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Andrew Buncombe: Dark irony of sorts
December 23, 2017
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Even the most loyal supporter of Donald Trump would struggle to say his presidency got off to a flying start.

Before he was out of the starting gates, his much-hyped Muslim travel ban was struck down by the courts, his national security adviser was forced to resign after lying about meeting Russian officials and his first attempt to scrap Obamacare crashed and burned in an embarrassing farce.

At the symbolic 100-day mark, that golden point where presidents typically expect to be making hay, Trump had little to show for his labour.

He is ending 2017 very differently. Despite the chaos and rancour, the law approval ratings and the constant tweeting, he has quietly delivered on many of the promises he made to his supporters.

In addition to the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, he has rolled back Obama-era regulations on the environment, dug in his heels on refusing to join the Paris Accord, finally got through a version of his travel ban and now, in a move that pleased him so much that he tweeted his joy at 1am, the Senate passed a sweeping tax bill unmatched in its scale and ambition for decades. For conservative Christians, he also recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

As Mike Allen of news website Axios wrote: “You might not like his words or actions. But measured in terms of what Republican voters want and expected, he’s winning on consequential and lasting fronts.”

But there is a dark irony to much of this. While Trump may be forgiven for gloating over his success, the truth is the majority of the core of supporters who approve of his actions will benefit very little from any of them. Indeed, many may find themselves much worse off.

The tax bill is a case in point. While Democrats and Republicans argue over which Americans will benefit, an analysis by the non-partisan Tax Policy Centre suggested almost three-quarters of the savings would go to the top 20 per cent of earners – those making more than 149,000. More than half of the savings would go to the top one per cent, that gilded group of folk who pocket more than $732,800.

Meanwhile, the bill will cut corporate tax from 35 per cent to 20 per cent, an overall likely saving to US businesses of almost $2 trillion over the next decade.

As the New York Times says, with such money, comes additional political power. “As a smaller and smaller group of people cornered an ever-larger share of the nation’s wealth, so too did they gain an ever-larger share of political power,” it wrote. “They became, in effect, kingmakers; the tax bill is a natural consequence of their long effort to bend American politics to serve their interests.”

Likewise, the Republican proposal to replace Obamacare would similarly hurt the poor. A report by the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Centre and Brookings Tax Policy Centre, found families making less than $75,000 a year would end up losing money, on average, because they are the ones who today get coverage from Medicaid or rely most on tax credits.

Among the individuals and families with incomes of $10,000 to $20,000 a year, the average loss would equal roughly 13 per cent. Among the very poorest, the ones making even less than $10,000 a year, the average loss would be equal to 61 per of annual income.

The phenomenon of people voting against their own interests is nothing new. But Trump’s pitch to voters was that he would be utterly different. He was ready to shake up the Washington elites and put out the noses of industry lobbyists. He’d build a wall to keep out Mexicans who he claimed were stealing the jobs of ordinary Americans.

The billionaire’s claim to be a champion of the downtrodden always looked like a fantasy, as did his claim about the impact of migrant labour. But there were enough people, desperate and angry, and who felt the benefits of a global economy had passed them by, who were willing to roll the dice for him. (There were also lots of ideological Republicans who voted for him because they gambled he’d help deliver the tax cut they so coveted.)

Among the communities that voted most strongly for Trump in the Republican primary was Virginia’s Buchanan County, a rural community that once made good money from mining but which had since fallen on hard times. It was also, per capita, the most ill county in the nation.

“I will vote for Trump,” Jeanette Matney, 46, whose husband once had a job in a coal mine she said paid $10,000 a month, told The Independent shortly before the election. After being unemployed for a year, he had a job as a correctional officer she said paid $1,700. “When you lose that sort of money, you live on a budget, you send things back. You go to the grocery store and only get the things you need.”

For all of Trump’s talk of being ready to upset powerful interests, he has pandered to them. Earlier this month, his Department of the Interior announced it was opening up two national parks in Utah, considered sacred by indigenous people, to mining exploration. His other rolling back of environmental standards, was described by one environmentalist as “an industry wish-list”.

The tax cut that House Speaker Paul Ryan is beside himself with joy about, was nothing but hardcore Republican orthodoxy. It’s also likely to personally benefit Trump, but since he does not release his tax returns, we can’t be sure.

Will Trump’s supporters have some sudden awakening? Will they come to see that amid all the talk of making America great again, their president has done very little for them? Probably not.

“American politics is turning more and more into tribal warfare,” said David Corn, Political Editor of the left-leaning Mother Jones. “And people make a decision based on their tribal affiliation rather than on the specific issues.”

He added: “At some point, as we say, the rubber hits the road. But to get to that point, will take a lot. Trump will continue to blame other forces that create problems for his supporters. It’s abysmal.”

The Independent

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