In the New York Times‘ lead news analysis after Donald Trump’s inauguration (1/20/17), White House correspondent Mark Landler wrote of Trump, “It remains an open question whether he will continue to be the relentless populist who was on display on Friday.”
Really? Looking at Trump’s nominations and appointments—the clearest indication during the transition period of how a president-elect actually intends to govern—it’s hard to discern any signs of populism whatsoever:
- Trump’s Treasury nominee, Steve Mnuchin, worked for Goldman Sachs and George Soros before launching his own investment firm, where he earned the title of “Foreclosure King,” with critics accusing him of “using potentially illegal tactics to foreclose on as many as 80,000 California homes.”
- Trump named the president of Goldman Sachs, Gary Cohn, to be his chief economic advisor. Cohn has argued that the way to keep business in the US is to create a “really competitive environment.”
- Labor nominee Andrew Puzder, a fast-food CEO, has fought against raising the minimum wage, expanding overtime pay and sick-leave policies. He has said he prefers robots to human workers because “they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”
- Wilbur Ross, Trump’s choice for Commerce, is a billionaire investor who has declared that “the 1 Percent is being picked on for political reasons” and endorsed Mitt Romney’s claim that 47 percent of the public are “dependent upon government.”
Landler also wrote that “Mr. Trump is as close to an independent as has ever served in modern times,” as “he ran against the Republican establishment as much as he ran against Hillary Clinton.” One suspects that the most independent president of modern times wouldn’t pick the head of one of the two major parties to be his White House chief of staff, as Trump did with Reince Priebus. Probably their vice president wouldn’t have previously held their party’s third-highest leadership position in the House, either.
Landler is not alone at the New York Times in his approach of paying attention to what Trump says, not to what he does. In the next day’s paper (1/21/17), national political correspondent Jonathan Martin began an article by asking of Trump, “Will he actually pursue his campaign agenda of big-government nationalism, all but obliterating the liberal-conservative distinctions that have defined America’s political parties for a century?” To Martin, Trump’s speech at his swearing-in ceremony seemed to answer that question: “An inaugural speech delivered with the same blunt force that propelled Mr. Trump’s insurgent campaign has dashed Republican hopes for a more traditional agenda.”
LA Times political reporter Doyle McManus (12/8/16) took on this kind of analysis in a column last month:
If you watch what Trump does, not what he says—which at this point, mostly means the choices he makes for Cabinet positions—he doesn’t look unusual at all.
In Trump’s picks for economic and domestic policymaking jobs, there’s a consistent underlying thread…Republican orthodoxy. Trump’s choices have all been thoroughgoing conservatives who believe in the free market, deregulation and, wherever possible, privatization of government functions.
Most of them could have been nominated by any GOP nominee, including Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.
There’s nary a populist among them—not even the conservative kind.
The New York Times (1/21/17), to its credit, was willing to refer in a headline to Trump’s “false claims,” noting his assertion that 1.5 million people attended his inauguration was “a claim that photographs disproved” and that White House spokesperson Sean Spicer tried to back up this contention with “a series of false statements.” The paper needs to entertain the possibility that Trump may be lying about his political ideology as well as the size of his audience.