A blog about business and economics.

Nov. 29 2016 12:16 PM

Donald Trump Is Going to Coast on Obama’s Economic Success

The day Barack Obama was inaugurated as president, the United States was deep into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The country lost 791,000 jobs in January of 2009, and the worst was still to come. It was as if the new White House staff had been helicoptered into the middle of a California wildfire and told to go put it out.

Today, of course, things look quite a bit different. Though there are still far too many workers sitting out of the labor force, unemployment is down below 5 percent. Pay is rising; in fact, middle-class incomes shot up at their fastest pace on record in 2015. And after a little weakness earlier this year, economic growth seems to be healthy. The Commerce Department reports that gross domestic product expanded at a 3.2 percent annual rate in the third quarter, the fastest pace in two years. Corporate profits also had their strongest quarter of growth since 2012. “The U.S. economy is in good shape in the second half of 2016,” explains one economist quoted by the Wall Street Journal. “After some softness in late 2015 and early 2016, tied to an inventory correction and a downturn in energy production, growth has picked back up.”

In short, Obama is bequeathing his successor the sort of economy he could have only dreamed of when he was elected eight years ago. Politico's Ben White sums it up:

Presumably, our fact-agnostic president-elect will one day try to take credit for all this. Trump, after all, “is the definition of a man who was born on third and thinks he hit a triple,” as Harry Reid has put it. Assuming the U.S. is still sailing smoothly a few months from now, there's no reason to assume we won't be hearing about the glories of the Trump economy. Maybe his supporters will try to claim that the mere possibility of the man's election restored confidence to consumers and businesses this autumn. Or maybe they'll claim was really wreck until Trump took the reins. Who knows. Either way, I think former Obama speech writer John Favreau puts it well:

Don't forget who really put out the fire.

Nov. 29 2016 10:42 AM

Trump’s New Cabinet Pick Is Horrible News for Obamacare and Medicare

Donald Trump’s transition team announced on Tuesday morning that the president-elect has selected Georgia Rep. Tom Price as secretary of health and human services. The move sends at least two very loud messages. First, the incoming White House is dead serious about scrapping the Affordable Care Act. Second, it may well be open to ending Medicare as we know it.

Price, a former orthopedic surgeon who chairs the House Budget Committee, has not merely been a strident critic of the ACA: He’s also authored a 242-page bill to replace it, which Sarah Kliff has explored in some detail at Vox. The legislation would entirely eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and give extremely modest, age-based tax credits to Americans who need to buy insurance. It’s parsimonious even by the standards of Republican replacement proposals. This past June, however, Price signed on to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s own replacement proposal, unveiled as part of the GOP’s “A Better Way Platform,” which in theory might be a better-funded, if still deeply conservative, approach to health care reform. For example, Price’s plan would have spent $3 billion to fund high-risk insurance pools for Americans with pre-existing conditions for just three years. Ryan’s plan would spend $25 billion over a decade and make the pools permanent.

Price is similarly keen on Ryan’s plan to transform Medicare by turning it into a voucher system where the government would give seniors money that they could use to purchase private insurance. He included those changes in his 2015 budget, and recently told reporters that he expected Republicans to tackle Medicare “reform” some time in 2017, echoing Ryan’s own post-election comments.

As health and human services secretary, Price would ultimately be in charge of administering programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act—and presumably serve as Trump’s point man on health policy. Given that the president-elect is by all accounts a deeply impressionable man with little to no policy expertise, Price is almost certainly set to play an extremely influential role in any negotiations over health care legislation. Aside from steering the administration’s legislative priorities, Price will be able to meddle with Obamacare directly using his powers as secretary. As Margaret Hartmann notes at New York magazine, the man is notoriously opposed to the federal regulation that requires insurers cover contraceptives at zero cost and could undo it by using the administrative process to rewrite some of Obamacare’s rules.

Trump briefly seemed to soften his stance on the Affordable Care Act after meeting with President Obama earlier this month, suggesting that he might like to keep some of the law’s key provisions like rules banning insurers from discriminating against patients with pre-existing conditions. But with Price’s selection, any hope that the White House might resist the House GOP’s minimalist approach to reform seems to be dead. His presence in the Cabinet also seriously calls into question Trump’s early campaign promises not to cut Medicare, which helped distinguish him from the rest of the Republican pack among older voters deeply attached to their health care benefits. Words don’t mean much to our new president. But as the saying goes, personnel is policy.

