Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Linda McMahon celebrates her in win in the Connecticut primary over Chris Shays in Stamford, Conn., Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012.
Jessica Hill / AP

After chiding the ‘elite,’ Team Trump adds another multimillionaire

At a post-election forum in D.C. recently, Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, emphasized one of her key political observations: the 2016 campaign was a rejection of the “elites.” In fact, she said her own Republican Party was “veering dangerously close to being the party of the elites” until Trump campaign along – a point she’s repeated in other interviews.

Even in the new Time cover story naming Trump “Person of the Year,” Conway argued, “You cannot underestimate the role of the backlash against political correctness – the us vs. the elite.”

Soon after the article reached the public, Team Trump made a new personnel announcement.
Donald Trump has picked Linda McMahon, co-founder of pro wrestling company WWE, to lead his Small Business Administration, his transition team said Wednesday.

The 68-year-old McMahon was a major Trump backer during his campaign…. The publicly-traded WWE, which McMahon and husband Vince founded more than 30 years ago, has a market value of about $1.5 billion.
McMahon wasn’t just a generous donor to Trump’s campaign; she and her husband were also the nation’s largest outside donors to the controversial Trump Foundation, which has already admitted to breaking a couple of laws in recent years.

She joins an incredibly wealthy team of Republican officials. Donald Trump, himself a billionaire celebrity, has now chosen several billionaires and multimillionaires for top posts in the upcoming administration.

The Washington Post recently added a striking observation: “When George W. Bush assembled his first Cabinet in 2001, news reports dubbed them a team of millionaires, and government watchdogs questioned whether they were out of touch with most Americans’ problems. Combined, that group had an inflation-adjusted net worth of about $250 million – which is roughly one-tenth the wealth of Donald Trump’s nominee for commerce secretary alone.”

What a relief it is to know Republicans are no longer “the party of the elites.”

Part of the problem, of course, is that when Trump and Conway condemn the “elites,” they’re not using a definition of the word found in any dictionary. A billionaire celebrity gets elected, he recruits billionaires and multimillionaires to help lead his administration, and together they advance a policy agenda intended to benefit other billionaires and multimillionaires? None of this, according to Trump World, is evidence of elitism.

On the contrary, they consider it “populism.”

To understand why, look again at the quote Conway gave to Time magazine: “You cannot underestimate the role of the backlash against political correctness – the us vs. the elite.”

In Trump World, the “elite” care about niceties such as diversity and multiculturalism. The “elite” place a high value on annoyances like the Geneva Conventions and arithmetic. The “elite” were bothered by Trump’s comments about sexually assaulting women, mocking those with physical disabilities, condemning immigrants, and denigrating veterans and their families.

The “elite” might take your hard-earned tax dollars and give to those other people who don’t really deserve it and certainly haven’t earned it. The “elite” may or may not include billionaire celebrities – it depends entirely on their political perspective.

For most of us, a fight pitting elitism against populism is about wealth and distribution of resources. When far-right billionaires push an agenda of tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation of Wall Street, and gutting families’ health security, it’s elitism. When policymakers fight for proposals that advance the interests of working people, it’s populism.

For Trump and his team, all of this is backwards. The conflict between elitism against populism is about attitude. Forget policies and their effects, the Republican team tells us, and focus instead on tone and style. The president-elect likes to present himself as a champion of regular people who’ve been ignored by the elites, and whether or not that makes substantive sense is unimportant.

And so, Donald Trump continues to build a team of the wealthy for the wealthy, all while celebrating every news article that touts their “populist revolt.” Adjust your dictionaries accordingly.