Listen to the ‘alt-media’ and one could be forgiven for thinking four-times bankrupt-come-billionaire, US President-elect Donald Trump, really is going to start draining the swamp.
Much of the corporate media is transfixed by the horrors that await. Other commentators, notably Infowar’s Alex Jones, and Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert of Keiser Report fame, have delighted in America’s exciting new departure.
But events since the 8 November election do little to suggest Trump really will cut the bankers, corporations and special interests down to size.
Far from it. He intends to reduce bank regulation to let Wall Street do its thing, while offering tax cuts that will mainly benefit the rich.
Trump was all for draining the swamp of corruption. Now, it turns out, he’s turned his inauguration into exactly the sort of money-making opportunity that screams shady deals. Anyone who contributes a six-figure sum to his inauguration committee will have special access to the new president.
Making America great again
In fact, rather than representing some uprising for the common man, Trump looks as comfortable among the corporate establishment as any of his predecessors.
Trump has talked their language, such as on bringing the factory jobs back from China and elsewhere. But the process is vague. While he’s abandoning the albeit dodgy free-trade agreements, Trump’s replacing them with the fruits of his deal-making magic.
And here are the two main problems. His policy positions are undefined, and his changeable temperament will take some adapting to.
For instance, does Trump have the nouse to handle globally-interconnected issues? Would he have the sensitivity to handle an implosion of China’s mammoth debt so as to avoid economic catastrophe in today’s debt-saturated world economy? Well, we could soon find out.
And it’s Trump’s core, blue-collar support that will likely suffer most if he gets it wrong. As Greece’s former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis writes:
Trump’s plan for helping those left behind since the 1970s, to the extent that one is discernible, seems to turn on two axes: a domestic stimulus and bilateral deal-making under the threat of tariffs and quotas. But if he plays hardball with China, pushing the Chinese to revalue the renminbi and employing threats of tariffs and the like, he may well end up pricking the bubble of China’s private debt – unleashing a deluge of nasty consequences that would overwhelm any domestic stimulus he introduces.
It’s difficult to find convincing signs of strategy in anything Trump has done. And what he has said cannot be relied upon. In his acceptance speech, he said he would govern for all Americans. There’s no sign of that.
There’s considerable uncertainty as to what his policy pronouncements really mean. After all, draining the swamp didn’t mean what we thought it meant.
For instance, the markets have been excited about Trump borrowing shedloads of money – between $1trn and $2trn – to resuscitate America’s infrastructure. Yet there are doubts that his ‘proposals’ really amount to the stimulus package many hope for.
Even the death of Obamacare, a policy he routinely pilloried during the hustings, is no longer certain after he suggested parts might be retained.
Some, such as Max Keiser, believe this shows Trump really is a pragmatist at heart. In which case, he might abandon policies that make no long-term sense. These include ditching renewables and pulling out of all climate change initiatives and research.
Such a touching faith in Trump’s better nature is not supported by his cabinet nominees. Or, for that matter, the post-truth universe he seems to inhabit. Check out his fact-free comments about winning the popular vote, for instance.
Back to draining the swamp
Even if his own better nature does rise to the fore, his appointees reflect a narrow, right-wing agenda. Here’s Trump’s nominees so far:
- Goldman Sachs veteran Steven Mnuchin as Treasury secretary.
- Combative conspiracy theorist Steve Bannon, executive chairman of the populist right-wing website Breitbart News, as his chief strategist.
- Retired army veteran Lt Gen Michael Flynn, as national security adviser. During the spring, Flynn supported Trump’s proposed ban on all Muslims entering the US.
- Alabama Sen Jeff Sessions, as attorney general. Such is Sessions’ history of contempt for race and civil and voting rights that when Ronald Reagan nominated him for federal judge, the Senate rejected it.
- Betsy DeVos, as education secretary. DeVos is a big advocate of ‘school choice’ – in which scholarships and tax incentives are offered to fund places in non-state schools. Among the many to have attacked the nomination was National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia in The Guardian. She claimed DeVos pushes a “corporate agenda to privatise, de-professionalise and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education”.
- South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, as US ambassador to the United Nations. Haley had been considered a possible secretary of state, but lost her chance when she criticised Trump for his failure to condemn the white supremacy movement.
- Tom Price, an advocate of privatising Medicare and ‘one-man death panel for Obamacare’, as head of Health & Human Services chief.
- Billionaire, turnaround specialist and ‘king of bankruptcy’ Wilbur Ross, as commerce secretary.
- Elaine Chao, as Trump’s transportation secretary. Despite serving as Labor Department head under George W Bush, Chao was no doubt gratified to be labelled Trump’s ‘most normal choice yet’ by vox.com.
The big position that Trump is still to announce is his nominee for State Department.
However, his cordial restaurant meeting with Mitt Romney on Tuesday evening might suggest that the 2012 Republican presidential candidate has the edge over his two main competitors, Sen Bob Corker and the retired, ‘scandal-scarred’ General David Petraeus.
All in all, this looks a robust team, keen to give maximum scope to the go-get-it private sector. But though big government may not be the answer, this most neoliberal of strategies is unlikely to wash, either.
Rather than spreading the prosperity around, neoliberalism has a track-record of increasing inequalities of wealth and power. It’s been popular with US presidents for decades, but many Americans are already on or close to the breadline and need a break.
The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2015 said net wealth of $10 makes you richer than a quarter of Americans. Could Trump be set to attack the safety net that many rely on just to get by? It sounds like we’ll be revisiting the trickle-down effect all over again.
Far from draining the swamp, it looks like the swamp will be in charge. Reassuringly, Trump has said he won’t let Americans “die in the streets” due to poverty, homelessness or hunger. But the real danger is that many of those who voted for him could become much worse off than they are now.
If that comes to pass, then many Americans will feel bitterly betrayed. And, given his affects beyond US shores, they’re unlikely to be alone.