President Donald Trump’s inaugural address was fiery and nationalistic, a considerable departure from the traditional Republican Party embrace of the free market and an activist foreign policy. Trump talked of an “America First” policy and vowed that “January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”
But Trump’s words on the steps of the Capitol bore little resemblance to the reality of the administration he is building.
It’s hard to argue with Trump’s assessment that “the establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs.”
But that establishment will be in full force in the Trump administration. The megabank Goldman Sachs, famously close to Trump’s opponents in the Democratic Party, has six alumni posed for key posts in his administration, including his treasury secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin.
Trump spoke of “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation,” but Mnuchin built a fortune off of helming banks that misled borrowers and foreclosed on their homes.
One of Trump and Mnuchin’s few explicit policy priorities is to slash taxes for corporations that have stashed money overseas, so that they will repatriate their profits to the United States. On the surface, this is to encourage businesses to invest in American jobs. But corporations are already telling their investors that they’d rather use this windfall to increase dividends and mergers, not hire more Americans.
The president also complained that the United States has “subsidized the armies of other countries,” but his nominee for Secretary of State, former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, wants to continue to help Saudi Arabia bomb the impoverished nation of Yemen.
“When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice,” the president told the millions who tuned into his remarks. But that isn’t the point of view of his CIA nominee, Mike Pompeo, who has depicted the war on terror as a struggle between Islam and Christianity, or his national security adviser Mike Flynn, who has referred to Islamism as a “cancer” in the body of the world’s Muslims.
Americans do in fact want “great schools for their children,” as Trump advised, but his nominee to lead the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, hasn’t spent a day working in a public school. Instead, she’s an heiress who inherited billions through marriage and inheritance while waiving away Bernie Sanders’s plan for tuition-free public college for all by invoking the proverb that “nothing in life is free.”
Trump was correct when he said that “for too long, a small group in our Nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished – but the people did not share in its wealth.”
But he cannot ameliorate that problem while tapping Washington’s elite for jobs. His nominee for secretary of transportation, Elaine Chao, is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — and as a former Wells Fargo board member, she will receive a golden parachute of up to $5 million from the bank if she is confirmed.
The president used his concluding words to promise to listen to all Americans:
So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words: You will never be ignored again. Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams, will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way.
But with a cabinet whose combined net worth is greater than that of a third of America combined, it’s likely that many, many Americans will continue to be ignored.