Nov. 23 2016 6:16 PM

One More Thing to Blame on Trade: Rising Suicide Rates

Over the past few years, economists have found that surging imports from China may have led to millions of job losses in U.S. factory towns, confirming what plenty Americans already assumed about the dark side of trade. Now, another important but similarly unsurprising new study suggests that this rapid hollowing out of industrial communities across the country may have driven up suicide and drug overdose rates among working-class whites.

The draft paper, by Federal Reserve Board economist Justin Pierce and Yale School of Management professor Peter Schott, looks at how mortality rates changed across the country after the United States decided to grant permanent normal trade relations to China in 2000. According to the pair's previous research, that move contributed to the swift collapse in American manufacturing employment during that decade by giving U.S. companies the certainty that they could offshore production or start purchasing from Chinese suppliers without worrying about sudden tariff hikes. Their new study builds on that work. It shows that, compared with the rest of the country, counties where local manufacturing businesses were more vulnerable to Chinese competition saw their job markets deteriorate more severely and experienced greater increases in deaths by suicide and “accidental poisoning”—a category that includes drug overdoses. They found “mixed” evidence of increased deaths from alcohol-related liver disease.

The rising mortality rates were concentrated among whites. Pierce and Schott generally found no relationship between the change in China's trade status and suicide or poisonings among blacks or Asians, for instance. The impact was also stronger in communities where fewer people had gone to college. In other words, trade with China seems to have brought more despair and tragedy to working-class white communities.

This may sound familiar. Last year, economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton made a splash with research showing that mortality rates for middle-age American whites had risen even as they fell for minorities. Most of the change seemed to be due to rising drug and alcohol poisonings, as well as suicide. Pierce and Schott suggest their new findings “add context” to those findings by linking those issues to economic deterioration.

Which finally brings us to Donald Trump. People are going to argue for years about whether his rise was fueled mostly by white racial backlash or by economic devastation in the Rust Belt. My room-temperature take on that dispute is that a measure of both were involved, and that it's hard to separate the two. Moreover, it's a mistake to let the political science debate overshadow the fundamental economic issue. At this point, researchers are producing ample confirmation that even if you believe our trade policies of the past couple of decades have worked out for the economic good of the country, they really have immiserated large swaths of the country, to the point where the effects are apparently showing up in death tallies. Maybe that's not the only reason Trump is about to be our president. But it's something that needs to be fixed.

Nov. 23 2016 3:51 PM

HUD Is Essential to the Fight Against Poverty. Ben Carson Will Lobotomize It.

It was only eight days ago that Americans could heave a sign of relief over the humility of neurosurgeon and GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson, whose business manager told the Hill: “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience, he’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”

Times change, people change. On Tuesday, it was reported that Donald Trump had offered Carson the job as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. On Wednesday, he accepted.

Speaking with Neil Cavuto on Tuesday, Carson could not feign to be prepared. “What do you know about doing this?” Cavuto asked Carson on Fox News.

His response: He grew up in a city, spent some time in a city, and worked in one. “I know that I grew up in the inner city and spent a lot of time there and dealt with a lot of patients there,” Carson responded. “We cannot have a strong nation if we have weak inner cities.” He alluded to “corruption, graft, and shell games,” and concluded that “we need to start operating things in an effective and efficient way.”

Nov. 22 2016 7:22 PM

Donald Trump’s Best Conflict of Interest Yet Involves Merrick Garland and Las Vegas

It has been 11 months since 500 hotel workers at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas voted to join the Culinary Workers Union Local 226. They’d like to make as much money as their peers up and down the strip, and have access to better healthcare and a pension plan.

Trump Ruffin Commercial LLC, the company that runs the hotel and is co-owned by the president-elect and casino magnate Phil Ruffin, has opposed their efforts every step of the way. In the lead-up to the vote, the hotel company spent more than $500,000 on a union-busting consulting firm. After losing the vote, Trump’s company filed 15 complaints about the election, all of which were withdrawn or dismissed by the National Labor Relations Board. Three weeks ago, the NLRB ruled the hotel must recognize the union and had been acting in violation of federal law. Trump and Ruffin have appealed that ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The union now finds itself in an unusual position twice over. First, this is the most confrontational stance that Local 226, which has 57,000 members in Nevada, has encountered from a major hotel. Second, its opponent—in court, and across the bargaining table—is the president-elect of the United States.


