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William Jennings Trump and the monetary elite

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A. Andros

Let's first put the "Oz/Populist" myth to rest. That foolish thesis appeared, as I recall, in a 1970 issue of "American Studies" and its author subsequently disavowed it. (He said the "Wizard of Oz? COULD have been a Populist allegory -- just as you COULD be Julius Caesar.)

Historical analogies are always misleading but, as a commentator below noted, the presidential analog to Trump is Andrew Jackson. I say this for several reasons:

* Jackson's presidency was essentially negative (he destroyed the Second Bank of the US, vetoed the Maysville Road project, scotched secession and expelled the Indian tribes resident in the Old Southwest.)In all of these things the public applauded him for the things he hated.

* He was loathed by that era's equivalent of our coastal elites -- the "better sort" -- who became the Whig Party. His earliest serious biographer wrote of him "He was imprisoned in his ignorance and sometimes raged in his little enclosure like a tiger." The same la-de-da contempt for The Donald oozes like poison from our chattering classes.

* The "respectable" press treated him with contempt. And, he returned that contempt -- with interest. The fury of a press emasculated by his popularity did him absolutely no harm.

* His "base" lay among the humble farmers of the emerging West and the Old Southwest. These were often unlettered and humble people (who, doubtlessly, voted against their own interests!) and, perhaps, some Whig stuffed-shirt labeled them as "Deplorables."

* His personality was far more important to his success than his (great) ability. Jackson was an angry man, a man who abused (and occasionally killed) his enemies. The "deplorables" love him for it!

Jackson's humble supporters loved him primarily for the enemies he made: the banks, the "better sort," the Bostonian and New York "intellectuals" of that era -- all those who wallowed in the conventional wisdom of government by an elite for the benefit -- well, mostly, for the benefit of the elite.

I don't think Trump will be a great president -- just as I don't think Obama was a great president. But, the president Trump most resembles really is Jackson.

Just as the president Obama most resembles is Millard Fillmore.

CA-Oxonian

The notion that Trump has any economic thoughts whatsoever is risible. He's an ignorant blustering halfwit.

Yes, we all hate the idea of a total incompetent at the top of the pile, his random neuronal firing impacting the lives of hundreds of millions of people. It's a terrifying reality. But hiding behind denial and rationalization only serves to make things worse.

Let's admit that no one knows what Trump is going to do, simply because Trump doesn't know either.

You don't prepare for horrors by pretending they aren't coming.

A. Andros in reply to FlownOver

I am not sure what you mean.

The American press is perfectly free. If you doubt it then read the NYT or the WaPO or any of a number of media sites that attack The Donald hammer and tong.

They have every right in the world to do so and I hope they continue to monitor Mr. Trump.

However, Mr. Trump has every right to criticize them in return. They don't like it. But, in this new era of social media, they are like so many over-ripe grandes dames being told they have lost their looks. They don't like it at all!

But, they are still ugly.

Sense Seeker in reply to CA-Oxonian

I'd wager you're right - Trump has no economic ideas beyond those that directly further his own business interests.
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But that makes him a very a useful tool to the economic elites of the day; the Koch brothers, Robert Mercer, and other super-wealthy ultra-conservatives.
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As the article notes, Trump speaks to the common people, but his administration is dominated by multi-millionaires and ex-Goldman Sachs bankers. The same clique also bankrolled Trump's campaign, and organized the Tea Party. See Robert Mercer, who switched to supporting Trump when Cruz floundered. See https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/26/robert-mercer-breitbart....
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The American people have been conned into voting in an administration that works against their economic interests, but speaks to its nationalism, xenophobia and loathing of banksters - craftily equated with 'liberals', then misdirected away from corporations and the ueber-rich towards the cultural liberal elite. Criticism is put away as 'liberal' and 'fake news'.
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Whatever they may say about the media, the shadow-powers control the media that matter: Fox and the Murdoch tabloids, and sophisticated systems that use Facebook and other online sources to target people with the propaganda that is most likely to influence their beliefs.
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I am concerned about how bad it will get before it gets better.

Tatry in reply to FlownOver

Do not generalize...some, so called free, media is really not free but a propaganda servant of its owners “kibbutz” ideology typifies by CNN or NYT or MSNBC anti-Trump propaganda.

Aurelius512

The Economist takes a break from comparing Trump to Berlusconi, Marcus Licinius Crassus, Latin American despots, and guerilla insurgents of every variety. Now it turns to American history for an analogy. Buttonwood is a very intelligent, well-educated journalist, but he here indulges in the same useless, idle journalistic amusement. It's really a waste of his talents.

jouris

Donald Trump has been compared with many past politicians — Richard Nixon for his suspicion of the press and Warren Harding for his isolationism are two obvious examples.

Most of the comparisons of Trump to Harding that I have seen centered around their corruption, rather than their isolationism.

