I would venture a guess that if one were to ask Donald J. Trump to define “populism” off the cuff that he would say something like: It’s the philosophy on which I campaigned successfully for the presidency of the United States.
Translation: He likely doesn’t understand a philosophy aimed at taking power away from big corporations and the rich folks who run them.
This billionaire real estate mogul and TV celebrity campaigned as a populist, declaring his intention to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and “work for you, the people.” He would surround himself with the “best people” to run the government and would “drain the swam” of the corporate corruption he said has infected American politics since the beginning of the Industrial Age.
He is governing, though, as anything but a populist.
The president did sign the executive order that took the United States out of TPP. NAFTA? Well, in the span of just a few days he said he would consider pulling out; then he said he wouldn’t after talking to the leaders of Mexico and Canada; then he said he would like to “renegotiate” the treaty. The “best people” surrounding him include a healthy cadre of executives from Goldman Sachs, the big-time investment outfit he criticized freely during the campaign. The “swamp”? It’s still full of muck.
I want to focus for a moment on NAFTA. Free trade is an example of orthodox Republican philosophy with which I agree. I dislike artificial barriers, such as import taxes and tariffs, that inhibit trade, particularly among bordering nations. NAFTA’s intent is to open markets throughout three major nations: the United States, Canada and Mexico. Is it perfect? No. Is it as flawed and “disastrous” as the president has contended? No to that, too.
It has fostered a freer flow of goods across the borders of all three nations and has been a significant net plus for their economies.
I am heartened to sense the president is beginning to understand that campaign rhetoric often must differ with the way one actually governs.
NAFTA is not the bogeyman that Trump called it while winning the presidency.
As for whether he can govern as the populist he portrayed himself as being, I only can point to the weekend lifestyle he still enjoys as he jets off to Mar-a-Lago, his glitzy, glamorous and posh resort in southern Florida.
His attachment to all the decadence associated with it suggests to me that the president is a populist in name only. Hey, maybe we can create a new acronym: PINO.