Going along with most of the decisions the federal government has produced since the 2016 election, the newly minted tax reform is very pro business and capitalist oriented. Giving major tax cuts to businesses and individuals, Trump’s new tax plan, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, is reminiscent of 1980’s Reganomics. The plan promises more money to be present for spending and investing in the economy by lowering individual tax percentages for almost every bracket, and lowering business tax rates to a single, low rate for all large corporations. This is not surprising for the Trump Administration, nor is it something that is drastically unpopular. His supporters are thrilled, his opponents angered at certain provisions such as the elimination of the healthcare mandate, but overall, this is a classic, capitalist, pro-business stance that everyone expected of Trump.
What is not expected, nor grasped unless one takes a step back, is the break in logic in Trump’s governing. The tax bill, and all basically all of Trump’s support, is based off an idea that capitalism and free choice economics should reign supreme, no matter the cost. Yet, the Trump administration leaves no other options in his government other than himself. What I mean by this is that any political opponents to Trump are seen by him as being morally wrong and inherently un-American. The position Trump puts out there is that there is only one choice politically that citizens should choose: himself. My question is, if free choice is what should be the one true philosophy in Trump’s America, then how can other political options other than Trump be seen as wrong?
Its no secret that the Trump administration has produced a certain kind of rhetoric that, though it has been seen in some American politicians, has not been seen this strongly before in the US presidency. People have called this rhetoric many names, but the one that is the most all-encompassing is “populist”. Populism is difficult to pinpoint but Jan-Werner Müller in his book, What is Populism?, defines it as a “moralistic imagining of politics, a way of perceiving the political world that sets a morally pure and unified – yet ultimately fictional – people against elites who are deemed corrupt or in some way morally inferior”. What Müller means by this is that populist governments claim to be, not just a good choice for the people, but the one and only morally upstanding voice that only those who are are smart and right enough to agree with their side can be a part of. Everyone else is morally inferior and therefore not the true voice of the nation, not even part of the true national at all. Populists and their supporters claim that only they posses the essence of the nation and all others, their opponents, are therefore against the nation itself.
While this may seem like an extreme view of the Trump movement, it is hard to deny the populist trends seen in his tenure as president thus far. He has often described those not holding his views to be un-American; he frequently panders only to his supporters and dismisses those not on his side as unimportant; and those in his own government that begin to oppose of question him are quickly said to be unimportant and wrong and are fired. Because of these trends, I think populism is the appropriate name for the phenomena of Trump, but what does that have to do with the tax plan?
Well, populism leaves only one choice for people to follow, and that is the populist. Capitalism is an economic philosophy based on the idea that competition producing freedom of choice results in the greatest possible outcome. Trump is shown to believe in capitalism, as is shown in his tax plan, yet he has exhibited himself to be a populist politician, discouraging political competition. This shows that there is a break in logic between Trump’s ideas politically and his ideas economically. Economically, he seems to view uninhibited competition as the only way to yields results. But when you look at his political ideology, his populist rhetoric shows he finds political competition to not only be wrong, but to be un-American.
Democracy is based on representation, so when populist movements and politicians claim themselves to be the only worthy representatives, we have a problem. Müller sums it up well: “populists are fine with representation, as long as the right representatives represent the right people to make the right judgment and consequently do the right thing”. The “right thing” being agreeing with the populist and only the populist. There is no choice in that, there is only the illusion of it. If the current populist, right-winged movement in the US believes that capitalism, with its unfettered competition and freedom of choice creates the best results economically, how can it believe that no competition or choice politically is the best way?
Compromise in government, though that seems like a fool’s statement at times, has always been a part of a good, functioning democracy. When only one side holds power and dismisses the ideas of the opposition, no compromise or exchange of ideas can happen. This is what populism does. Refusing to give validation to the arguments of opponents, which is what the Trump administration is doing, does not yield optimal results. We’ve seen this in booming citizen backlash and counter-backlash and in frequent legislative stagnation. The populist rhetoric of the current government is a blow to democracy, but if political competition, and more importantly everyone believing that the opposition from competition is valid, we can reestablish a democracy that encompasses the view of a whole nation, not just a populist one.
 Pg. 20-21
 pg. 25
Müller, Jan-Werner. What is Populism?. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.
Photo by Berkeley Review, Creative Commons Zero License
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