Moscow on the Hudson

Leave it up to the States Donald. In NY you'll be a non-entity President. Take the Affordable Care Act away from the dummies who voted for you. Those States have been a food stamp drain on the Union from day one. Supply them with free cigarettes to be rid of the brain-dead while you're at it too. One term of this GOP hatchet man, who ran as a hate monger, and actually won is enough. I'll make money with Agent Orange, but the folks who voted for him will loose their shirts, and some will probably wind up in prison for hate crimes. Once a racist loser, always a loser. Yea, white man's in the White House... So what?

Sense Seeker in reply to korkyrian

"If common people live better, it is because of the work of those many bankers, investors, unknown heroes who keep our capitalist economic machine working."

Ah, but are those common people living better? Life expectancy in the US is declining, remember?

And did those economic elites make themselves rich, or did working Americans do that, while the elites dodged taxes via loopholes their political servants created and reaped the benefits?

In the US, they certainly didn't make the common people rich, given median income in the US stagnated since 2000, while GDP grew very handsomely. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_income_in_the_United_States#/med....

And yes, Trump's cabinet is full of people who work against the economic interests of the vast majority of Americans. Sad! But true.

guest-naaaslm

You shed light on the importance of free trade and the benefits to economic growth the many global trade deals signed over the years has brought too many if not all sectors of the economy. As a student of economics I can't help but to speculate if scraping any of the deals would be premature and inhibit us from knowing if we are creating a world economy where the cost benefits and objectives inherent in the laws of comparative advantage are being achieved. Every nation has something to contribute. What worries me and prompts me to support Trumps revision initiative is the unfair advantage that organized political interest can bring to the negotiating table. For example, earlier this year as well as recently both the Canadian and Quebec gvts along with the Quebec pension plan made major investments into a specific company that has been receiving aid since the 1980's when it used a preferential interest rate guaranteed by Canada to win a contract in the United states. At the time when interest rates where hovering in the high teens it made economic and business sense. But today does it make sense for the Government to keep raising revenues through higher taxes and fees to subsidize high priced salaries @ the expense of the depressed economy. Is it fair for politicians to create barriers through legislation requiring licenses to work whilst creating opportunity for others through subsidies. Hell, I am beginning to think that the argument for the need to modernize the economy is a rouze meant to conceal a political litmus test that bars certain individuals or groups from the benefits of a level playing field.

hodgicus

Trump's election parallels that of every leader who has ever been elected in reaction to an established orthodoxy that considered its political power an end in itself and held its electorate in contempt. In other words, "It's the Russians!"

D M R

The early FDR (the first couple of elections when the black vote was still Republican) is another Democrat who shares a lot with Trump in terms of world view, politics, and with some stretch of imagination, style.

jouris in reply to Kenneth711

In a way, you are correct. Mr Trump has no financial need to enrich himself more. But then, he had no financial need to enrich himself as much as he has. And yet he is still working hard to get more. Presumably there is a psychological need there somewhere.

Peace Love and Understanding

Trump is not William Jennings Bryan that is giving him far too much credit.

He is more like Silvio Berlusconi.

The man who led Italy to ruin essentially.

I expect similar initiatives.

Langosta

Trump is more like McKinley that Bryan. McKinley won the election of 1896 by persuading the urban workingmen than the Republicans were their friend. "The full dinner pail" was McKinley's campaign slogan. His carpeted the urban areas from New York to Chicago with pamphlets about how McKinley and the Republicans would keep the gears of industry humming, thereby keeping the workers working, and their dinner pails full.

McKinley prevailed in the industrial areas of the Northeast, thereby defeating Bryan's rural campaign. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa. Those were the states that mattered in 1896 and 2016. Republicans won them all, McKinley in 1896 and Trump in 2016.

McKinley also happened to be an extraordinarily lucky President. The economic problem of the late 1800s was deflation. We backed our currency with gold, which was in relative short supply. We could not mint enough gold coins and keep enough gold reserve to exchange paper dollars. Thus, every year wages and prices fell relative to gold. Mortgages because relatively more burdensome to pay, which crushed the farmers on the newly settled lands of the Great Plains. Deflation is never great shakes for business either, because business owners will not seek out loans to finance expansion if they have to pay back the loans in more valuable dollars. Deflation was killing the economy.

It so happened that in McKinley's second year in office, the Yukon and Alaska Gold Rushes occurred. Suddenly there were millions of ounces of gold being dumped on the market. Gold prices dropped, and our gold-backed dollars dropped with them. William Jennings Bryan had campaigned, and lost, on switching from the deflationary gold standard to the inflationary silver standard. All of a sudden gold became the inflationary metal.

McKinley rode the wave of gold-financed prosperity to record highs of popularity. Never before has a President been so popular because of a coincidental event he had nothing to do with. It didn't hurt that the USA also won the Spanish-American War and extending our empire into Asia. Alas, McKinley's luck ran out a few years later when he was assassinated by a crank.

Melissia in reply to Kenneth711

And yet he's still doing it anyway, even to the point of accepting bribes from the Chinese government in the form of allowing him to have trademarks and such where they didn't want to before, so that he'd ignore China for a bit.