About a year ago I woke up with one of the more punishing weekday hangovers of my adult life. It was a bleak, headachy day, and I’d been up late hastily rewriting a piece about the 2016 election. That was how “making America great” started for me.
Although Hillary Clinton won about 3 million more votes, Donald Trump gamed our rickety, 18th-century election system by flipping several Rust Belt states President Obama had won, including my home state of Ohio.
Trump made a two-pronged appeal to states like mine. First, with racially tinged invectives against immigration, “inner-city crime,” and “political correctness.” And second, with a populist-sounding line on economics that spoke to voters long overlooked by Washington.
“What truly matters is not which party controls our government,” Trump said at his inauguration, “but whether our government is controlled by the people.”
A year out, how are the people faring?
Amid pledges to “drain the swamp” in Washington, Trump appointed the wealthiest ever U.S. Cabinet — one Newsweek recently called “the most corrupt in history.” A Daily Beast investigation into hundreds of Trump appointees found that more than half profited from the industries they were tapped to regulate.
What he’s done on Capitol Hill is almost worse.
He’s pushed health care bills that would strip health coverage from more than 20 million Americans. When those failed, he nixed subsidies for companies that insure low-income customers — about 70 percent of whom live in states he won, by the way — and virtually guaranteed a hike in premiums for everyone.
And his tax plan? It would permanently slash the corporate tax rate and completely eliminate taxes on multi-millionaire estates. Meanwhile, it would end popular middle-class deductions (sorry, student loan payers) while actually raising the rate the lowest income payers face.
All this would blow a $1.5 trillion hole in the U.S. deficit. As my colleague Josh Hoxie has written, that’s enough to double college grants and cancer research, treat 300,000 people suffering from addiction, train 3.5 million workers, and help 6 million kids get child care — every year for 10 years. Instead, it goes to tax breaks for people like Trump and his Cabinet.
On the environmental front, pulling out of the Paris climate agreement and letting companies dump coal ash in freshwater have done precisely nothing to bring back flagging coal jobs. Yet Trump has duped many miners into rejecting job retraining, Reuters reports.
So Trump’s economic populism was a hustle. But what about his not-so-subtle threats against people who don’t resemble his white base? Well, there things are happening.
Immigration arrests are way up. Authorities insist they’re targeting “gang members” and “bad dudes.” But they seem to be spending an awful lot of time haunting schools, domestic violence centers and hospitals — where they recently picked up a 10-year-old girl getting treatment for cerebral palsy.
At the same time, refugee admissions have been dramatically curtailed, and the administration says it wants to cut legal immigration in half.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department is canceling reform plans for police departments with records of racial discrimination and brutality. The FBI has labeled black civil rights activists a domestic threat. And the Department of Education is rolling back protections for LGTBQ students and sexual assault survivors.
No wonder so many read making America “great” again as making America “white” again. But handing the government over to racist billionaires isn’t a great deal for most white people either. Neither is threatening war with Iran and North Korea.
Trumpism, journalist Matt Yglesias concludes, is “a bet that if you punch nonwhite America in the face, white America will be so busy gawking they won’t notice their pockets are being picked too.” Sad!
The silver lining? A new era of activism.
Ordinary Americans have rallied to stave off assaults on their health care, preserve the climate, protect immigrants and refugees, and take a knee for racial justice. Record numbers of women and people of color are running for office. And a majority of Democrats now want their party to move left — away from the corporate center Hillary Clinton never abandoned.
For those reasons I’m cautiously optimistic, but we’re walking a real razor’s edge. If we make it through the next three years intact, it’ll be with a hangover for the ages.