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Opinion Hey, deplorables: Trump and his advisers are laughing in your faces

President Trump says the GOP tax plan is a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to lower taxes on the middle class and businesses. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)
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The term “deplorables” survives today in our political lexicon as a kind of sarcastic badge of honor that President Trump’s supporters pin on themselves. When self-applied by the likes of Stephen K. Bannon, it serves as a device to feed the narrative that liberal elite criticism of Trump — including the argument that he is scamming his own voters — signifies nothing but cultural contempt for Trump’s America. Trump supporters won’t let supercilious liberal disdain weaken their conviction that Trump is the one who is really on their side, dammit!

But a host of new developments underscore with fresh clarity that if anyone views Trump supporters with profound contempt, it’s Trump and his advisers — and that liberals are right to point out that he is actively trying to fleece them. Consider:

  • Trump’s new tax plan eliminates the estate tax, which he has justified by claiming that it would help “millions of small businesses and the American farmer.” That’s a paean to his small-business and rural base. But as the Post fact-checking team points out, this is absurd: Because only the very top estates get targeted, a mere 80 such estates that would get hit by the tax in 2017 count as small businesses and farms. However, Trump’s family would benefit bigly, because his estimated net worth is in the billions. As Roberton Williams of the Tax Policy Center puts it, Trump might not personally gain from estate tax repeal, because “he’ll be dead. But his heirs will.”
  • Trump’s new tax plan eliminates the alternative minimum tax. As Linda Qiu explains, this “largely impacts people making between $200,000 and $1 million. Without this tax, Mr. Trump would have paid $31 million less in taxes in 2005, according to his tax return that year, which was disclosed on the ‘Rachel Maddow Show’ in March.”
  • The mere fact that Trump would benefit from his tax plan does not itself mean he is scamming his supporters. Rather, the key here is that Trump is lying to them about this point. Trump says this about his plan: “It’s not good for me, believe me.” But not only would he benefit, Trump also still won’t release his tax returns, which would actually allow us to evaluate how his plan would affect him and his family. Trump doesn’t want his voters (or any voters) to be able to do this. Trump is simply assuming that his voters will believe him (or he doesn’t care whether they do or not), even though he’s lying to them.
  • Trump claims his tax plan will not benefit “the wealthy and well-connected” and will protect “low-income and middle-income households.” But a new analysis by the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities undercuts both claims. Trump’s plan would also lower the top marginal income tax rate from 39.6 to 35 percent, lower the rate on “pass-through” businesses to 25 percent and cut the corporate rate from 35 to 20 percent. The CBPP analysis concludes that 50 percent of the net tax cuts in his plan’s framework would go to the top 1 percent of earners and that the impact on middle-class families would negligible at best. It’s possible that if the plan ends a bunch of deductions, top earners might not fare so well. But the CBPP analysis makes a key point: Trump’s plan is very specific about how it would benefit top earners and corporations and very vague and nonspecific about how it would help lower-income earners. Trump’s empty promise to his working- and middle-class supporters is being used to sell tax cuts that will likely shower large benefits on the wealthy — himself included.
  • Trump is sabotaging Obamacare in new ways that will likely hurt untold numbers of his voters. BuzzFeed reports that the Department of Health and Human Services is pulling out of events in states that are designed to encourage enrollment on the exchanges. This comes after HHS slashed its budget for advertising for open enrollment, and even as Trump continues to refuse to say whether “cost-sharing reductions” will continue, which is fomenting uncertainty that is helping spike premiums and destabilizing the marketplace. Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation tells me this could harm Trump voters in indeterminate numbers. “We know that many elements of the Trump constituency are low-income people who rely on the marketplace for insurance,” Levitt emailed.
  • The Trump administration’s sabotage of the Affordable Care Act shows contempt for his supporters in another way. In its statement justifying the latest pullout from enrollment events, HHS did not even attempt to offer an actual policy rationale for the move — there is none — and instead lied robotically about how Obamacare “continues to collapse.” But the Trump administration’s actions are encouraging chaos in that direction. Trump supporters don’t want this, however. A recent Kaiser poll found that 51 percent of Trump supporters want the administration to do what it can to make the law work. But Team Trump is not just doing the opposite without any rationale for it, they are also actively misleading his supporters about their own actions by falsely blaming the chaos they cause on the law itself.

The point here is not that this should reflect badly on Trump supporters. They of course may disagree that all these things operate against their interests, or they may have plenty of other reasons to continue backing him anyway. Rather, the point is that the arguments that Trump and his administration are making to them on all these fronts are not being made in good faith, as if Trump believes his own supporters can be lied to or betrayed with great ease. Never mind whether they’re “deplorables” — Trump himself is treating them like a bunch of suckers.

