The gold-plated pop­ulist

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - DANA MILBANK Twit­ter: @Milbank

How many Amer­i­cans does it take to keep Pres­i­dent Trump and his fam­ily in the life­style to which they are ac­cus­tomed? Well, think of it this way. The Post last week had a scoop on the Se­cret Ser­vice re­quest­ing an ad­di­tional $60 mil­lion in its next bud­get: $27 mil­lion to pro­tect the pres­i­dent’s wife and son in their three-floor pent­house at Trump Tower in New York, where they live in­stead of the White House, and $33 mil­lion for ad­di­tional travel costs.

The av­er­age fam­ily of four in the United States pays about $4,000 a year in fed­eral in­come taxes. That means the en­tire tax bill for 15,000 fam­i­lies for the year will go to­ward th­ese ad­di­tional pro­tec­tion mea­sures for Trump. And the Se­cret Ser­vice is just a slice of the over­all ex­pense. Fig­ure in costs in­curred by author­i­ties in Florida and New York, the Pen­tagon and oth­ers, and costs re­lated to the Trump sons’ in­ter­na­tional busi­ness trips, and we’re well over $100 mil­lion a year.

That’s the an­nual fed­eral in­come-tax bill for some 25,000 Amer­i­can fam­i­lies. Each trip Trump takes to his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, where he has gone most week­ends since his in­au­gu­ra­tion, is es­ti­mated to cost tax­pay­ers in ex­cess of $3 mil­lion. And an un­known chunk of the tax­pay­ers’ money sub­si­dizes Trump busi­nesses in the form of rent, restau­rant bills and pub­lic­ity. In April, Trump will host Chi­nese leader Xi Jin­ping at what Trump dubs the “South­ern White House,” which is a Trump prop­erty where the ini­ti­a­tion fee has dou­bled to $200,000 since Trump won the pres­i­dency.

The tax­payer sub­si­diza­tion of Trump’s rich-and-fa­mous life­style is but one of the bait-and-switch ma­neu­vers by Trump, who said dur­ing the cam­paign that “I would rarely leave the White House be­cause there’s so much work to be done.” The man ran as a pop­ulist and is govern­ing as a plu­to­crat.

The now-with­drawn House GOP health-care bill, pushed by Trump, would be a huge trans­fer of wealth to the rich from the poor and mid­dle class. The Ur­ban-Brook­ings Tax Pol­icy Cen­ter cal­cu­lates that while low-in­come Amer­i­cans would take a hit un­der this plan, the av­er­age fam­ily earn­ing more than $200,000 could be $5,640 bet­ter off. White, work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties that sup­ported Trump would be dis­pro­por­tion­ately hurt. Un­der re­vi­sions to the bill last week, 24 mil­lion peo­ple would still lose health-care cov­er­age but wealthy Amer­i­cans would get even more of a tax break, the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice said.

Trump’s bud­get, un­veiled shortly be­fore one of his Mar-a-Lago jaunts, would cut many of the gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to help low- and mid­dlein­come Amer­i­cans: aid for small man­u­fac­tur­ers, fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to ru­ral re­gions, af­ford­able hous­ing, job train­ing and home heat­ing. Anal­y­ses of pre­vi­ous Trump pro­pos­als have shown that the wealth­i­est 1 per­cent of Amer­i­cans would get nearly half of the tax ben­e­fits.

On March 18, The Post’s Philip Rucker and Robert Costa re­ported on the un­ex­pected in­flu­ence of a “co­terie of as­cen­dant Man­hat­tan busi­ness fig­ures” around Trump aligned with son-in­law Jared Kush­ner: Gary Cohn and Dina Pow­ell, for­merly of Goldman Sachs, and two other busi­ness­men re­cruited by Kush­ner, Chris Lid­dell and Reed Cordish. They, along with fi­nance and in­dus­try heav­ies in the Cab­i­net such as Wil­bur Ross, Steven Mnuchin and Rex Tiller­son, are pro­vid­ing a coun­ter­weight to ad­viser Stephen K. Ban­non’s pop­ulism.

Plu­toc­racy doesn’t come cheap, in ways big and small. Tiller­son, the sec­re­tary of state, kicked the press corps off his plane, which means tax­pay­ers will prob­a­bly pick up tens of thou­sands of dol­lars in travel costs that had been paid by me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions. (The ad­min­is­tra­tion said Tiller­son flew on a smaller plane to save money, but the mil­i­tary 737 he took is of­ten used by of­fi­cials trav­el­ing with re­porters.)

A bud­get-con­scious pres­i­dent would spend week­ends at Camp David rather than hop­ping on Air Force One, at about $200,000 an hour, to Palm Beach, Fla. The Post’s Philip Bump es­ti­mated spend­ing on Trump’s travel and pro­tec­tion, if it con­tin­ues at cur­rent rates, at $526 mil­lion for his pres­i­dency. This dwarfs what was spent by Trump’s pre­de­ces­sors, even though Trump in 2012 tweeted that Obama’s “va­ca­tion is cost­ing tax­pay­ers mil­lions of dol­lars — un­be­liev­able!”

Trump has al­ready used his of­fice to boost Trump prop­er­ties by din­ing at the Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel in Wash­ing­ton and play­ing golf on his cour­ses. And the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has told the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion that this is just fine. The Gen­eral Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion on Thurs­day de­clared that the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion is in “full com­pli­ance” with the terms of its lease of the Trump In­ter­na­tional fa­cil­ity, even though the agree­ment says no “elected of­fi­cial of the gov­ern­ment of the United States” can get “any ben­e­fit” from the lease. Trump stepped down from day-to­day man­age­ment of his com­pany, but he and his fam­ily still stand to make out fi­nan­cially.

Trump, who has of­ten pointed out that he’s ex­empt from con­flict-of-in­ter­est rules, isn’t just any elected of­fi­cial. Last Wed­nes­day, when asked by Time’s Michael Scherer about cred­i­bil­ity prob­lems over his false in­tel­li­gence claims, Trump had an im­pe­ri­ous jus­ti­fi­ca­tion: “I’m pres­i­dent, and you’re not.”

Or, as an­other big-spend­ing politi­cian once put it: L’etat, c’est moi.


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