Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

The Trump betrayal of his base just grows and grows


Thanks to Donald Trump, Wall Street bankers and financiers see dollar signs followed by a whole lot of zeros dancing in their heads and into their bank accounts. They are downright giddy about it.

Here's how Politico describes it:

"A populist candidate who railed against shady financial interests on the campaign trail is now putting together an administration that looks like an investment banker’s dream.

Former Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin has been seen at Trump Tower amid rumors that he’s the leading candidate for Treasury secretary. Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross appears headed to the Commerce Department. Steve Bannon, another Goldman alum, will work steps from the Oval Office. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon remains a possibility as Treasury secretary and will serve as an outside adviser if he doesn't get the job.

It’s a restoration of Wall Street power — and a potential flip in the way the industry is regulated — perhaps unparalleled in American history."

“You would have to go back to the 1920s to see so much Wall Street influence coming to Washington,” said Charles Geisst, a Wall Street historian at Manhattan College. “It’s the most dramatic turnaround one could imagine. That’s the truly astonishing part.”

Not seen since the 1920s ... that's encouraging, right?

And of course, the Wall Street dream doesn't end there. In addition to dismantling and defanging the regulatory system enacted after the 2008 meltdown -- remember the days of "this sucker could go down!"? -- Trump is proposing huge tax cuts targeted mainly at the wealthy. In other words, they're going to get richer than ever, and also pay less taxes on those riches than ever. What's not to like?

It's really quite the scam. You campaign in rural and small-town America, feeding and feeding upon the economic and racial resentments of people who have felt left behind and abandoned by their country. You gain political power.  You then use that political power to further enrich and empower the very elitists whom you've campaigned against.

And it's not as if they were hurting in the first place. Last year, the amount paid just in bonuses on Wall Street -- not in salaries or benefits, such as limo service and country-club fees, but bonuses alone -- was double the amount paid to all the 900,000 full-time minimum wage workers in the entire country put together.

We've already talked about how the Trump transition team has abandoned his promises to address rising drug prices, a decision that sent pharmaceutical stocks soaring. The wall with Mexico? It's been downgraded to a mere fence, and only in places. It was, Newt Gingrich now tells us, more of a "campaign device" than an actual promise. Trump promised repeatedly on the campaign trail to protect Medicare from those who want to slash it; now, his transition team is embracing plans by the Republican House to "modernize" the program by turning it into a voucher program and shift costs back onto the elderly.

And the coal miners, remember them? In speech after speech in critical states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, Trump would remind his followers of the jobs that had disappeared in the mining and steel industries, the pensions and benefits that had been slashed, the way of life that once gave them hope but had now vanished. "If I win, we're going to bring those mining jobs back," he promised.

Now that Republicans have won the election, the song sure has changed. As Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky now puts it, those mining jobs aren't coming back after all, because it turns out that the real problems of the coal industry are "private sector" problems, meaning that low-cost natural gas has rendered coal economically uncompetitive.

The interim president of the Kentucky  Coal Association echoes that sentiment. “I would not expect to see a lot of growth because of the Trump presidency,” Nick Carter told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “If there is any growth in Eastern Kentucky, it will be because of an improved economy for coal.”

“A government spending program is not likely to solve the fundamental problem of growth,” McConnell said. “I support the effort to help these coal counties wherever we can but that isn’t going to replace whatever was there when we had a vibrant coal industry.”

But wait, it gets worse.

For the last 20 years, the steel and coal industries have been ravaged by Wall Street financiers who buy up properties, break unions, slash wages in half, strip retired workers of the health benefits they earned and in many cases push production and output over worker safety. They then turn around and sell those gutted companies at an enormous profit. When Trump would go into these regions to rage against the elites and promise to fight for the common man, these were the people whom he would rail against.

Wilbur Ross, known as "the King of Bankruptcy," has made billions through that process in the textile, steel and coal industries, but it came at a cost. One of his mines, the Sago Mine in West Virginia, had one of the worst safety records in the industry and had faced repeated partial shutdowns ordered by the federal government. But the company did little to correct conditions there, and in 2006 a roof collapsed, killing a dozen miners in the worst accident in that state in 40 years.

Today, Ross is a major fundraiser and campaign contributor to Trump. And as noted above, he is now the leading candidate for Commerce secretary in the Trump cabinet.

Drain the swamp, baby.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.