The tectonic plates of American politics are no longer moving along the old fault lines of “left vs. right” or even Democrat versus Republican.
As we’ve seen this bizarre political year, the biggest force welling up is rage against insider elites in both parties and against the American establishment as a whole — including the denizens of Wall Street, large corporations and the mainstream media.
Now, with Bernie Sanders essentially out of the race, Donald Trump wants Americans to believe he’s the remaining anti-establishment candidate.
It’s smart politics, but it’s a hoax.
Trump is even more of an establishment figure than Hillary Clinton — inheriting a fortune from his father, spending years bribing politicians to subsidize his hotels and casinos, and repeatedly using bankruptcy to shield his money while leaving creditors and workers holding the bag.
But Trump is also a brilliant huckster who knows his mark.
“There is one thing that Bernie Sanders and I are in complete accord with and that’s trade,” Trump said last week. “(Sanders) said we’re being ripped off, and I say with being ripped off. I’ve been saying it for years. … Globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very wealthy. But it has left millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache.”
By putting opposition to trade at the center of his economic agenda, Trump gets a twofer — landing blows against big American corporations and Wall Street, and also against the Clintons. (He traces America’s economic problems to the North American Free Trade Agreement that Bill Clinton signed in 1993 and to the entry of China into the World Trade Organization, which Bill Clinton supported, and says Hillary Clinton “voted for virtually every trade agreement.”)
It’s pure demagoguery. Trade isn’t to blame for the declining wages and job security of most Americans.
Trump’s faux populism extends to “powerful corporations, media elites and powerful dynasties,” who, he said last week in Pennsylvania, again echoing Sanders, have “rigged the system for their benefit (and) will do anything and say anything to keep things exactly as they are.”
Unwittingly, the GOP establishment seems intent on proving Trump’s point. Mitt Romney condemns him, conservative media pundit George Will is deserting the Republican Party because of him, big business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers blast him.
“It’s almost, in some ways, like I’m running against two parties,” Trump crowed recently. He has also said, “The people who rigged the system are supporting Hillary Clinton.”
It’s all an act. The real Donald Trump thinks U.S. wages are too high and has fought against the unionization of his hotel employees.
His businesses outsource abroad like mad. Most of the suits, ties and cufflinks he peddles are made in China. His luxury line of furniture comes from Turkey. The crystal for his Trump Home line is produced in Slovenia.
And the real Trump is on the side of the super-wealthy. He proposes to cut taxes on the rich from 39.6 percent to 25 percent, and to reduce taxes on all business income to 15 percent (thereby slashing the top tax rate of hedge fund and private-equity managers from the current 23.8 percent).
The real Trump isn’t a populist. He’s a plutocrat. Above all, he’s a con man.