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* TWITTER COMES UNDER SCRUTINY: Twitter executives will testify before Congress on Thursday about its role in Russian efforts to spread chaos via social media in 2016, and the New York Times notes:

There is evidence that Twitter may have been used even more extensively than Facebook in the Russian influence campaign last year. In addition to Russia-linked Twitter accounts that posed as Americans, the platform was also used for large-scale automated messaging, using “bot” accounts to spread false stories and promote news articles about emails from Democratic operatives that had been obtained by Russian hackers.

Also note this from Adam Schiff, ranking Dem on the House Intelligence Committee: “I think right now the public is aware of only a subset of a subset of Russian activity online.”

* REPUBLICANS FEAR THEIR POLITICAL STORM IS GROWING: The Post sums up the atmosphere among Republicans right now, in the wake of religious-right extremist Roy Moore’s victory and Sen. Bob Corker’s (Tenn.) retirement:

Congressional Republicans … stewed over their own fates, anxious that Moore, a former state Supreme Court judge, would become a national burden for the party because of the long list of incendiary comments he has made on race, religion and sexuality.  Hushed talk of retirements dominated conversations on Capitol Hill … with Republican lawmakers wondering whether they could survive a GOP political storm that only seems to be growing.

Another thing that will likely make this political storm get worse is that more primary challengers will be emboldened by Moore’s victory.

* BANNON THREATENS MORE PRIMARY CHALLENGES: The Post also reports that former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon is seizing on Moore’s win to encourage more such challenges:

Bannon, who backed Moore and introduced him at his victory party, encouraged conservative outsiders in Mississippi and other states to move closer to launching Senate bids, one person close to him said. “There’s a big lesson here: Stick to the program,” Bannon said Wednesday on Breitbart News’s Sirius XM radio show. “There’s a lesson, stick to the program, your base will be there, and you’ll grow your base.”

How does Moore represent the Trump “program”? Well, it’s true that Moore is a lawless bigot. Is that the Trump program to which Bannon was referring?

* TRUMP IS SELLING HIS TAX PLAN WITH LOTS OF LIES: Trump gave a speech Wednesday pitching his new tax cut plan, and Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee debunk a bunch of his lies. As noted above, the best one is that nixing the estate tax will help “millions of small businesses”:

The president’s suggestion that “millions” of small businesses and farms are affected by the estate tax is absurd. According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, only about 5,500 estates in 2017 — out of nearly 3 million estates — would have to pay any taxes. About half of estates subject to the tax would pay an average tax of about 9 percent. That’s because for a married couple, about $11 million is exempt from taxation. Only 80 — that’s right, 80 — of taxable estates would be farms and small businesses.

The Tax Policy Center notes: “Over two-thirds of these taxable estates will come from the top 10 percent of income earners and close to one-fourth will come from the top 1 percent alone.”

* A HISTORY LESSON ON TRUMP’S TAX PLAN: Binyamin Appelbaum has a terrific piece comparing the historical moment around Trump’s massive proposed tax cuts for the rich to that of Ronald Reagan’s in 1981 and George W. Bush’s in 2001:

At the time of the earlier cuts, the federal debt was considerably smaller. The public portion of the debt equaled 24 percent of the gross domestic product in 1981, and 31 percent in 2001. In June, the debt equaled 75 percent of economic output. The Trump administration insists that its tax cut will catalyze such an economic boom that money will flow into the federal coffers and the debt will not rise. The Reagan and Bush administrations made similar claims. The debt soared in both instances.

It is often rightly pointed out that Republicans don’t care about the debt when a Republican is president. It turns out this is even more true in Trump’s case.

* THE CASE FOR INVESTING IN ALABAMA: E.J. Dionne Jr. explains why national Democrats should seriously consider investing heavily in Doug Jones, the Dem candidate in the Alabama Senate race against Moore:

Advocates of a major undertaking on behalf of Jones see this as precisely why taking on Moore would be worth the gamble. Jones could do in Alabama this year what Republican Scott Brown did in a 2010 special election in Massachusetts: demonstrate the dominant party’s vulnerability going into the midterm elections by capturing a Senate seat far inside opposition territory. A Jones win would also cut the Republicans’ already tough-to-manage Senate majority to a bare 51 seats.

Obviously Moore is the heavy favorite in a state that Trump carried by nearly 30 points. But a Republican win in a Senate race in Massachusetts also seemed highly improbable, didn’t it?

* AND A MAJORITY SAYS CLIMATE CHANGE EXACERBATES HURRICANES: A new Post/ABC poll finds that 55 percent of Americans now say climate change helped exacerbate recent hurricanes, up from 39 percent 12 years ago. Fifty-six percent of independents agree. But:

By contrast, attitudes among Republicans have hardly changed over the same period. About 72 percent currently say that the severity of recent storms was merely the result of the kind of intense weather events that materialize periodically. In 2005, 70 percent had that view.

Only 23 percent of Republicans agree that climate change is increasing the severity of hurricanes. Trump telling Republicans that climate change is a “hoax” probably doesn’t help matters, of course.