Throughout his business career, from the casino business to Trump University, Donald Trump has been a con man and grifter. But his life’s work in ripping people off pales next to the long con that he pulled on the American people this year.
Indeed, rarely have so many Americans been convinced to cast a ballot that was not only a vote against their own interests, but also one that will directly harm themselves and their families. More and more, 2016 looks like an “Own Goal Election” for the millions of angry, embittered voters who backed Trump.
Let’s start with the GOP’s political jihad against Obamacare. Republicans consistently argue that Obamacare is “hurting Americans.” But repealing the bill could cost 20 million Americans their health insurance, and many of those hurt will be Trump supporters. As Greg Sargent, at The Washington Post, reported earlier this week, the uninsured rate has dropped by 10 points since 2013 among noncollege-educated whites earning less than $36,000 a year. That’s millions of white working-class Americans who got health care coverage because of Obamacare — and who now, with Trump as president, are likely to lose it. Indeed, there’s already evidence that Republican voters are getting cold feet about fully repealing Obamacare.
And what about the millions of Trump backers who voted for Republican members of Congress — even though the GOP has been angling for years to privatize Medicare and now, with Trump as president, finally has the chance to do so? Oops.
But the negative impact of a vote for Trump will also be felt in ways that will receive less attention. In May, President Obama pushed through a Labor Department rule that would help more than four million workers who make less than $47,476 a year receive overtime pay. A federal judge has temporarily stayed the rule, and Republicans in the House have made clear they intend to scrap it once Trump takes office. So all those angry working-class voters who backed Trump because Democrats are allegedly indifferent to their plight just cost themselves a raise.
Nationally, union voters only narrowly supported Clinton, and, only a few years after the auto bailout saved tons of good-paying working-class jobs in Ohio, union households there went for Trump. Now, with Republicans in full control of the White House and Congress, they can scrap Obama-era rules that require federal contractors to pay the minimum wage and offer sick leave. They can make it harder for workers to unionize, repeal long-standing rules that force contractors to pay union-level wages, and even pass right-to-work legislation that would devastate the labor movement in America. Seven hundred jobs at Carrier might have been saved in Indiana, but without a strong labor movement, American workers will increasingly be at the mercy of their corporate bosses — and guess which side the Trump administration will be on?
But in fairness, while Republicans may well shred the social safety net for working-class Americans, take away their health care, and limit their protections, at least Trump will go to Washington and “drain the swamp,” right?
Uh, not so fast.
So far, Trump has selected two members of Congress — Jeff Sessions and Tom Price — for his Cabinet, as well as three billionaires. The latter include people like Betsy Devos at the Department of Education, who has demonstrated a long-term commitment to cratering public education in America. Wilbur Ross is going to Commerce, despite his long record of laying off workers and moving US jobs overseas. Steve Mnuchin is headed for Treasury. Not only is he a former partner at Goldman Sachs, but he’s also a guy who directly profited from the housing crash. The bank he purchased in California in 2009 was known as a “foreclosure machine” that foreclosed on the homes of 36,000 people — all of which made Mnuchin a huge profit.
Still, let’s look on the bright side: If Trump passes his tax cut, which disproportionately goes to the richest Americans, some crumbs will be left over for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.
This is hardly the first time voters have cast a ballot that will boomerang against them. But rarely has the effect been as pronounced. In giving Republicans full control of Washington, voters have unleashed political forces that are eagerly looking to eviscerate the social safety net and pass legislation that favors the wealthiest and best-connected Americans while ignoring the economic plight of the angry, alienated Americans who gave their trust to Donald Trump. Four years from now, the question to voters will not be “Are you better than you were four years ago?” but rather, in the immortal words of Johnny Rotten, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.