President Donald Trump’s inaugural address envisions his presidency as a kind of national liberation, the moment when America is taken back from the rich, the corrupt, and the oppressors of generations and returned to the people. “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have born the cost,” he declared.
But don’t read the text of his speech to understand what he’ll do as president. Instead, look to what went quietly live today on WhiteHouse.gov during the swearing-in ceremony. Gone were the press releases, issue statements, videos, blogs, speeches, and photos of the Obama years. In their place were six issue statements:
- An America First Energy Plan
- America First Foreign Policy
- Bringing Back Jobs and Growth
- Making Our Military Strong Again
- Standing Up for Our Law Enforcement Community
- Trade Deals Working for All Americans
These, building on months of policy papers and public statements and leaks from the Trump campaign and transition, tell you what’s really going to happen now. As much as Trump promised a new, populist version of conservative politics on the campaign trail and again on Friday, he’s outlining plans that sound familiar: tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation, anti-environmentalism, and defense spending hikes. In all, the plans do little to suggest that Trump will actually deliver on his plans to make life better for working-class Americans while very likely benefiting the wealthy and big industry.
A return to trickle down
The jobs and growth plan is the most revealing of the six. Throughout the inauguration, Trump promised to “bring back our jobs … bring back our wealth … bring back our dreams." He promised to "build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation," to "get our people off of welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor."
His website makes clear that his plan for doing this is massive tax cuts for the wealthy and extensive deregulation. Infrastructure spending goes unmentioned. There is no reference to a public jobs program offering unemployed Americans a chance to build bridges and aqueducts and railways.
When Trump is forced to actually put down in writing his plan to restore America’s jobs, he comes up with a list of standard-issue conservative policy statements with no actual prospect of meaningfully increasing middle-class incomes.
The Trump jobs plan is low taxes and deregulation
Instead, there is a promise to create 25 million new American jobs and reach 4 percent annual economic growth (a basically impossible figure, at least without massive immigration). “The plan starts with pro-growth tax reform to help American workers and businesses keep more of their hard-earned dollars,” the website explains. “The President’s plan will lower rates for Americans in every tax bracket, simplify the tax code, and reduce the U.S. corporate tax rate. … Fixing a tax code that is outdated, overly complex, and too onerous will unleash America’s economy, creating millions of new jobs and boosting economic growth.”
Independent analysts disagree. The Tax Policy Center found that in the first decade, Trump's tax plan (which increases the deficit by $7.2 trillion over a decade and gives almost half its benefits to the top 1 percent) will actually reduce GDP by 0.5 percent. After two decades, it would cut GDP by 4 percent. The massive scale of the tax cuts would explode the deficit, increasing interest rates and making it harder for businesses to get loans, for people to buy houses, for credit cards to be paid off.
But the plan doesn't end with tax cuts. "The President has proposed a moratorium on new federal regulations and is ordering the heads of federal agencies and departments to identify job-killing regulations that should be repealed," it continues. But many of the specific regulations Trump’s administration will likely overturn help workers earn more. Take the overtime rule, an Obama administration effort that expands the number of workers who must be paid overtime and amounted to a $570 million raise for workers in 2017 alone. Trump has said he wants to exclude small businesses from the rule, and most of his allies in Congress want it junked entirely.
There is just no world in which these policies add up to a massive job creation effort, or a raise for workers. There are policies that could do that, things like a minimum wage increase (Trump has waffled between wanting to raise it and wanting to eliminate it), expanding the earned income tax credit for childless adults and into the middle class, eliminating payroll taxes on the first $11,500 or so of wages, offering a cash allowance for all parents with children, or a federal job guarantee. But Trump’s website shows no indication that he wants to propose any of them.
The rest of the platform isn’t much better
The energy plan is a promise to revive America's coal industry, and junk President Obama's plan to fight climate change and protect wetlands. "Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers,” Trump promises. But they’d mostly benefit the fossil fuel industry at the expense of cleaner fuels, and of Americans and people in other countries who will be forced to adapt to extreme temperatures, sea level rises, and more.
The foreign policy section promises to defeat ISIS through unspecified means, to boost funding for the Air Force and Navy, to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and renegotiate NAFTA, and to "direct the Commerce Secretary to identify all trade violations and to use every tool at the federal government’s disposal to end these abuses." This too he promises will "bring jobs back to America’s shores, increase wages, and support US manufacturing," though few economists think that trade barriers alone can revive US manufacturing employment, which fell mostly due to automation. The plan is an unqualified boon for US defense contractors, however.
One of the most jarring sections is the one on law enforcement, which is a mixture of anti-immigration law-and-order rhetoric (“supporting law enforcement also means deporting illegal aliens with violent criminal records who have remained within our borders”) and stern proclamations that "[o]ur job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter," or that "[t]he dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong. The Trump Administration will end it." Whatever you make of that, it’s not a real policy agenda to tackle crime. At best, it’s a reiteration of Trump’s standard rhetoric on immigration.
If there’s a part in the documents where Trump lays out his plan to materially improve the well-being of everyday American workers, the ones he exalted in his inauguration speech, I didn’t see it. What I did see is a laundry list of familiar proposals supported by Trump and his allies in Congress. Which do you want to bet is likelier to become a reality?