Our media pay too much attention to the empty promises, cruel threats, and fact-free ruminations of faux populists like Donald Trump, and too little attention to the genuine economic populists who challenge the president and his allies with the logic, insight, and passion that the times require.
Case in point: As another ugly week in Washington concludes, everyone is aware that Trump is giving himself high marks for responding to the crisis in Puerto Rico, that the commander in chief does not get along very well with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, and that the notoriously thin-skinned president and his supporters are still trying to gin up complaints about Hillary Clinton and her 2016 campaign.
But not everyone is aware that the one truly important, and truly meaningful, statement delivered in Washington over the course of the past week did not come from Trump or one of his supporters. It did not come from Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican whose emotional denunciation of the president simply confirmed that the Republicans who wield power in the Congress are never going to break with their party’s president.
The speech that mattered was delivered by Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, and it came during a debate preceding Tuesday’s Senate vote to repeal the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s forced-arbitration rule. In an especially noxious sell-out to banking interests, 50 Republican senators voted to prevent the CFPB from banning most of the “mandatory arbitration clauses” that are slipped into the fine print of agreements that consumers are encouraged to accept when the get a credit card or open a bank account. Those clauses make it difficult for customers who have been mistreated—or ripped off—to organize themselves into a group and sue an offending bank or credit-card company.
The proposed legislation was so indefensible that two Republican senators—Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Kennedy of Louisiana—joined Democrats in opposing it. Only a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence carried the day for the Trump administration and the banking interests.