Donald Trump is campaigning for a second term by portraying himself, once again, as the consummate outsider battling against the corrupt forces of privilege and power in Washington. To hear Trump’s distorted version of reality, he’s fighting for the regular folks out there in the American hinterland who feel they’ve been forgotten by the fat cats who rule the nation’s capital.
During his 2020 campaign launch in Orlando on June 18, Trump recalled how he rallied those regular folks starting in 2015: “It turned out to be a great political movement because of you. A great movement. A movement made up of hard-working patriots who love their country, love their flag, love their children, and who believe that a nation must care for its own citizens first. Together, we stared down a corrupt and broken political establishment and we restored government of, by, and for the people.”
Trump’s biggest fear is that his base might stop buying his bluster and actually scrutinize his record. Rather than staring down a corrupt and broken political establishment, he reinforced it. Rather than drain the Washington swamp, Trump has replenished and rejuvenated it.
When he launched his first campaign in 2015, Trump declared: “Our country is in serious trouble.” Washington politicians “will never make America great again. They don’t even have a chance. They’re controlled fully — they’re controlled fully by the lobbyists, by the donors, and by the special interests, fully.”
Trump acknowledged that he, too, had employed lobbyists. “They’re great,” he said, but under his watch, the lobbyists wouldn’t rule the way they had in the past. “It won’t happen. Because we have to stop doing things for some people, but for this country.” Political domination by lobbyists is “destroying our country. We have to stop, and it has to stop now.”
How did Trump stop it? He placed 164 former lobbyists in positions of extraordinary power and influence in his administration. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 40 current lobbyists are working as advisers in various Trump administration offices, while 18 former Trump staffers have left their jobs to become lobbyists.
A list compiled by Opensecrets.org suggests that a revolving-door policy exists between lobbyists and the man who pledged to end that system. Perhaps Trump forgot his “It won’t happen” pledge when he named Andrew Wheeler to head the Environmental Protection Agency despite the nine years Wheeler spent lobbying on behalf of coal interests immediately before joining EPA. Wheeler’s predecessor, Scott Pruitt, was forced out of office amid fat cat ethics scandals.
Coal industry billionaire Wilbur Ross, the ultimate fat cat, became Trump’s commerce secretary. Trump’s first secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke, previously served as lawyer and adviser to billionaire industrialist Charles Koch. One former lobbyist and lawyer with the American Petroleum Institute now works at the Environmental Protection Agency. At the Interior Department sits a National Rifle Association lobbyist. The Federal Aviation Administration is led by Dan Elwell, a former lobbyist for American Airlines.
Back in 2015, as Trump was berating then-President Barack Obama on a daily basis, he portrayed Obama as a spendthrift more concerned with playing golf than serving the American people. Yet, according to Trumpgolfcount.com, the current president has cost taxpayers an estimated $104 million on golf excursions, including more than 90 trips to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. He spent 188 days playing golf during his first 2½ years in office compared with 76 during the same period for Obama.
So how have those regular folks fared with Trump fighting for them? Trump’s trade wars against China and other countries have helped decimate farming incomes. Farmers aren’t exactly overjoyed. “He said he’s going to straighten these tariffs out, didn’t he? Well it’s put up or get out, you know?” South Dakota farmer Ray Martinmaas told The Washington Post in late May. “If he wants to get reelected he’s going to have to take care of farmers, and we still have to end the trade wars, and by ending them I mean in our favor more so than less so.”
Remember all of his visits to factories in Michigan and Ohio, and his pledges to bring back American manufacturing jobs? Trump carried Michigan on that promise in 2016. Yet, according to employment data compiled by the Brookings Institution, the major Michigan manufacturing counties that carried Trump to victory saw employment declines of around 9% from the time Trump took office until last December. Poll results in Michigan show Trump’s approval ratings in the range of 32 percent — 11 points behind former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic frontrunner.
In Trump’s first 28 months in office, nationwide manufacturing jobs have increased by 471,000. That’s nice, but in Obama’s first 28 months, he added 525,000 jobs. Under Trump, the increase in wages for manufacturing jobs has lagged substantially behind overall wages for American laborers. American industrial output is currently declining under Trump.
In 2016, the trade deficit was $502 billion. By the end of April this year under Trump’s watch, the trade deficit was headed toward a nearly $620 billion annualized rate.
He promised to kick out the lobbyists, yet they now dominate his administration. He pledged to help farmers, then helped drive them to the brink of bankruptcy. His pledge to revive manufacturing jobs yielded the opposite.
No wonder Trump is doing all he can to turn the nation’s attention toward the border and Iran. The last thing he wants is for those regular folks to start matching his empty promises against their reality.