Donald Trump’s pitch for his Trump University promised a world of possibility to potential students. “At Trump University, we teach success. That’s what it’s all about. Success,” he tells his audience. “It’s going to happen to you.” In one advertisement promoting free seminars for the school, Trump guaranteed results. “In just 90 minutes, my hand-picked instructors will share my techniques, which took my entire career to develop. Then, just copy exactly what I’ve done and get rich,” he said.
Leaning on an image of wealth and expertise—drawn less from reality than from reality television—Trump promised an easy path to prosperity, and people believed him. At least 5,000 people bought into Trump University, paying as much as $35,000 each to participate in live seminars and mentorship programs. These students bought in expecting they would learn Trump’s real estate investment skills, and receive special financing and close mentoring that would help them recoup the cost of their training and then some.
Trump didn’t just fail to deliver; the entire thing was a scam. Far from “hand-picked,” his instructors had little knowledge of real estate. Many customers would later allege that they paid for services never received. Finally, he pushed his employees to target the elderly and uneducated, pushing vulnerable people to take on thousands of dollars in debt and exploiting their hope for a better life to line his pockets. Ultimately, the law caught Trump, forcing him to pay a $25 million settlement for this fraud.
Trump University was an exercise in cruelty and predation. It is also a useful episode for thinking about President Trump’s $4.1 trillion budget proposal, released on Tuesday. Like all presidential budgets, this document isn’t a forecast. Congress still holds the power of the purse—and lawmakers have already declared it “dead on arrival.” Still, it’s a statement of purpose—a glimpse into the values of the administration and a guide to its vision of the good.
If you followed Trump’s presidential campaign, you might assume that his budget would reflect his promise to put “America first,” with a focus on ordinary people and their needs. Indeed, along with attacks on Muslims and immigrants, Trump made specific promises: That he would provide cheaper, more comprehensive health care; that he would protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; that he would raise wages and provide new jobs. People believed him, and millions backed his campaign, confident that he would steer government for their benefit.
This was a scam too. There is no relief coming. No help with health care or jobs. Instead, if Trump and his team could govern by fiat, they would siphon trillions of dollars from the federal government to fill the coffers of the wealthiest people in the country, breaking his promises and immiserating millions of low-income and working Americans of all political stripes.
President Trump’s budget includes roughly $2.5 trillion in cuts to anti-poverty programs, spaced out over a 10-year period. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—otherwise known as “food stamps”—loses $191 billion. Between the Republican health plan—included in the proposal—and a set of additional cuts that reduce eligibility and shrink year-over-year funding, Medicaid loses nearly $1.5 trillion, or just more than 47 percent of its budget over the next decade, an unfathomable blow to low-income families, children, and the elderly.
The earned income tax credit and child tax credit—which provide needed relief to millions of working families—lose $40.4 billion. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, “welfare,” loses $21.6 billion, further slashing an already stingy and tough-minded program. Disability insurance and Supplemental Security Income, two key parts of Social Security that provide assistance to poor seniors and people with disabilities, lose $72 billion. On top of all of this, Trump’s budget makes substantial cuts to job-training programs, rental assistance, heating assistance for the elderly, education, and projects at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as funding for rural health and substance-abuse programs. It doesn’t just slash the social safety net; it douses it in fuel and sets it ablaze.
Although it bears his name, Trump’s budget is the brainchild of Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Prior to his service in the administration, Mulvaney was a congressman, representing the 5th District of South Carolina and leading the House Freedom Caucus, which he co-founded. More than anything else, this proposal reflects the cruel, Ayn Randian ideology that animates the Freedom Caucus and the larger Tea Party movement. To use the language of a somewhat younger Paul Ryan, it takes from “takers” and gives to “makers,” a fact Mulvaney neither hides nor shies away from.
“This is, I think, the first time in a long time that an administration has written a budget through the eyes of the people who are actually paying the taxes,” he said. Mulvaney added that while government should have “compassion” for the less fortunate, it should “also … have compassion for folks who are paying [for] it.”
Every working American contributes to the federal government, whether through payroll taxes or income taxes. But Trump and Mulvaney’s plan is to relieve the wealthy of their share. Next to the cuts, the centerpiece of this budget is a $3 trillion to $7 trillion tax cut for the richest Americans that lowers the individual rate, repeals taxes on investment income, ends the alternative minimum tax—which limits the deductions wealthy people can take—and slashes corporate taxes, as well as creating a massive new loophole for wealthy owners of partnerships and “sole proprietorships,” like incidentally, Donald Trump.
Millions of Americans cast their ballots in November thinking they’d get the best possible “deal” from a hard-charging president who cares about people like them. What they will receive—or at least, what he wants to offer—is highway robbery. He will pick their pockets to give benefits to his wealthy backers. It is shocking, but it’s not a surprise. This is who Trump was when he ripped off his contractors; it was who he was when sold a scam university to hopeful, desperate people; and it is who he is as president of the United States. Unfortunately, we now have to live with it.