Listen Up, Rust Belt

Alan Zendell, May 23, 2017

Of all the constituencies that made up Donald Trump’s base, the one I found most perplexing was the so-called white working class Rust Belt. While at some level I couldn’t imagine why any woman would have voted for Trump after he bragged about his lack of respect for them publicly, Hillary Clinton’s lack of appeal to women wasn’t exactly a new phenomenon.

But the Rust Belt? It still makes no sense to me. Donald Trump should have been anathema to the stereotypical hard hat workers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, regardless of Clinton inexplicably taking them for granted and virtually ignoring them. Trump has never supported working people or labor unions and has an abysmal record treating his own employees. And his sudden anger over free trade agreements doesn’t square either with his previous positions or his vaunted international business deals. For all the talk about stopping corporations from shipping jobs overseas, check the labels on the products marketed under his name.

In spite of all that, those understandably disgruntled workers who felt left behind by the sluggishly improving economy bought into all of candidate Trump’s promises. You  remember – quality affordable health care for everyone, tax cuts for working class Americans, and oh yes – jobs, jobs, jobs. He repeated that last one in Saudi Arabia last Saturday, after inking a $110 billion arms deal, but an economic analyst on CBS’ Face the Nation said the number of new American jobs attributable to that deal amounted to forty five (45) while it was expected to create at least five hundred (500) jobs in Saudi Arabia. Were you listening, Rust Belt?

He talked about draining the swamp, but look at the mess he’s made of Washington so far. Rather than rid the capital of influence peddlers, he tried his hand at doing some peddling of his own, inappropriately attempting to get at least three high-ranking officials to quit trying to find evidence that his people collaborated with the Russians. And this week, while he was basking in the love showered on him by the Saudi royal family and the Prime Minister of Israel, his staff gave us a peek at his proposed budget.

Pay attention, Rust Belt, I’ll keep it simple. The budget cuts nearly a trillion dollars (that’s $1,000,000,000,000) from Medicaid and food stamps while placing the burden for funding increases in those programs squarely on the shoulders of the states. In addition he’s giving the states sweeping authority to cut benefits further at their own discretion, which may be the only alternative to large increases in state taxes. Combined with the administration’s plans for health care, which with the new cuts in Medicaid could leave an additional 30 million people without coverage, try to picture how this will affect people who have lost their jobs and employer-related health insurance. The huge cuts all reduce the safety nets that are in place to protect their families from disaster.

And if that’s not bad enough, they want to slash Social Security SSI subsistence and health care benefits for the disabled. That means your brothers and sisters who were hurt on the job and exhausted their workers compensation benefits, your parents who were paralyzed in accidents, disabled veterans, severely retarded and learning-disabled children – I could go on, but you get it. Suffice to say that the cuts in all the programs designed to support Americans most in need total over $1.3 trillion.

And for those of you with families who are struggling to get by hoping for one of those promised jobs, consider the huge proposed cuts in public education. Education Secretary Betsy Devos brags that this will be largest change in education choices in our history, unless you don’t happen to have the discretionary income to pull your kids out of public school. And remember Meals on Wheels? You may have to say goodbye to them, too.

Trump’s tax proposal includes huge benefits for the wealthy. The reduction in the marginal tax rate for the wealthiest Americans from 39.6% to 35% (a $4,600,000 tax cut on every $100 million of reported income) explains why they need to slash over a trillion dollars from programs the poorest Americans depend on. The tax plan includes eliminating the estate tax, which compared to current law, would benefit only estates valued at more than $5,000,000, killing the tax on investment income, and removing the Alternative Minimum Tax. Guess what all those changes have in common and who would benefit most from them?

As for middle income Americans, the administration wants to eliminate most itemized deductions, which for you means your real estate taxes and your state and local income taxes, that are all likely to rise as federal welfare and Medicaid funding dry up. And where are all those jobs Trump promised? Have you heard a whisper about that $3 trillion infrastructure bill? You’re not likely to any time soon.

But the budget proposal does keep one promise. It asks for $1.5 billion to pay for the border wall, just what workers in the Rust Belt need to keep their families safe.

So please, pay attention. The Trump budget and tax proposals can be summed up in a single word: BETRAYAL.

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