mercers’ first choice, Ted Cruz, withered under Trump’s no-hold-barred attacks;
+ the appearance “out of nowhere” of obscure empty-suited figures such as Los Angeles based banker Steven Mnuchin as a traveling Trump campaign aide and fundraiser, as well as coteries of bumptious previously unknown politically inexperienced alt-right nutbar chiliasts whose sole skill was crude polemical wordsmithing;
+ Trump’s totally uncharacteristic teleprompter speechifying on subjects he plainly knew NOTHING about including (of all things) “urban renewal” (in his speech in Charlotte NC towards the end of the campaign) which speech’s public policy content was unlike anything EVER heard before from the sybaritic fop and real estate shark “born on third base who thought he hit a triple” (in Ann Richards’ famous line for George HW Bush);
+ And the lack of anything in his background that suggested that Trump could or would as president, if and when elected, EVER estrange himself from his fellow wealthy uber-elites by NOT serving their interests to the maximum extent whenever a conflict arose between the interests of his fellow financial elite supremacists and the well-being of the working and lower-middle-class multitudes. Trump was NEVER going to betray the super-rich: “Not gonna happen” in GHW Bush’s old phrase (that Dana Carvey memorably mocked). And it didn’t!
Plainly then (at the risk of stating the now patently obvious): Trump’s entire campaign was an ACT! It was larceny (of ordinary American voters’ hearts and minds) by trick — a high political crime and impeachable offense, without more.
And the fact that his entire bogus campaign was clearly designed to obtain tax cuts which (contrary to Trump’s daily deceits — see Ralph Nader’s recent essay ) grossly unjustly enriches himself and his family’s real estate empire and that of his fellow business moguls similarly situated, is a form of corruption that makes Teapot Dome pale by comparison!
It is also not improbable that Trump, a self-described deal-maker, arranged-for his own super-rich direct patrons and new acquaintances of his own elite kind, to make OTHER “progress payments” to himself and his family for pulling off one of THE greatest political stunts of the ages. One that will forever make Trump’s name MUD in the annals of American history. The president would be a bad deal-maker indeed if he agreed to so blacken his name in the history books without a commensurate financial reward.
Was THAT what the president was reminding his elite friends about at Mar-a-Lago right after signing the tax bill when he quipped: “You all just got a lot richer!“? The answer is probably, in Sarah Palin’s folksy phrase: “You betcha!”
It is now up to civil society forces to “follow the money” and find and prove any such additional pay-off. Unlike many others, I doubt it will be found in the Russia milieu. I believe it is far more apt to be found right here at home. But the sooner it is found (whoever the paymaster turns out to be) the sooner Trump’s absurd deceitful CHARADE, which has wasted an entire presidential election cycle (!) and the whole of the following year, can, will and must come to an end.
Democratic theory and practice doesn’t jibe well with deceivers on a grand scale. That is: With demagogues (like the president) who set out to pervert elections by running on a platform of policies they privately don’t believe in and have no intention of implementing. This is essentially criminal behavior because it usurps the time and space a free society has periodically set aside to democratically determine its policies, destiny and leaders who will comprise its government.
In 2015-2016, the will of the American people was clear: the ONLY presidential candidates who generated ANY enthusiasm were Sen. Bernie Sanders, who espoused an enlightened version of populism, and Donald Trump, who espoused a regressive version of populism (similar to the one Pat Buchanan advocated in 1992 and 1996).
First GOP presidential primary voters chose Trump’s regressive populism over a large field of conventional Reagan-Bush conservative Republicans. Then the nation’s voters as a whole (modulated through the Electoral College system) chose Trump over centrist Democrat Hillary Clinton, someone who, it is fair to say, doesn’t have a populist bone in her body. The problem — and it is a “YUGE” one — is that neither does Donald Trump!
The tax bill’s exposure of President Trump as an epic fraudster is what everyone would have been talking about early this year as most of his voters realized they have been duped, EXCEPT for two things:
The mainstream media spun the tax bill NOT as an act of abject betrayal of Trump’s wage-earning base voters but rather as a demonstration that Trump and the Republicans could legislatively “accomplish something”. After denigrating Trump for years as (in sum although not in this exact metaphorical phrase) “a wild hair up America’s butt,” mainstream pundits spun on a dime and praised the tax bill heist from future U.S. Treasury coffers as an important achievement and step toward political normalcy. (It was a domestic policy re-run of the corporate media’s fawning over the president’s missile strike on a Syrian airport.)
