I did a search on Google this morning for "Trump" and "populist." There were over 10 million
results, and that total was a little less than I'd expected. Not long after Donald Trump launched his presidential candidacy, Americans have been told repeatedly that the Republican was leading a "populist revolt" within the GOP, pushing back against a stagnant, atrophied elite. Trump and populism started to become synonymous in the minds of many pundits.But as we're quickly learning, there's more than one kind of populism. I tend to think of the broader dynamic as one that pits rhetorical
populism against actual
populism.The president-elect has effectively cornered the market on the former. Rhetorically, Trump is A Man of the People, railing against the established order. The elites have run roughshod over the interests of everyday Americans for too long, the billionaire celebrity told voters, and it was time the electorate overturn the corrupt system by electing Donald J. Trump, a champion of those overlooked taxpayers who've been left behind.Trump, in other words, has a populist style
. He adopted a populist tone
. The more Trump railed against the elites, the more the media characterized him as a populist, and the more his fans swooned.But then there's actual populism, which is based on policies and proposals that advance the interests of working people. Real populists may struggle at times with style and tone, but they nevertheless fight for opportunities for those without, not those who are already members of the elite.And if you mistook Trump as someone who believes in actual populism, I'm afraid he fooled you
President-elect Donald J. Trump, who campaigned against the corrupt power of special interests, is filling his transition team with some of the very sort of people who he has complained have too much clout in Washington: corporate consultants and lobbyists. [...]Mr. Trump was swept to power in large part by white working-class voters who responded to his vow to restore the voices of forgotten people, ones drowned out by big business and Wall Street. But in his transition to power, some of the most prominent voices will be those of advisers who come from the same industries for which they are being asked to help set the regulatory groundwork.
In August 2015, Trump told NBC's Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press" that he's tired of
everybody in Washington "being controlled by the special interests and the lobbyists."Oops
The stunning surprise of [Trump's] election, and the political chaos it created, is a boon for Washington's lobbying corridor known as K Street. Corporate America is both excited and anxious about the prospect of Mr. Trump's presidency, seeing great opportunity to shape the agenda after an extended period of frustration over gridlock in Congress. [...]Across Washington, lobbyists and trade association executives were busy reviewing their priorities, which include repealing financial regulations instituted during the Obama administration, pushing for cuts in corporate taxes, overhauling President Obama's signature health care plan and spending billions on roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
Yes, Trump-brand populism means making things easier
for Wall Street and the financial industry, giving tax cuts to the wealthy
, and taking health benefits away from working families, all while empowering corporate lobbyists, many of whom are already helping lead his transition team.And why in the world would any sane person consider this "populism"? Because Trump will say
he's a people's champion, even while pursuing policies that benefit the elites he claims to abhor, and much of the political world will simply go along.