Nov. 21 2016 4:43 PM

Millions Are About to Get a Raise for Overtime Work, and Republicans Are Plotting to Take It Away

It was just this spring that millions of Americans learned they were in for a big raise courtesy of the Obama administration’s long-awaited updating of the federal rules for overtime pay. The threshold for determining whether salaried workers are eligible for automatic time-and-a-half compensation when they work more than 40 hours a week is set to double on Dec. 1 to $47,476, giving a much-needed boost to an estimated 4 million workers.

They can enjoy it while it lasts—if they even receive it at all. It’s looking increasingly likely that a rollback of the overtime rules is squarely in the sights of congressional Republicans and the incoming Trump administration.

This is possible thanks to something called the Congressional Review Act. Among its provisions? Congress can vote to repeal—and a new president can sign off on—legislation rescinding regulations approved by the previous chief executive within 60 legislative days.

I italicized legislative for reason. The same way the phrase “business days” does not account for weekends and legal holidays, legislative days are the days Congress is actually in session. And while your representative is surely hard at work fundraising 365 days a year, actual sessions at the Capitol are something else.

Counting back from the end of the current congressional session, lobbyists and legislative staffers believe the 60-day window will likely stretch all the way to late April or early May of 2016. That’s a problem. The Obama administration released a final version of the overtime rules in mid-May.

Republicans in Congress have made no secret of their disdain for these rules and what they would like to see befall them. They claim that increasing the number of workers eligible for mandatory overtime will cause employers to reduce employee hours, causing income loss. Would that happen? Anything is possible, but it’s worth noting that it's the same claim conservatives tend to make in the face of almost every minimum wage increase, and the evidence is overwhelming that workers as a whole benefit when their minimum pay is raised. No surprise, a survey released by the National Employment Law Project Action Fund in September found that 76 percent of voters in the seven states they surveyed, which included Arizona, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, supported the new overtime rules.

That’s not stopping congressional Republicans. Politico reported this past weekend that the congressional Republican leadership is considering ending the current session in early December precisely to ensure it can do away with the overtime regulations under Trump.

Rescinding a pay raise is, of course, political poison. But it’s possible that workers won’t see that boost on Dec. 1, no matter what the law demands. A number of business groups (including the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as the National Retail Federation) and 21 states have filed a challenge to the law in federal court, so it’s quite possible the rules will be stayed prior to implementation.

And where is Trump in all of this? He did, after all, campaign as the champion of the working class, the exact sorts of voters likely to benefit from the upgraded overtime regulations. Well, he’s no fan. In an interview this past summer, he claimed he “would love to see a delay or carve-out of sorts for our small business owners.” The Trump transition team did not respond to requests for comment.

Overtime rules, of course, are not the only worthwhile Obama administration effort that could fall victim to these sorts of legislative shenanigans. There are about 100 rules at possible risk, including guidance demanding beefed-up standards governing retirement advice, new nutritional standards for school lunches, and higher protections for consumers purchasing and using prepaid debit cards.

And don’t think the Republicans don’t know it! Under the current rules, Congress needs to vote on each regulation individually. It’s quite likely that will change. Last week, the House passed a bill backed by Republican Rep. Darrell Issa that would allow for multiple rules to be repealed in one single bill. It’s all but certain this bill will be reintroduced early in the next congressional session.

If the overtime regulations are stayed, Walmart managers might be among the few to still benefit from them. The retail giant recently gave store managers earning less than the new threshold a raise totaling several thousand dollars so they could continue to work more than 40 hours a week without receiving overtime pay. This, apparently, is what passes for luck in the United States these days.

Some of the blame, should this come to pass, belongs to the Obama administration itself. In 2001, George W. Bush signed off on a congressional repeal of stringent workplace ergonomic standards issued by Bill Clinton less than a month before the end of his term. It’s an action that’s lived in political infamy ever since—and it’s known that the Obama administration was mindful of the 60-day window. But clearly it wasn’t mindful enough. And now, many of us are now likely to be poorer for it.

Nov. 21 2016 4:05 PM

The Company Behind the Dakota Access Pipeline Is Being Sold for $21 Billion. Is Trump the Reason Why?

