In a campaign commercial that ran just before the election, Donald J. Trump's voice boomed over a series of Wall Street images. He described "a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth, and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations."The New York Stock Exchange, the hedge fund billionaire George Soros and the chief executive of the investment bank Goldman Sachs flashed across the screen.Now Mr. Trump has named a former Goldman executive and co-investor with Mr. Soros to spearhead his economic policy.
Americans who believed Donald Trump's populist-sounding campaign posturing received a wake-up call this week.
It's not just Steven Mnuchin's Treasury nomination, of course. Trump, abandoning his "drain the swamp" vows, has chosen a series of billionaires, insiders, and powerful corporate-board members for his administration, giving them key posts.The New York Times report added, "While that approach has been cheered by investors (the stocks of Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have been on a tear since the election), it stands in stark contrast to the populist campaign that Mr. Trump ran and the support he received from working-class voters across the country."Bloomberg Politics spoke to hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson, who said of Trump's working-class voters, "I think Donald Trump conned them. I worried that he was going to do crazy things that would blow the system up. So the fact that he's appointing people from within the system is a good thing."But this got me thinking about the exact nature of Trump's "con."The fact remains that Trump, as a candidate, was always a bit of a contradiction. On the one hand, Americans saw a Republican who spoke in populist tones, vowing to take on Wall Street and serve as The People's champion. The elites have run roughshod over the interests of everyday Americans for too long, Trump told voters, and it was time the electorate overturn the corrupt system by electing Donald J. Trump.On the other hand, looking past the hollow rhetoric, Americans also saw a billionaire celebrity who presented voters with some relatively specific policy proposals: massive tax breaks for the very wealthy, deregulation of Wall Street, gutting the federal health care law without regard for the consequences for working-class families, and even partial privatization of public schools through a new national voucher scheme.As president-elect, in other words, Trump is obviously moving forward with an aggressively anti-populist agenda and cabinet, but it doesn't come as a complete surprise. As a candidate, the suspected con artist let us know this was coming.The problem is many voters believed the posturing and the absurd chest thumping, while paying no attention at all to what Trump was actually proposing. We knew Steven Mnuchin was slated to be his Treasury Secretary, for example, as far back as mid-July.Sure, on the stump, Trump vowed to rein in Wall Street. But simultaneously, he also promised to take a sledgehammer to safeguards that ensure financial industry accountability and surround himself with allies who ran a foreclosure machine.Voters who were swept up in Trump's ridiculous rhetoric forgot to read the fine print.