A sign reading ‘There is no gasoline’ in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 2017. Photograph: Thais Llorca/EPA
The president likes to speak about helping working people. Meanwhile, he is raising taxes and abandoning those in need in Puerto Rico
Our president is the puppet of his rich business friends. You don’t need a special counsel to find the evidence. Twice this week, when given the choice between his wealthy buddies and the working Americans he claims to care about, Trump has taken the gold-plated path.
Take his big tax cut, the biggest ever in history (or so he says). When asked by the super-friendly Pete Hegseth (from the aptly named Fox & Friends) about who his tax cuts were intended to help, our populist hero jumped right in.
“Really, the working people. We say the working people, middle class, the people that really haven’t been treated right, Pete, and they haven’t been treated right, really, for a long time. They have not been treated right,” he began very earnestly.
Then he switched gears. “Also, it’s going to be for businesses where they’re going to employ jobs, where they’re going to bring in jobs.”
Let’s set aside about the whole idea of employing jobs. Let’s even pass over the royal “we” when we say the working people. Along with cutting his own taxes, Trump is also cutting his own grammar.
But the businesses, people. Our great negotiator-in-chief was tipping his hand, so the fearsome interrogator known as Hegseth went in for the kill, asking if any of the tax brackets were non-negotiable.
“Yes,” said Trump proudly, “the 20% is non-negotiable. I wanted to do it at 15%. This is for business. I wanted to do it at 15%. If you look at China, China is at 15%… In fact, I was going to start at 15 and maybe negotiate it up to 20. But the numbers really work at 20, so we’re putting it in at 20, but we’re not going to negotiate.”
This is a particularly sad moment for the handful of people who still believe Donald J Trump knows how to negotiate; notably his blood relatives and paid help. He may have put his name to The Art of the Deal, but Trump knows less about negotiations than he knows about African geography.
It’s also a sad moment for all those working people who really haven’t been treated right for a long time, and who may have believed that Trump was looking out for them. Because when pushed very gently into naming his priority tax rate, the populist rebel forgot all about them.
This thinking is obvious in the proposed tax cuts themselves. Somehow Trump believes he can sell a tax hike for the lowest earners – from 10% to 12%– as a tax cut.
This is apparently because he is promising to increase the standard tax-free deduction, but he is also declining to tell us what income levels apply to each tax bracket. As any self-respecting populist should know, if you’re explaining deductions and brackets, you’re losing.
Meanwhile, those at the top will see their tax rate go down from 39.6% to 35%. Because they haven’t been treated right for a really long time either. Obviously.
This follows a pattern by our presidential puppet. Faced with the humanitarian disaster in Puerto Rico, where around 1.5 million Americans are struggling to survive without drinking water, Trump somehow managed to side with the shipping industry.
For several days, he resisted calls to lift the Jones Act restrictions on foreign-flagged ships bringing desperately needed supplies from the mainland to the stricken US territory. Why not relax those rules, as he did when helping Houston and Florida after their recent hurricane disasters?
“Well, we’re thinking about that but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people who work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted,” he told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday.
After thinking some more, Trump reversed himself on Thursday, more than a week after Puerto Rico lost its power grid and struggled to secure anything like adequate fuel supplies.
It is phenomenally hard to understand the thinking of a commander-in-chief who places the interests of shippers over his own citizens in dire need. Then again, it’s hard to understand someone who tries to shoo away the problems of helping Puerto Rico by saying this to reporters on Tuesday:
“It’s very tough because it’s an island,” he explained helpfully. “In Texas, we can ship the trucks right out there. And you know, we’ve gotten A-pluses on Texas and on Florida, and we will also on Puerto Rico. But the difference is, this is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. And it’s a big ocean. It’s a very big ocean.”
We can only look forward to the conversations between the president and his national security officials when they explain how far away North Korea is. There are also some very big oceans between Washington and Seoul, but somehow our military forces manage to cross them.
Trump’s worldview is not shaped by a burning desire to help working people or even understand them. It’s shaped by his desire to help his business friends. So when Fox’s friendly Hegseth asked him why he was talking so much about the NFL players’ protests, Trump could only respond with what he knows best.
“Well, I have so many friends that are owners,” he explained with what passes for honesty. “And they’re in a box. I mean I’ve spoken to a couple of them. They say, we’re in a situation where we have to do something… I think they’re afraid of their players. You want to know the truth? And I think it’s disgraceful. And they’ve got to be tough and they’ve got to be smart, because you look at the ratings.”