Merger Monday started with a bang. Sunoco Logistics, a crude and natural gas pipeline company, agreed to acquire Energy Transfer Partners, a large pipeline company, in a transaction worth $21 billion. On CNBC, Jim Cramer called it “the first Trump deal.”

The thinking: Energy companies are likely to be attractive investments and acquisitions under the incoming administration. Donald Trump is less concerned with the environment than his predecessor, and has promised more drilling for oil, fracking for natural gas, and mining for coal. Companies like Energy Transfer Partners—in which Trump owns shares—are therefore likely to encounter fewer obstacles to building pipelines, which will mean more liquids coursing through their metal veins. Indeed, Energy Transfer Partners is the parent company of the entity that is struggling to build the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. (On Sunday, law enforcement deployed water cannons in frigid weather to try to disperse the Native Americans and environmentalists protesting the project.)

Simplistic explanations can be right. And it’s true that pipelines, especially those carrying oil, are a politicized topic. A case in point is the Keystone XL Pipeline, which was proposed to carry expensive, tough-to-get oil from the Alberta, Canada, tar sands, and which was ultimately stymied both by the Obama administration and shifts in the oil market. On the campaign trail Trump vowed to resuscitate it.

But there’s something else going on here. The Energy Transfer Partners deal happens to be motivated by two macroeconomic factors that Trump staunchly opposes: the war on coal and the open global trade of a vital national resource. The U.S. has an oil glut at the moment. Oil production rose about 88 percent between 2008 and 2015. But with prices having fallen sharply since 2014—largely due to a vastly increased supply—the boom is subsiding; in August, U.S. oil production was off 6.5 percent from the year before. It would be nice to have more oil pipelines, but the U.S. isn’t exactly starved for them.

Natural gas is another story. And natural gas pipelines are the asset that Energy Transfer Partners has—in spades—and that Sunoco Logistics lacks. Sunoco Logistics owns 5,900 miles of crude oil pipelines, a small amount of pipelines that carry liquids derived from natural gas, and storage facilities for products refined from both natural gas and oil. By contrast, Energy Transfer Partners owns and runs about “62,500 miles of natural gas and natural gas liquids pipelines,” the company claims, mostly in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania.

Thanks to fracking, natural gas production has boomed in those states and others. Nationwide, natural gas production soared 40 percent between 2005 and 2015. At the same time, demand for natural gas all over the country (and around the world) has been booming. For a variety of reasons, ranging from cost to the desire to meet environmental mandates, power plants in every region have been switching from coal to natural gas. In 2008, coal and natural gas accounted for 48 percent and 21 percent of electricity generation, respectively; so far this year, coal accounts for only 27 percent of electricity generation while natural accounts for 34 percent. (And more broadly, fossil fuels are losing market share to renewables.) The election of Donald Trump won’t change that. In coming years, power plants will be using more natural gas rather than less. And that means it is really valuable to have pipelines that can move natural gas across great distances.

There’s a second factor weighing in favor of natural gas pipelines. During the Obama years, natural gas exports grew rapidly—rising more than threefold between August 2008 and August 2016. Most of those exports travel via pipeline across the southern border to Mexico. But this year, for the first time, natural gas—and liquids derived from natural gas—is being piped onto ships at terminals in Louisiana and Pennsylvania that are bound for Europe, South America, and Asia.  There is surely much more of that to come. (Sunoco owns a storage facility at the Marcus Hook terminal in Pennsylvania, which is one of the places from which shipments of natural gas derivatives are shipped overseas.)

So, call it a Trump deal if you want. But the rise in demand for the cleanest-burning fossil fuel—and for the conduits that carry to them—is predicated largely on the displacement of coal and the formation of new global trade routes.  And Trump has nothing to do with those facts.

Nov. 21 2016 3:14 PM

Trump’s “Trillion-Dollar” Infrastructure Plan Is Already in Trouble

House Republicans have begun plotting their to-do list for the start of the Trump administration, and as you might expect, it is quite ambitious. Obamacare repeal is an early action item, of course. So are major tax cuts, which could happen by this spring. GOP members are also tallying up a list of regulations they'd like to mulch, which they can do with the help of a 1996 law that lets Congress easily reverse rules created in the past 60 days.

