Over the past month, Donald Trump provided a clue to his governing approach by nominating members of his cabinet. It is now clear that Trump has executed the biggest bait and switch in American political history. Campaigning as a candidate who would stand up for and improve the lives of the working class, and receiving over 40% support from union households, Trump’s cabinet nominees and the outlines of his economic policy suggest that he is doing the exact opposite. These actions, however deceitful for his voters and damaging for the country, are part of a broader process that has been going on since the 1980s where elite interests have come to dominate policy formation.
The elite capture of politics is when economic and business interests dominate the staffing of key government agencies and create policies that directly benefit their firms and financial interests at the expense of everyone else. Government policy is created and used to increase the wealth of the elite, to the detriment of the average person and the U.S. economy as whole.
The ability of a small elite to capture the political process has been made possible by the growth in income inequality since 1980, which led to a sharp rise in the wealth owned by the richest 1%. The rise in economic power was used to increase the political power of the elite by investing in politicians through campaign contributions and lobbying efforts, further increasing the elite’s wealth and economic power, creating a feedback loop. American democracy has been replaced with an oligarchic plutocracy—rule by the rich.
This process is baldly apparent in not only Trump himself, but also his cabinet nominees, who are part of a class of well connected, well capitalized economic and political elites. Instead of “draining the swamp“ in Washington, Trump is turning on the fire hose to flood it.
Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon, was nominated to be Secretary of State. Although not specifically an economic posting, Tillerson has business connections to Russia and Vladimir Putin, putting into question his ability to lay aside his own financial interests in favor of those of the nation. As the U.S.’s chief diplomat, more than economic policy is at stake — global stability might be in jeopardy.
Despite pillorying Goldman Sachs during his campaign, Trump appointed three individuals who worked for the firm at the highest levels. Steven Mnuchin, a veteran of the financial industry who worked for Goldman Sachs for 15 years, has been nominated as…