POLITICS
04/29/2017 07:01 am ET

In 100 Days, Trump Has Found 29 Ways To Screw Regular Americans

This is populism?

President Donald Trump campaigned as a champion of forgotten and downtrodden Americans ― a risible but tried-and-true platform ― but the first 100 days of his presidency have been decidedly un-populist.

Amid Trump’s deluge of unsubstantiated claims and the chaos of his administration, it can be challenging to keep track of what campaign promises he has or hasn’t fulfilled.

So here’s a list of 29 things Trump has done so far that cater to big business at the expense of ordinary Americans:

1. Trump reversed a planned decrease in the cost of mortgage insurance for working- and middle-class homebuyers. Within hours of being sworn in, Trump put a hold on a reduction in the cost of Federal Housing Authority mortgage insurance. The move means 750,000 to 850,000 Americans will face higher costs in the next year alone, according to the National Association of Realtors.

2. He nominated to run the Treasury Department a second-generation Goldman Sachs partner and hedge fund manager who activists say ran a “foreclosure machine.” Steven Mnuchin misled senators by saying the bank he invested in and ran didn’t use illegal robo-signings (documents showed they did) and omitted $100 million in assets from his personal financial disclosure forms. Oh, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development is investigating claims his bank engaged in the racist practice of redlining.

National Economic Director Gary Cohn (left) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin take questions while unveiling the Tru
Carlos Barria / Reuters
National Economic Director Gary Cohn (left) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin take questions while unveiling the Trump administration's tax reform proposal.

3. Mnuchin is painfully under-informed about automation’s potential to decimate labor. In an interview with Axios’ Mike Allen, Mnuchin said he was “not at all” concerned about the potential shocks to the labor market that advances in automation might have, insisting that the timeline for such concerns was “50 or 100 years.”

As The Verge’s Adi Robinson noted, “[a] December report from the White House cited studies that estimate automation will affect between 9 percent and 47 percent of jobs over the next 10 to 20 years.”

4. Trump tried to put a fast-food executive in charge of the Labor Department. After running a campaign focused on the economy’s forgotten workers, Trump plucked the chief executive of the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. burger chains to lead the nation’s top workplace watchdog. While Andrew Puzder ran parent company CKE Restaurants, Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. franchises around the country violated the very labor laws that Puzder would have been expected to enforce. Puzder’s nomination eventually went down in flames ― not due to his company’s labor record, but because of old domestic abuse allegations and because he’d personally employed an undocumented immigrant.

5. Goldman Sachs’ influence in the Trump White House doesn’t end with Mnuchin. Former Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn’s influence in the West Wing has grown considerably in Trump’s first 100 days. Cohn’s developed such a strong hand internally that he is currently thought to be a leading contender for Reince Priebus’ job, should any staff shakeup create the need for a new White House chief of staff. As HuffPost has noted, “Cohn’s appointment as White House chief of staff wouldn’t just be a boon for bank lobbyists seeking lucrative new loopholes. It would be a restoration of finance to the center of American politics.”

6. Goldman Sachs’ influence in the Trump White House doesn’t end with Gary Cohn, either. Trump nominated former Sullivan & Cromwell partner Jay Clayton to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is tasked with making sure the financial sector behaves itself. In the wake of Clayton’s nomination, his old firm carefully trimmed his 800-word biography ― which detailed his adventures helping Wall Street firms navigate the legal terrain in pursuit of mergers, acquisitions and capital market offerings ― down to a more concise 30.

7. Trump named a billionaire investor as an anti-regulation czar. Trump named Carl Icahn as a special adviser on regulation, which is awkward, given the dozens and dozens of regulations that materially affect Ichan’s investments. He is particularly incensed by an EPA renewable fuel rule that applies to an oil refinery in which he owns a stake.

Only one thing can allow a business to transcend the daily brute struggle for survival: monopoly profits. Peter Thiel, "Zero To One"

8. Trump named a huge fan of monopolies to lead the search for anti-trust regulators. Shortly after his inauguration, Trump gave billionaire Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel the go-ahead to lead the search for his administration’s “top antitrust enforcement jobs.” Thiel, who sits on the board of world-devouring platform Facebook, came out as a committed monopolist in his book Zero To One: “Only one thing can allow a business to transcend the daily brute struggle for survival: monopoly profits.”

9. Overall, Trump’s advisers live in an elitist bubble. As the Washington Post’s Philip Bump reported in April, Trump has staffed his White House with a collection of plutocrats who possess a staggering collective wealth: “Financial reports released by the Trump administration indicate that 27 staffers who work for him are worth a combined $2.3 billion thanks to real estate, investments and hefty salaries.” That’s more money than 86 counties’ worth of Trump voters make in a year.