You know what conservatives aren't really talking about, though? Donald Trump's purported trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. Republican lawmakers who've been pressed say they are still waiting to hear how the president-elect will fund his proposal. Stephen Moore, a Trump adviser, is pushing the idea of covering the cost with the windfall from a one-time, 10 percent tax on corporate profits currently held overseas. But some members of Congress are cold on that plan. “Look, we don't have the details," House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster told Politico. "We're working very closely with his transition team and hopefully with the new department head to figure out how we're going to pay for it. It's got to be fiscally responsible.”

This game of wait-and-see is a subtle rebuke to Trump's brain trust. Shortly before Election Day, the president-elect's economic team posted a white paper arguing that the United States could spur $1 trillion in infrastructure spending for free—yes, free—by giving out about $137 billion in tax credits to private investors interested in developing roads, bridges, and the like. They claimed the program would cost Washington nothing at the end of the day, since the construction binge would create new jobs and tax revenue. In other words, the proposal would act as a Keynesian fiscal stimulus. It was the sort of argument Republicans have derided throughout the entire Obama administration and, apparently, GOP pols still aren't buying it.

If Congress insists that Trump pay for the full cost of his plan, it may have to shrink. While the tax on overseas profits would probably cover its full cost—the Tax Policy Center thinks such a “deemed repatriation” would raise almost $150 billion over ten years—some Republicans would like to use that money to cover the cost of tax cuts. And while Trump could try to free up cash by slashing the budget elsewhere, Congress to spend those savings on his pet project—which much of the GOP might not be too fond of anyway.*

Trump's infrastructure proposal is barely sketched out as of now, and when read literally, what's on the page doesn't make a whole lot of sense (it's not even clear exactly what the administration would count as “infrastructure”). But its core proposal—using tax credits to subsidize public-private partnerships of some sort—might not be very appealing to the rural and small-state politicians who help form the backbone of the GOP. After all, infrastructure investors generally tend to be interested in big, new, and profitable projects in major population centers. Think of new toll roads in heavy commuter zones or light rail projects. Private financing makes a whole lot less sense for fixing dilapidated highways in farm country, since that's not going to earn anybody much of a return. And it's unclear why senators from Iowa or Kansas would want to fund an infrastructure bill that doesn't spruce up their states.

Perhaps that's why Steve Mnuchin, currently considered the front-runner to become Trump's treasury secretary, has suggested Trump might try to create an infrastructure bank, a more modest idea that (wait for it) Trump's campaign attacked when Hillary Clinton proposed it. At the time, Trump's trillion-dollar promise made a nice talking point. But come next year, his administration will have to take what it can get.

Correction Nov. 21, 2016: This post originally stated that Stephen Moore is arguing that Congress should raise money for Trump’s infrastructure plan through a repatriation tax holiday, which encourages corporations to bring back profits held abroad by temporarily lowering the tax rate they must pay on them. As I noted in the piece, a repatriation holiday would be unlikely to raise all the money Trump needs for his infrastructure plan. However, Trump’s tax proposal, which Moore consulted on, actually calls for a “deemed repatriation,” which is essentially a one-time tax on all corporate profits currently stored overseas. The Tax Policy Center estimates that would generate about $147.8 billion over a decade, enough to cover Trump’s tax credits for infrastructure investors.

Nov. 21 2016 3:13 PM

Did Trump Ask the President of Argentina for a Building Permit? Either Way, There’s a Problem.

President-elect Donald Trump may have taken advantage of a congratulatory phone call last week from Argentine President Mauricio Macri to ask for an expedited building permit, an Argentine journalist reported on Sunday. The Trump Organization is involved in a project to build a $100 million, 35-story "Trump Office Buenos Aires," which needs special approval from the city government there. The Argentine developers, one of whom was at the Trump victory party in Manhattan earlier this month, are already working with the Trump Organization on a complex in nearby Punta del Este, Uruguay.

The claim that Trump asked Macri for the building's approval is untrue, spokespeople for Macri and Trump said Monday.

So, which is it? Did the future president of the United States use a diplomatic overture to promote his business interests, or did he merely put a foreign leader on the line with his daughter, who he has said will help run his business when he is president? (He definitely did the second; Macri said so himself.)

The truth is that it doesn't matter that much. Even if the president isn't so ham-handed as to actually ask foreign leaders to advance his bottom line, they know what they can do to help. One of the reasons Trump is investing in Buenos Aires right now, his Argentine partners told La Nación, is that Macri, a right-winger who was elected last fall, has lifted import restrictions that had prevented the Trumps from bringing in their desired building materials. As Macri prepares to negotiate with the U.S. over exports of lemons and beef and the exchange of tax information, the government of Buenos Aires will find that its permitting process suddenly could have global geopolitical implications.