This showed anew what the mainstream media’s constant frantic Trump-detraction was really “all about”: The possibility that Trump might NOT be a total fraud and counterfeit populist. The tax bill reassured the establishment that Trump was a “good and faithful servant” of the 1% after all, and the establishment’s media operatives (the self-appointed enforcers of the acceptable boundaries of public discourse and social change) began cutting the woebegone president slack accordingly. See Michael Brenner’s compilation of friendly New York Times headlines treating the tax bill as a deft virtuoso Trump triumph. (Just beneath the heading “This is historic – a Reactionary revolution without precedent.“)
But what the late great Richard Ben Kramer called “the bigfoot media” ain’t what it used to be. And in this Age of the Internet the truth about the pro-1% tax bill (that it was a “second time farce” version of Reaganomics about which David Stockman memorably quipped: “The hogs were really feeding”) and about Trump’s treason towards wage earners, quickly got out to the public including to Trump’s base voters. See here.
(Stockman himself, a Michigan-born Republican “deficit hawk” now condemns “the asinine tax bill the Hill Republicans passed–sight-unseen and with fiscal recklessness aforethought” as the precursor to a looming “Orange Swan” event that will crash the bubble-ridden Wall Street joy-ride. See here. If and when that happens, the crumbs that are temporarily trickling down to wage-earners from corporate America’s executive suites will abruptly lessen.)
In any event, Trump cannot call himself a populist now without sounding truly insane. As I tweeted in real time when “Sloppy Steve” Bannon alluded to having presidential ambitions of his own (come again?!), facetiously quoting John Lennon: “The dream is over Steve.”
His populist fig leaf removed, as the old year ended and a new one began Trump suddenly appeared to virtually the entire public as an emperor with no clothes. And for a moment it looked like President Trump was about to be removed from the stage of history like a screwball contestant on the old Gong Show.
But like all crafty political criminals it seems the president and his enablers had planned an exit strategy of their own to “take the money and run” at the earliest opportunity. The smoke bomb created by Michael Wolff’s new book may well have been designed to provide cover for Trump’s resignation or ejection from office on purported health grounds sooner rather than later.
The hoopla surrounding the book (including the Bannon-Trump “feud”) is most likely ALL a ploy and theater, just as Trump’s POSE as a “populist” was. It is (at any rate) extremely curious that ALL the tales of Trump’s purported personality and psychological infirmities — significantly including the strong hint that the 71 year old president may be suffering from “early onset dementia” — emanate from the White House-based co-authors of the Trump-as-populist “big lie” and “long con” itself.
Why on earth were these alarming on-the-record accounts planted with Mr. Wolff, a known non-conservative journalist? It makes no real sense except as an exit strategy in the making.
“Justice is not mocked” Kierkegaard said. Neither is the integrity of our nation’s quadrennial presidential elections (Bush v. Gore to the contrary notwithstanding). Nor America’s “forgotten people” that Donald Trump has extolled, won-over and “thrown under the bus” (in the words of one of them quoted in the last line of an article linked above).
Having so blasphemed the 2016 presidential election, and traduced his own base voters, surely the president understands he has irretrievably forfeited his political legitimacy and the quasi-class-traitor role he was elected to play by and for his fervent lower echelon “poorly educated” followers. He cannot now retain the office he won on totally false pretenses and hope to become (in personal form) anything other than what Nixon feared the United States was becoming in his day: “A pitiful helpless giant.”
The best compensatory favor for his political criminality the president could do for us now is to leave office gracefully, perhaps with a touch of vaudeville humor, song and dance, ala Groucho Marx’s Captain Spaulding character in the Marx Brothers’ 1930 movie “Animal Crackers” (no pun on Trump and his base of supporters intended). Here’s the script of the pertinent scene with the president’s part inserted. If he follows it, his relieved fellow Americans may even sing him a chorus of Hooray for Captain Trump!
Well I’m certainly grateful for this magnificent washout uhh…turnout and uhh
Now I’d like say a few words:
[Breaks into song:]
Hello, I must be going.
I cannot stay,
I came to say I must be going.
I’m glad I came but just the same I must be going.
For my sake you must stay,
for if you should go away,
you’ll spoil this party
I am throwing.
I’ll stay a week or two,
I’ll stay the summer through,
but I am telling you,
I must be going.
Eric C. Jacobson is a Los Angeles-based civil rights lawyer and member of the bars of the State of California and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Supreme Court and various federal district and appellate courts.