Donald Trump's administration is working to get Congress to pass tax "reforms" the likes of which Americans haven't seen since the Reagan administration 30 years ago. "Anti-reform" would be a more accurate description.
"Reform" generally refers to a change for the better. It's difficult to say that the tax reform Donald Trump wants Congress to vote on before Christmas is truly reforming, considering that it largely consists of a gift to the very rich that will be paid for by the middle class. According to the version of the law voted on in the House of Representatives, about 45 percent of the tax reductions will end up lining the pockets of households earning $500,000 a year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. A supplementary evaluation of this credible Washington think tank states that households with annual incomes below $75,000 will see their financial situation deteriorate.
The questions surrounding this reform are not new, and the answers can be found in Trump and the rise of "pluto-populism," a term coined by Martin Wolf, columnist for the Financial Times and a man who cannot be called "left-wing" but whose point of view in this case is approved by Noam Chomsky.
Thus the question: How did a political party so clearly dedicated to defending the interests of a wealthy minority manage, in spite of everything, to be elected?
As a clear product of the Republican Party, Trump is today the lead pluto-populist. He has succeeded, for many reasons, in channeling the resentment and insecurity of a large population of Americans who feel, not without reason, forgotten. His approach is not without its cultural and ideological similarities to the actor Ronald Reagan, whose tax cuts in 1986 did not trigger the promised surge in economic growth.
Thus, from one lie to another, the billionaire president feels authorized to trumpet that his fiscal reform will not benefit "the wealthy and well connected," that "it's time to fight for our American workers"* and that Trump is "doing the right thing. And it’s not good for me.”
When it comes to their python-like tendency to swallow up the economically disadvantaged and the middle class − whose interests they claim to be protecting − these plutocrats have three main strategies, according to Wolf: They mobilize economists and intellectuals capable of defending the myth that the majority of people benefit from policies that in fact only benefit a minority; they abuse the law, notably by blocking minorities from exercising their voting rights; and they cultivate ethnic, racial, and cultural conflicts − a task at which Trump excels with brutal efficiency.
Sociologist Eva Illouz speaks of a mounting "emotional populism" in the United States and in the rest of the world, in which the fear and resentment of white, Christian men (against immigrants, gays, women . . .) is linked with the establishment of an "intimacy" with the leader. Politics becomes less and less a matter of reason. She states that more than ever, "deep symbolic structures" (insecurity, hope, disappointment, pride . . .) play a greater role in electoral choices than a party's complicated economic policies.**
All this has been playing out to various degrees in American politics, as visceral as the animosity between Republican and Democrat can be. In any case, this tax reform shows that Republicans are capable of producing conditions favorable to the survival of Trumpism, even if they haven't yet managed to get the Senate to vote in the new law.*** It must survive in the southern states thanks to men like Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a militant xenophobe like Trump, but more polite and comfortable in the heart of the Washington establishment, with its deep disturbances and inequalities. So, what's to be done? Although far from being a cure-all, it would be useful for American citizens to ensure that the Democrats − who are just as much in need of reform as others − at least manage to gain control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections next year.
*Editor’s note: Trump’s actual words were, “It’s time to fight … for our great American workers.”
**Editor’s note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.
***Editor’s note: The Senate passed the tax reform bill on Dec. 2. It now heads to a conference committee where Senate and House members will try to reconcile their two versions.