Macri came into his first discussion with Trump at a slight disadvantage, having endorsed Hillary Clinton for president and called Trump an "eccentric man." In an interview with a Japanese newspaper he heaped some slightly back-handed praise on the new U.S. leader's political instincts. “He won the election while making many people his enemy. That shows that his capabilities and insights are excellent,” Macri said.

The chat between Trump and Macri would not have been the first time the two men talked shop.

Like Donald Trump, Mauricio Macri got his start working for his developer dad. While Fred Trump was building housing developments in New York, Franco Macri was building bridges, power plants, and pipelines in Argentina. In the 1980s, an investment in some Manhattan rail yards drew Macri père into the orbit of Trump fils. Macri sold Donald Trump his stake in the land for around $100 million in 1985. Trump later developed a series of apartment towers there, which bore his name until disgusted residents decided to take it down last week.

In The Art of the Deal, Trump characterized Franco Macri as a "wonderful and well-meaning man" without the foresight to compete in the New York real estate market. The elder Macri, in his own book, said that his son (Mauricio, the president of Argentina) trounced Trump in golf, prompting the mogul to snap his clubs in half.

Nov. 18 2016 6:41 PM

Steve Bannon Is Dreaming of a Permanent Trumpist Majority

When Karl Rove entered the White House as George W. Bush's political mastermind, it was often said that he dreamed of nothing less than forming a “permanent Republican Majority.” His real ambitions might have been slightly more modest—“there are no permanent majorities in American politics,” he once told Tim Russert. “They last for about 20 or 30 or 40 or, in the case of the Roosevelt coalition, 50 or 60 years, and then they disappear.” But he clearly hoped to build a durable conservative bloc that would dominate national elections decades into the future.

That dream died a hard death in 2008, when Barack Obama won the presidency, a watershed moment that in turn led many liberals to believe that the country's changing demographics might give their party a lasting grip on the White House.

Their dream died a hard death this month, when Donald Trump won the presidency.

Which brings us to Steve Bannon, Trump's senior advisor—this new administration's own Karl Rove, who helped make Breitbart the home cesspool of the racist, sexist alt-right, and whose appointment to the White House has been celebrated by the KKK and the American Nazi Party. Like those who came before him, Bannon appears to have his own ideas about a lasting Republican majority, which he explained in an interview with Michael Wolff for the Hollywood Reporter.

“I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist. I’m an economic nationalist,” he told Wolff, not all too convincingly. “The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get fucked over. If we deliver—we’ll get 60 percent of the white vote, and 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote and we’ll govern for 50 years.”

This is not entirely surprising stuff. Trump spent an entire campaign accusing “globalists” of selling out American workers with trade deals that shipped jobs to Mexico and China, after all. He spoke about an “America first” economic policy. But it's always hard to tell how sincere the president-elect is about his applause lines on the stump, or whether he even faintly grasps the issues underlying them, which has led many to wonder how hard he'll actually try to deliver on his promises, and how much he'll just leave to Congress.

Bannon, on the other hand, talks like he has a vision, one that he truly believes can realign this country's politics. Sure, it's a bit rich to go on about creating an alliance that can govern for half a century when your candidate couldn't even win a plurality of the popular vote and has a 42 percent favorability rating. But realism is sort of beside the point here. The incoming Trump administration seems to have at least one true believer in Trumpism, a man with the president's ear who may be willing to go to the mat for his ideology's particular policy mix of minimal corporate regulation, trade restrictions, low taxes, and massive infrastructure projects, even if that means battling it out with his own party.

“Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” he told Wolff. “It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”

(For my own sanity, I'd like to think that Bannon is thinking of the New Deal's public works when he references the 1930s, as opposed to the rise of European fascism. But I'm not 100 percent confident.)

It's too early to say precisely how much influence this man's views will have in the White House. It's hard to imagine Trump carrying out a trade war, for instance, if private equity honcho Wilbur Ross is posted at Commerce and ex-Goldman Sachs exec and hedge-funder Steve Mnuchin lands at Treasury. But Bannon, a man who has done as much to surface the ugliest impulses of American voters as anyone else, has got a dream. We can only hope it dies a hard death, too.