Tuesday night, President Trump will give his first State of the Union address, a ritual designed to make even the self-proclaimed "stable genius" look presidential. His speech will celebrate his first year, likely boasting about successes — economic growth, higher wages, victories against the Islamic State — that in fact began under President Barack Obama. Most striking, however, will be the contrast between the accomplishments he will tout in this speech and the populist promises he made in his campaign and inaugural address.
On Inauguration Day, Trump indicted the Washington establishment: "For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. . . . Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs." This, he promised, would change, because "what truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people."
Has there ever been a promise so completely dishonored in one year?
Instead of a government "controlled by the people," Trump created a government, as he put it in Davos, that is "open for business." New tax cuts favor the rich and the big corporations, with the president boasting to his cronies at Mar-a-Lago that he has made them "a lot richer." His much-touted deregulatory agenda consists largely of payoffs to corporate lobbies and donors. In department after department, his appointees rely on lobbyists to draft legislation and regulations.
In his inaugural speech, Trump pledged, "Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families." Instead, his administration acted directly to harm workers. In reversing an Obama-era order that broadened eligibility for overtime pay, he deprived millions of workers of billions of dollars. He robbed billions from restaurant, hotel and other tipped workers by giving companies the right to decide the allocation of tips. He empowered retirement account advisers to bilk workers by removing the requirement that they act in the best interest of their clients. He has gutted agencies that protect workers' rights and safety, safeguard consumers against predatory financial interests and care for environmental and public health.
While Trump's efforts to repeal Obamacare were foiled, his continued attempts to sabotage the health-care law are already raising costs for more and more Americans, and his executive orders allowing work requirements for Medicaid will strip some of the most vulnerable of access to the health care they need. He has done nothing to address the opioid crisis that he once decried, even as deaths from overdoses in 2016 exceeded all combat deaths in the Vietnam War. His Office of National Drug Control Policy was initially run in part by a 24-year-old former campaign aide; he named Kellyanne Conway, part of his public relations team, leader of the White House's response to opioids.
The president who promised to be on the side of working people instead lined up with those who rig the rules against them. When he promised to "drain the swamp," he apparently meant — as Consumer Financial Protection Bureau head Mick Mulvaney explained — to drain the government of civil servants, who protect citizens from corporate abuses.
Lastly, Trump's harsh indictment of the establishment last year extended to foreign policy: "For many decades, we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries, while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We've defended other nations' borders while refusing to defend our own."
In office, he has sustained the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, committed to keeping troops in Syria indefinitely, expanded drone bombings and sent lethal arms to Ukraine while gearing up for a new Cold War with China and Russia. For all his bluster on fair trade, the trade deficit with China grew worse last year, not better. Meanwhile, his administration has catastrophically failed to defend U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico savaged by a hurricane. And Trump's abandonment of the global fight against climate change will hurt millions of Americans.
The president's celebration Tuesday night is a betrayal. His triumphs have been the triumphs of the 1 percent, and of favored industries and corporations. His victories have not been victories for the American people he claimed to represent. Campaign contributions from grateful corporations and billionaires will no doubt buoy Republicans. But neither Madison Avenue nor big money can hide the reality. America will grow more unequal under Trump, and the "forgotten Americans" that he pledged to serve have been betrayed once again.
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