10. Trump moved to kill a rule that forces Wall Street to act in the best interest of Americans saving for retirement. Trump signed a memo that put the fiduciary rule  which requires brokers act in the best interests of folks saving for retirement — on the path to the glue factory. His adviser Cohn likened the move to “freedom,” saying, “This is like putting only healthy food on the menu, because unhealthy food tastes good but you still shouldn’t eat it because you might die younger.”

Not exactly: The rule literally forbade brokers from guiding retirees “into expensive or poor-performing products that carry economic benefits and perks for the advisers and their firms, without disclosing such conflicts of interest.” It’s estimated that consumers lose $17 billion annually to such scams.

11. Trump took aim at post-crisis bank regulation. Trump signed an executive order in February that by itself doesn’t undo Dodd-Frank, but starts a process that could defang Wall Street oversight. Technically, the administration is still in the “just asking questions” phase of financial de-regulation, but Trump has been clear about his intentions, saying that “we expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank.” Trump signed the order after a meeting earlier that day with big-time Wall Street executives, at one point telling JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, “There’s nobody better to tell me about Dodd-Frank than Jamie, so you’re going to tell me about it.”

Trump signed two more executive orders in April asking the Treasury Department to review governmental authority to take over failing financial companies, and to review rules that allow for the regulation of financial companies other than banks as systemically important.

Trump stands next to Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., in the White House on February 3.
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Trump stands next to Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., in the White House on February 3.

12. Trump outlined a budget that’s broadly punitive to Trump’s own voters. The Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson reports Trump’s proposed budget includes cuts that “would disproportionately harm the rural areas and small towns that were key to his unexpected win.”

13. Trump has instigated a trade war that will hit Americans first. The Dallas Morning News reported that Texas cattle ranchers have emerged as the “first casualty” of Trump’s “blundering, blustering trade policy.” Per contributor Richard Parker: “By threatening a trade war with Mexico within days of inauguration, the president helped trigger a slide in cattle futures. Mexico is a major export market. By sinking the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the new administration cut off long-sought access to the Japanese market. Now banks have raised the conditions for collateral for loans for ranchers.”

14. Trump has backed health care proposals with a common theme: subsidize the wealthy while jacking up prices on the poor with shock cost increases. Both Trump-backed Obamacare replacements are broadly redistributive, but not in any discernibly populist direction. Rather, they shift wealth from poorer Americans to wealthier ones and corporations. People earning over a $1 million, in fact, would have “saved an estimated $165 billion in taxes over 10 years.” The tax benefits would be financed through draconian cuts to Medicaid and other health programs for the poor.

15. The plan also features substantial cuts in drug treatment protocols to address the nation’s opioid crisis. As CNN’s Dan Merica reported: “The current version of the Trump-backed Republican health care plan would end the Obamacare requirement that addiction services and mental health treatment be covered under Medicaid in the 31 states that expanded the health care program. The GOP plan would instead leave up to states ― and their budgets ― to decide whether to cover drug treatment and mental health services under Medicaid. That’s a decision advocates say could put the most vulnerable opiate abusers in greater risk, thanks to near-constant pressure on state budgets.”

16. Good news for employers who like stealing from their workers! Trump signed a bill, sent to him by Congress, that repeals the sensible-sounding Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule, put in place by Obama. The rule would have required companies to disclose labor law violations when they bid on federal contracts, so that the government doesn’t steer taxpayer dollars toward companies that cheat or endanger workers. By repealing the rule, Trump did a favor for companies that have a history of wage theft and workplace hazards.  

17. Trump delayed a life-saving protection for construction workers. Earlier this month, Trump put a halt to the most consequential workplace safety reform of the last decade. The so-called silica rule would reduce the amount of cancer-causing dust that companies can legally expose construction workers to. The tighter regulations rolled out last year were 45 years in the making and are projected to save 600 lives per year. But the Trump administration announced a three-month delay to enforcing the rule, drawing applause from the construction industry. Workplace watchdogs now worry the regulations will be watered down or scrapped altogether.

18. Trump made it harder for low-wage workers to save for retirement. The Obama administration took steps to popularize what are known as automatic IRA accounts. These are government-sponsored retirement plans set up for people who don’t have IRA’s through their jobs, i.e., much of the working class and working poor. Even though these plans once enjoyed conservative support, Trump repealed Obama’s executive order that would have made it easier for cities and counties to set up these auto-IRA’s. That surely pleased Wall Street, which doesn’t like how these IRA’s compete with its own offerings.

