In his first 70 days in office, President Donald Trump is shedding his most popular, populist economic promises with the ease of a confidence man.
After all of Trump’s bold talk on trade, his new commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, suggested that the administration’s promised renegotiation of NAFTA will be based on the concessions that Canada and Mexico had already made to President Obama in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. On health care, Trump discarded his promises of “health insurance for everybody” with lower costs and much better care. Instead, he embraced House Speaker Paul Ryan’s bill, which featured tax cuts for the wealthy paid for by depriving millions of coverage.
Trump promised to “drain the swamp,” but he has turned his economic policy over to Goldman Sachs alums and packed his White House staff with lobbyists and cronies stained by corruptions and conflicts of interest. His proposed budget slashes domestic programs vital to his own voters’ interests in order to lard the US military with more money. Meanwhile, his popular criticism of regime change and endless wars in the Middle East has given way to continued escalation that will push the United States deeper into that region’s chaos.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently skewered Trump for “wimping out” on trade. According to Krugman, this was because Trump “had no idea what he was talking about” and is now discovering that the “deals aren’t all that unfair” and that trade is “deeply embedded in our economy.” But this argument is wanting—it lets Trump off the hook by saying he’s simply incompetent.
In fact, this is a more fundamental betrayal of core values. Trump doesn’t truly want to renegotiate trade deals—either because he never really cared about them except as a talking point, or because he doesn’t want to upset the powerful corporate interests that benefit from them, or both. Progressives need to repeatedly expose these betrayals, not simply the gross stupidity and incompetence.