Is This What Trumponomics Looks Like?

Those eyes, man. They follow you everywhere.

Those eyes, man. They follow you everywhere.

It’s becoming clear in the first week of his presidency that Donald Trump has been telling us exactly who he is for a year and a half now. He did intend to build that wall, unlike what many of his supporters claimed during the 2016 presidential campaign. He really does believe that wealth has direct correlation to intelligence, that the amount of money you have is a perfect indication of your IQ, which is why he has claimed that his cabinet — without question the wealthiest in American history — has “by far, the highest IQ of any cabinet ever.” And he believes that if you cut taxes and regulations, and if you suppress the income of workers, the economy will grow.

 Axios published highlights from a teleprompter-free speech that Trump delivered to a closed-press fundraiser last week, including this snippet where he says exactly that to a room full of wealthy Republican donors:

We’re going to cut your taxes. We’re going to get rid of the regulations that are strangling the economy. [Applause.] … I know the biggest businessmen and the small ones that love me and voted for me, and I love them. … Almost every single person that I ask was more excited about the regulations being cut than the taxes, which is surprising. [Applause.] So, we’re going to do that.

This is not a new philosophy; it’s one that conservatives have been espousing since the days of Ronald Reagan. Regular readers will know that it’s called trickle-down economics, and it’s based on the idea that if you suppress wages for the working class, cut taxes for the wealthy, and slash regulations for business, those wealthy Americans will supposedly then create jobs, that their wealth will trickle down to the poorest Americans. The problem with this economic philosophy, of course, is that it doesn’t work. Democratic presidents create more jobs, for the simple reason that when workers have more money through increased wages, they have more money to spend in their communities. The super-rich tend to sit on their money, keeping it locked up outside the economy, and everyone suffers.

But there’s something especially troubling about Donald Trump’s brand of trickle down economics. In the past, conservatives have generally promoted their trickle-down agenda on behalf of the wealthiest Americans. But Trump’s cabinet is made up of some of the wealthiest Americans — many of whom don’t have any government experience at all — and they’re being placed in charge of the cabinet posts that directly affect them.

I wonder if we’re witnessing the birth of a new stage of trickle down economics. Because when the lawmakers themselves profit from the laws that they pass and strike down and ignore, you’ve passed a simple proxy agreement between politician and power broker. You’ve gone directly into looting territory.

President Trump’s strategy so far seems to be to produce so many moving parts that it’s impossible for anyone to keep track. Are you outraged about the gag orders on the EPA and the USDA? Are you upset about his calls to revive torture? Mad about the wall? Angry that he’s whining about voter fraud and his inauguration attendance? Horrified that he threatened martial law in Chicago? I bet you are. But are you equally mad about all those things? That’s impossible. So your attentions are scattered. And while resisters try to figure out which horror they should focus their energies on, in the background Trump is freezing regulations and raising costs for middle-class home owners by roughly ten bucks a week.

If trickle down economics is entering a full-on looting phase, that can only be bad news for the economy. Because looting doesn’t end organically. You only stop looting at the point when your arms are too full to carry anything else or when the forces of law and order are re-established. The best thing we can do at this early date is to identify what’s going on, and make a lot of noise, and try to keep track of everything that’s happening, so that one day we’ll be able to rebuild what we’re losing.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.