Amid the Democratic presidential primaries and the impeachment fallout, the Trump administration released its budget proposal for 2021 Monday. Though most of it has no chance of becoming a reality, it does provide a terrifying preview of what we can expect from Trump if he wins another four years in office this November. The latest Trump budget is nothing less than a declaration of war on the poor and working-class people of America — many of whom voted for the president four years ago under the mistaken belief that he would help reverse the steady erosion of their communities after decades of neoliberal economic policies.
Over the past three years, Trump has done virtually nothing to help the so-called “forgotten men and women” of America. His latest $4.8 trillion budget would inflict tremendous pain on working families, with deep cuts on everything from student loan assistance, affordable housing, education, food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid and even Social Security. Conversely, the budget calls for further increases in the bloated and wasteful military budget (plus border enforcement), and it would extend the Republican tax cuts that have so far saved corporate America and the 1% billions of dollars (thus adding trillions to the federal debt despite cuts in social spending).
The billionaire president’s budget is a class war manifesto targeting the most vulnerable Americans while providing his fellow billionaires and millionaires more tax breaks and the military industrial complex more lavish defense contracts. It is hard to exaggerate just how extreme Trump’s budget really is and how blatantly it targets the poorest families in America. The fact that working people are the most likely to be recruited into fighting the forever wars started by Washington elites who consider the poor fodder for their wars and would never send their own children (or fight themselves) simply shows how much contempt Trump and his fellow Republicans have for the majority of Americans.
In a “sane and functioning American republic,” Esquire’s Charles Pierce rightly observed, this budget would be “political suicide.” But clearly we don’t live in a “sane and functioning” republic, and the fact that Trump thinks he can release such an extreme budget during an election year shows that he is supremely confident in his political powers. With the Democrats currently battling each other for the presidential nomination, and with the anointed front-runner collapsing before our eyes, Trump seems to believe that his reelection is all but guaranteed. He may be right, of course. As John Cassidy remarked in The New Yorker, “If the Democrats can’t take advantage of this election-year horror script, they really are in trouble.”
Trump’s budget should be a gift to Democrats, but if they end up nominating someone like the ex-Republican billionaire Mike Bloomberg or the McKinsey neoliberal Pete Buttigieg as their candidate, going after Trump for waging a class war on working people will become very difficult. The obvious candidate who can authentically challenge Trump and call out his class war on working families is, of course, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has replaced Joe Biden as the Democratic frontrunner. Sanders gave us a preview of how he would go after Trump in a statement responding to the president’s absurd budget on Monday.
“The Trump Budget for 2021 is a budget of, by, and for the 1 percent,” declared Sanders, calling the president a liar for saying that he would never cut programs like Medicare and Social Security, which are now on the cutting block. “The Trump Budget does not see a problem in this country it cannot somehow make worse. Unless, of course, the problem is that the wealthiest families and largest corporations in this country haven’t gotten enough tax cuts, or that the military-industrial complex isn’t raking in profits that are obscene enough.”
Condemning the Trump budget as an “immoral document,” the senator called it “proof that this president did not care about the ‘forgotten men and women’ he said he would help — it appears he is too busy enriching his billionaire friends.”
By contrast to Sanders’ no-holds-barred approach and powerful denunciation of neoliberal orthodoxy, his fellow Democratic contender Pete Buttigieg has recently embraced the discredited politics of austerity, suggesting that Democrats should become the new party of “fiscal responsibility” in light of the massive Republican deficits. Buttigieg’s “sudden pivot to deficit-hawk politics,” remarks Alexander Sammon in The American Prospect, “is deeply misguided and evinces a profound misunderstanding of recent political and economic history.” To nominate someone like Buttigieg — who is the youngest candidate in the race, but one of the most backward-looking — would be to let Trump off the hook. Mayor Pete, like Biden and Bloomberg, would be the perfect foil for Trump, who employs a kind cultural class politics that exploits lower-class resentment against the “winners” of globalization, i.e., the professional class (represented by candidates like Buttigieg and Bloomberg).
Discrediting and defanging Trump’s politics of cultural resentment will require a candidate like Sanders, who offers a genuine economic critique and political alternative to both Trump’s brand of reactionary neoliberalism and the “progressive neoliberalism” of his current opponents. The Democratic Party has a rare opportunity to nominate a transformative candidate who could usher in a new post-neoliberal era. To blow it on someone like Bloomberg would be a colossal mistake — one the party might never recover from.
Conor Lynch is a freelance writer and journalist living in New York. His work has appeared in The Week, Salon, The New Republic, and other publications. You can follow him on Twitter…