Wedging Trump

Anthony Scaramucci — his friends call him “the Mooch” — is a blow-dried, gold ringed hedge fund trader straight out of Central Casting. Last summer, when Donald Trump dismissed finance people like him as parasitic swindlers who “move around papers,” Scaramucci snarled that Trump was “another hack politician” who would “probably make Elizabeth Warren his vice-presidential nominee,” considering his “anti-American” insults to the finance industry. “You’re an inherited money dude from Queens County,” the Mooch taunted Trump on the Fox Business Channel, doing his best impression of a guy asking another guy if he’d like to step outside for a minute.

Today, Scaramucci is a member of Trump’s presidential transition team.

Scaramucci’s journey from trash talker of presidential nominee Trump to economic advisor to President-elect Trump tracks Trump’s own abrupt transformation from firebrand populist outsider to Wall Street-friendly insider — an about-face that wasn’t just predictable but repeatedly predicted. As a man without an ideology, Trump is not a change agent but an opportunistic pragmatist. His goal is not to reshape the American economy or even the Republican Party, but to use the presidency to build his global brand and enrich himself and his family in the process. People like Scaramucci and Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s choice for Treasury Secretary, a former Goldman Sachs mortgage banker who made his fortune and his legend exploiting the pain of the foreclosure crisis, may have been odd choices for the grenade-lobbing, drain-the-swamp-and-burn-the-whole-system-down presidential candidate version of Donald Trump. But they’re just the right kind of advisors for the self-dealing, oligarchical, President-elect version of Trump: the real Trump, the one who will be crowned Leader of the Free World next month.

Trump is doing so little to conceal his betrayal of the populist message that got him elected that some of his most hardcore fans — Breitbart readers — are already showing, in the words of one, “buyer’s remorse.” Here are a few comments from a recent Breitbart write-up about Mnuchin:

Donald Trump is a bankster puppet. Anyone who believes a Goldman Sachs, George Soros, and Bernie Madoff crony will do anything to help the middle class is a fool.

Remember back in the day when Trump held Goldman Sachs up as representative of the corrupt, manipulative, greedy Establishment?

Good times.

There’s this thing called “Buyer’s Remorse” that a lot of Breitbart readers are about to become increasingly familiar with…

It’s too early to be optimistic, but the cleave that Trump’s recent appointments have opened up in the conservative-populist coalition he built over the course of the campaign may be good news for those who have been fearing an enduring hard right realignment in American politics of the sort that has been seen in countries all across Europe.

As Sasha Polakow-Suransky reports in his indispensable and unsettling account of the rise of the European far right, parties like the Front National in France and the Danish People’s Party in Denmark have spent years, even decades, slogging their way out of the political wilderness by making themselves more palatable to former Social Democrats, the kinds of people who regard themselves as compassionate, tolerant, and committed to social justice, but who have grown disenchanted with the established, bureaucratic parties that were once the radical vanguard of those inclusive values. The FN and the DPP, Polakow-Suransky shows, have labored to jettison the baggage of anti-semitism, homophobia, and fascism and have re-positioned themselves, remarkably, as the guardians of progressive politics — by casting Muslims and immigrants as the true enemies, the barbarians at the gates of secular, humanist Western civilization. Like Trump’s analogue in the U.S., this disturbing configuration may be philosophically contradictory, but it wins elections.

The United States is not Europe, and there are many important reasons why the politics of reaction will take a different shape here than there. But if Trump were to follow the lead of his European counterparts, we could expect to see the emergence of a lasting electoral bloc of disillusioned Democrats that is economically left-wing but culturally chauvinistic and politically anti-pluralist and authoritarian. By now, that should be a familiar combination to American voters: a variation of it was mobilized by Reagan, and it was arguably a key part of the electoral coalition that won Trump his presidency. But unlike in Europe, it has never really outlived the fleeting mobilization of an election cycle and cohered into a stable, enduring political movement. Trump, with his orthodoxy-eschewing, cross-party appeal, could be the catalyst for that transformation, which could change American politics forever.

His cabinet appointments, however, suggest that he is choosing a narrower, easier, less transformative path, the kind of path that guys like Anthony Scaramucci and Steven Mnuchin and firms like Goldman Sachs can happily join him on, with none of the showy displays of contempt that the Mooch performed for the Fox Business Channel’s cameras last summer.

Yesterday, Scaramucci gave The New York Times his decidedly amiable take on the President-elect’s new, Wall Street-stacked economic cabinet:

The working-class people of the United States, they need a break. And we need to switch them from going from the working class into the working poor into what I call the aspirational working class, which my dad was a member of.

Scaramucci’s dad was a Long Island construction worker and a union member. His union wages paid for his son’s Tufts University education. Unions, now a sapped and withered version of what they were during Scaramucci’s childhood, will almost undoubtedly come out of Trump’s first term even weaker than they went into it (radically weaker, if a federal Right-to-Work law is passed). So will the economic power of the workers they represent, however “aspirational” they might be. The idea of a construction worker’s wages sustaining a middle class family and paying the private college tuition of a son who will go on to become a millionaire is already a distant and nostalgic memory. The redistributive postwar welfare state that made it possible was dismantled long ago; the economic team the Mooch is helping to put into place, along with Paul Ryan’s fiscal austerity measures, which Trump will undoubtedly sign into law, will ensure it is never rebuilt. Scaramucci’s rhetoric hits some vaguely populist-sounding notes, but they’re as empty as Trump’s.

For an angry electorate clamoring for change, Trump will have more of the same Wall Street poison that has kept wages stagnant or falling for four decades, under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Immigrant scapegoating and stimulative deficit spending might keep his administration’s popularity afloat for the short term, but if he really goes down this road, eventually there will have to be a reckoning with his abandoned base. Those voters already feel betrayed by both the Democratic and the Republican establishments. When they find themselves jilted by Trump, too, they’ll have few places to turn.

That moment will be an opening for the left, if the left is prepared to take it.

Author: Leighton Woodhouse

Leighton Woodhouse is a journalist and documentary filmmaker. His stories and videos have appeared in The New Republic, The Intercept, Gawker, VICE News, The Nation, The Awl, Fusion, PBS Frontline, and the Washington Post. He has a Master’s Degree in Sociology from UC Berkeley.

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