19. Trump made it easier for employers to hide worker injuries. Earlier this month, Trump loosened the record-keeping requirements for employers in dangerous industries. Instead of having to keep accurate injury records for six years, employers can only be held accountable for the last six months. Occupational health experts say the change will make it easier for companies to sweep injuries under the rug. “This will give license to employers to keep fraudulent records and to willfully violate the law with impunity,” a former OSHA policy adviser told HuffPost.

20. Trump weakened rules on lobbyists working in his administration. Trump signed an executive order that allows lobbyists to join his administration, provided they don’t work for two years on any issue on which they lobbied. (The Obama administration barred anyone who had been registered as a lobbyist in the prior year from joining.)

As a result, someone like Geoffrey Burr, who lobbied the Labor Department in opposition to wages rules and worker safety measures, can work in the Trump administration’s Labor Department.

21. Trump allowed coal companies to dump waste in streams. Trump signed a bill killing the Obama administration’s Stream Protection Rule, which aimed to keep toxic metals out of water supplies in coal country.

22. Trump froze Environmental Protection Agency contracts grants. The Trump team put a temporary halt to funding for routinely contracted work like drinking water testing, ProPublica reported.

23. Trump’s FCC kept the prices sky-high for families who call loved ones in prison. Prison phone calls are absurdly expensive, averaging around $3 for a 15-minute in-state call. Activists have been trying to bring the cost down for years.

In 2015, federal regulators approved a rule that capped charges at 11 cents per minute. The industry sued, and Trump’s new head of the FCC, Ajit Pai, recently announced the agency would not defend the rule in court.

24. The FCC also blocked nine internet service providers from a federal subsidy program for low-income Americans. Pai undid a move that allowed internet service providers to participate in the Lifeline program, which gives a $9.25-per-month credit to households to buy internet service.

25. Trump’s EPA killed a rule to protect people from mercury exposure. The EPA withdrew a rule requiring dentists’ offices to install equipment to dispose of fillings that contain mercury as an alternative to washing them down the drain. Mercury can hurt pregnant women and kids even at low levels.

26. Troubling signs for civil asset forfeiture reform. During a White House meeting with county sheriffs from across the country, Trump offered to help “destroy the career” of Texas state Sen. Juan Hinojosa after one of the sheriffs in attendance complained about Hinojosa’s efforts to curtail the oft-abused practice of civil asset forfeiture.

A CH-46E Sea Knight troop carrier, first used during the Vietnam war, before it takes off from the USS Essex in 201
Cheryl Ravelo / Reuters
A CH-46E Sea Knight troop carrier, first used during the Vietnam war, before it takes off from the USS Essex in 2010.

27. Big military budget build-up has little for the soldiers on the front lines. Trump has planned to funnel taxpayer dollars into the military in a bid to beef up its budget. But as of now, the principal beneficiary of this largesse will continue to be wealthy military contractors and Pentagon elites. As HuffPost’s David Wood reported, very little will trickle down to working-class service members, who typically deploy with “budget leftovers” such as “antiquated rifles, helicopters built for their grandfathers during the Vietnam War and communications gear that is overweight and unreliable.” The men and women who are training to fight in the next war have “weapons that don’t work, trucks that are broken down, [and] combat exercises canceled for lack of money.”

28. Plans are afoot to make it easier for corporations to get out of paying their taxes. Trump signed an executive order this month asking the Treasury Department to look at all Obama-era tax rules. Anything that’s too much of a burden or too complex in the eyes of Secretary Mnuchin could get axed. The main target appears to be rules put in place to cut down on tax inversions, in which an American company acquires a foreign company and relocates abroad to cut down on its U.S. taxes.

29. And now, Trump has proposed a massive tax cut for America’s elites: Just ahead of the (largely arbitrary) “100 Days” deadline, the White House issued a single-page statement of principles that outlines a massive tax cut for America’s richest citizens. In HuffPost’s analysis, the wealthy would benefit from “reducing the tax rate on stocks, bonds and real estate investments; eliminating inheritance taxes for millionaire heirs and heiresses; and bringing down the tax rate on the largest corporations to less than half of what it is now.” According to the Center for Economic Policy and Research, Trump would himself receive a tax break windfall under this plan, to the tune of $65 million.

Appropriately, the punchline of Trump’s faux-populist joke is, “The Aristocrats!”

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