Alongside the idea that America was a fetid pit of misery and despair from which only he could deliver us, the most consistent theme of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was that the “elites” had ignored the interests of ordinary people for too long. If you put your faith in him, Trump argued, he would give you your country back and make it great again. Some of us were more than a bit skeptical of this claim, arguing that Trump’s “populism” was more stylistic than substantive, and if elected he’d pursue the interests of the wealthy with as much zeal as any Republican.
Well now he’s president, and we’re finding out just how far Donald Trump and those he has chosen to work for him will go to screw over consumers. Just in these first couple of weeks, he’s already undertaken a remarkable number of anti-consumer initiatives. Let’s run down some of them:
- On Friday, Trump signed an executive order to begin exploring ways to ease regulations on Wall Street banks. “We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank,” the law passed to prevent a repeat of the 2009 financial meltdown, he explained, “Because frankly, I have so many people, friends of mine, that had nice businesses, they just can’t borrow money.” Whatever the alleged fortunes of Donald Trump’s friends, all evidence suggests that credit is widely available for businesses and individuals. But he made clear who he’s listening to: “There’s nobody better to tell me about Dodd-Frank than Jamie, so you’re going to tell me about it,” he said of JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon.
- As part of the Wall Street deregulation effort, Trump will likely target the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an idea originated by Elizabeth Warren before she became a senator. In the five and a half years of its existence, the CFPB has returned billions of dollars to consumers wronged by banks, credit card companies, payday lenders, and debt collectors. They also unraveled the Wells Fargo scandal, in which the bank created accounts in the names of thousands of customers without their knowledge. So as far as Trump and congressional Republicans are concerned, the CFPB has got to go.
- On Friday Trump signed another executive order instructing the Department of Labor to prepare the ground to rescind the “fiduciary rule,” a regulation the Obama administration wrote last year. It requires financial advisers to act in their client’s best interests, just like doctors or lawyers are required to. The need for it came about because often those advisers push their clients to buy products that are bad for them but that bring the advisers higher commissions. You’d think that a rule saying you have to serve your client would be uncontroversial, but no.
- The administration is preparing to kill an Obama-era Labor Department rule that would have meant overtime pay for millions of American workers.
- Trump’s new head of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, has been on a tear. As the New York Times described it, “Mr. Pai took a first swipe at net neutrality rules designed to ensure equal access to content on the internet. He stopped nine companies from providing discounted high-speed internet service to low-income individuals. He withdrew an effort to keep prison phone rates down, and he scrapped a proposal to break open the cable box market.”
- Trump has not yet chosen the new head of the Food and Drug Administration, but all the candidates are interested in reducing the regulations that protect consumers. The leading contender believes that drugs should be allowed on the market before they’ve been shown to actually do what they claim.
This is just one corner of the actions the Trump administration is taking on a range of issues, but the unifying principle of these moves is that corporations should be free to do what they want, even if it hurts consumers, workers, or ordinary citizens. Indeed, the expansion of corporate power and privileges already looks like it will be one of the hallmarks of this administration.
Which would make it no different from any other Republican administration. But that’s precisely my point: for all Trump’s rhetoric about taking on the “elite,” when it comes to making policy he’s just as interested in enhancing corporate power at the expense of citizens as is Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell.
“But what about trade?” you might say. “Isn’t he a populist there?” We don’t yet know, because Trump is so vague on what he would actually do about trade. All he says is that past trade agreements were terrible deals, and he’ll make them better. How? Who knows. As this blog has pointed out before, the mere fact that Trump says he’ll revamp our trade deals doesn’t mean he’d do so in a way that favors the interests of workers. The only concrete thing the administration has suggested on trade was a 20 percent tariff on goods coming in from Mexico in order to pay for a border wall, a tariff that would of course be paid by American consumers.
While you would have known all this if you had paid close attention during the campaign, millions of people convinced themselves that Trump would be looking out for the little guy once he got to office. You may remember the closing ad of the Trump campaign, in which he decried “a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth, and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.”
Two weeks into the Trump administration, it seems like it was almost a joke. And just wait until Republicans start cutting taxes for the wealthy.