Trump’s choice: populism or corporatism

Trump’s choice: populism or corporatism, by Joel Kotkin.

The real division in American politics today is no longer right or left, but rather between populism and an increasingly dominant corporate ruling class. This division is obvious within the Trump administration, elected on a nationalist and populist program but increasingly tilting toward a more corporatist orientation.

This matters far beyond the personality conflicts within the White House between the incendiary nationalists, led by “chief strategist” Steve Bannon, and a coterie of Wall Street insiders allied with Trump family advisers. The real question is not whether Trump dumps Bannon, who seems to lack the proper temperament for government, but if he is seen as betraying the Middle America constituency that elected him.

Most traditional conservatives reliably serve large corporate interests, and can be counted on to ignore the basic interests of middle- and working-class voters. This has been clear in the recent health care vote and on internet privacy legislation, and may also soon be obvious in the GOP’s tax reform efforts. Oftentimes, the move to the “center” is really about who is pulling the strings, notably the ubiquitous Goldman Sachs, whose alumni control top posts at both the U.S. Treasury and the National Economic Council. Unlike many Trump voters, these people have reason to be satisfied with the current state of Davos capitalism. …

In the primaries, the corporatist worldview generally was embraced by most major GOP candidates, with the notable exception of Trump. Similarly, the race for the Democratic nomination pitted former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a legendary magnet for corporate cash and favor-granting, against Sen. Bernie Sanders, a crusty septuagenarian with openly socialist leanings. That Trump won, and Sanders, against determined opposition in the Democratic establishment, almost beat Clinton, reveals just how strong the populist strain has become across the political spectrum. …

Ultimately, Trump really does not have much of a choice. A move toward corporatism might win him friends now on Wall Street, but he is far too repellent in places like New York or Silicon Valley to win them over for the long haul. Middle America elected Donald Trump, and only by retaining, and then expanding, his coalition can he hope to triumph against opposition not only from the progressive “resistance,” but also large sections of the dominant power structure.

Yep, that’s the big picture playing out in the US and increasingly throughout the West. Immigration is a major battleground: corporatists want open borders, but populists value their culture.