P. T. Barnum never actually said “there’s a sucker born every minute,” but Donald Trump surely believes it. As well he should, because nobody can match his talent for suckering the credulous.
Just take a look at his rhetorical bait-and-switch about Wall Street. During the campaign he wowed his fans with populist attacks on the bankers and hedge funders who’ve “robbed our working class.” He declared that “Wall Street has caused tremendous problems for us.” He lamented in an ad that Wall Street people “control the levers of power in Washington.” He warned that “the guys at Goldman Sachs … have total control over Hillary Clinton.” He ran an ad that attacked the “global power structure” while flashing an image of the Goldman Sachs CEO.
But now, having secured his win with 46.2 percent of the vote, he’s busy packing his regime with hustlers from Wall Street and Goldman Sachs — hustlers who made piles of money by preying on the kind of working people who voted for Trump.
And even though Trump has played these voters for chumps, they don’t care.
Yes, a few Trumpkins have tweeted about feeling betrayed, but most of them apparently don’t care (or they’re blissfully unaware) that Trump’s incoming commerce secretary, billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, is a corporate vulture — widely nicknamed “the king of bankruptcy” — who has never prioritized the working stiff. As the Associated Press points out, Ross “bought up many struggling steel, auto, and coal firms in the industrial Midwest at a steep discount and sold them for steep profits, even as factory and mining jobs at the core of the American identity disappeared.” And workers died when he tried to run a coal mine on the cheap.
Nor do Trump’s fans seem to care (or know) that the incoming treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, is a Goldman Sachs alum who scored a $1.6-billion profit in the midst of the Great Recession housing meltdown — by running OneWest, a bank that was essentially a foreclosure machine. OneWest was so notorious that people protested outside Mnuchin’s house in L.A. (A sign read: “Steve Mnuchin, stop taking our homes.”) At one point, his bank foreclosed on a 90-year-old Florida woman after a payment error of 27 cents.
Federal bank regulators accused Mnuchin’s bank of engaging in “unsafe or unsound practices” in its handling of foreclosures; a Mnuchin vice president admitted in a deposition that bank employes robo-signed 6,000 foreclosure documents a week, without first reading the documents or signing in the presence of a notary. Mnuchin’s bank was also adept at “dual tracking,” the sleazy practice of indulging a homeowner’s request to renegotiate a loan – while still pursuing foreclosure. One victimized couple won a seven-figure court settlement.
So much for Trump’s vow to fight for the little guy by “draining the swamp.” Turns out, he’s just bringing in his own alligators. The Republican establishment is happy about that — Reagan and both Bushes stocked their regimes with Wall Street scions — but Trump claimed to be different. He was gonna be the working-class hero. As if.
It’s obvious by now — at least to the 65,250,336 Americans who (at last count) delivered a decisive plurality to Hillary Clinton — that Trump’s promises have less substance than snake oil. But it’s still worth asking why his voters don’t care a whit that they’ve been seriously suckered. They presumably believed Trump when he said he would fight the Wall Street predators; they bought his complaint that “hedge fund guys are getting away with murder.” But Mnuchin, post-Goldman Sachs, was a hedge fund guy. He and Wilbur Ross made money as predators.
So why aren’t the Trumpkins outraged?
Because the Trump campaign wasn’t really about economics; it was about culture. It wasn’t about thinking; it was about feeling. Trump’s voters will apparently excuse every broken promise, indulge every glaring hypocrisy, and permit their pockets to be picked, as long as he sates their visceral desire to beat their chests again for the nostalgic America of yore.
Legend has it that the famous “sucker” quote was actually uttered by a nineteenth-century hustler named Michael Cassius McDonald. According to a book about the Chicago underworld, he stocked his gambling house with a large number of roulette wheels and faro tables, and when his partner worried that they wouldn’t draw enough customers, McDonald supposedly said, “Don’t worry about that. There’s a sucker born every minute.”
And last night, during a Cincinnati rally, Trump bellowed, “Are we doing a good job with our cabinet?” To which the giddy multitudes dutifully roared, “YAY!”
Rest my case.