Trump styled himself as a populist during his flamboyantly provocative campaign, claiming to hear, understand and channel the working-class Americans so wrongly ignored by other leaders. Sure, he flew in a private jet at an economic altitude far above theirs and lived in ostentatious splendor. He was nonetheless the “blue-collar billionaire,” to quote the oxymoron that some of his surrogates took to using.
There’s a thickening clique of plutocrats around him, as Politico’s Ben White and Matthew Nussbaum noted late last week in an article with the headline “Trump’s Team of Gazillionaires.” They observed that his emerging administration is largely a rich man’s (and woman’s) club, including Betsy DeVos, his nominee for education secretary, whose family is worth an estimated $5.1 billion.
Trump is also considering high-level roles for the “oil mogul Harold Hamm ($15.3 billion), investor Wilbur Ross ($2.9 billion), private equity investor Mitt Romney ($250 million at last count), hedge fund magnate Steve Mnuchin (at least $46 million) and superlawyer Rudy Giuliani (estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars),” according to the Politico article. “And Trump’s likely choice for deputy commerce secretary, Todd Ricketts, comes from the billionaire family that owns the Chicago Cubs.”
That’s hardly the oddest or most unsettling part of the Trump transition, which has been a mesmerizing confirmation of so much about him, including his tendency to turn every aspect of his life into a self-aggrandizing pageant. It’s not enough for him to interview potential cabinet members: There must be photographs and footage of them coming to grovel for his favor, as if each is a courtier and he the king. Where’s the populism there?
And for all his thunderous talk before Election Day about “draining the swamp” of Washington, the water level looks fine, the mosquitoes seem unworried and the gators remain plentiful and well-fed.
Any suggestion that he would put an end to the self-dealing and personal enrichment of political insiders is contradicted by Trump himself, who hasn’t provided any concrete assurances that he won’t use the presidency to elevate his and his children’s fortunes.
Frank Bruni, “The Pretend Populism of Donald Trump”, The New York Times (27 November 2016), SR3.