One hallmark of Donald Trump’s presidency to date has been his ignorant blustering about the office he holds, notoriously over-reaching in his assertions of power and bumping up against the checks and balances our founders put in place precisely to protect our democratic institutions against bullying tyrants such as Trump has proven himself to be.
From his behavior during the Republican primary and Presidential debates, referring to Senator Marco Rubio as “Li’l Marco” or hovering behind Hillary Clinton, to his harassing tweets, to his recent harassment of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, not to mention the infamous Planet Hollywood tapes in which he bragged about his ability to get away with grabbing women’s genitals, Trump has gloried in being an abusive bully and availing himself of any opportunity to exert over others whatever power his positions have afforded him.
So when then-candidate Trump promised on the campaign trail to repeal the carried interest tax loophole that allowed hedge fund and private equity fund managers to pay a much lower tax rate on their cut of the funds’ profits than those in other professions pay on profits, you might be inclined to think he would use the full force of his bully pulpit to, well, bully those corporate robber barons he had indicted as “getting away with murder.” In draining the swamp, Trump was going to disarm the powerful influences of lobbies and corporate interest groups to protect the interests of the middle class.
But now that the Tax Cut and Jobs Act bill has sailed through Congress with the carried interest tax loophole intact, hovering on the verge of landing on Trump’s desk, all signs point to the likelihood, even certainty, that Trump will delightedly sign the bill into law, desperate as he is for a major legislative accomplishment as his first year in office dwindles to an otherwise infelicitous conclusion.
But why is the bully abdicating the power which, in this case, the bully pulpit of the Presidential office actually affords him?
In the case of this tax bill, Trump actually held quite a bit of power which he could have chosen to exercise.
It’s called a veto.
And if Trump were to veto this tax bill, the slim Republican majority in the Senate would be powerless to overturn that veto. Trump has plenty of leverage to fulfill his promise to the American people and insist on a repeal of the carried interest tax loophole.
Given this obvious flourish of power with which our founders endowed the office of President, the explanations of Gary Cohn, chief economic advisor in the White House, come off as decidedly dubious and disingenuous.
In an interview Wednesday with Axios, Cohn claimed, “We would have cut carried interest. We probably tried 25 times.”
So what went wrong? Why did these apparently strenuous efforts of the bully Trump fail? According to Cohn, “We hit opposition in that big white building with the dome at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue every time we tried. It is just the reality of the political system. The reality of this town is that constituency [hedge funds and private equity] has a very large presence in the House and the Senate. They have really strong relationships on both sides of the aisle. We just didn’t have the support on carried interest.”
“We just didn’t have the support”?!?
Now that finally Trump actually has the power at his disposal to assert in the service of the American people and to keep his promise, he abdicates that power and has his economic advisor blame those very lobbyists and politicians Trump had promised to take on, denying the fact that he has the power to subvert those very lobbyists and politicians.
What this instance clarifies is that, once again, Trump has lied to and hoodwinked the American people, reneging on a promise he has the power to fulfill—a promise he never intended to fulfill. What is apparent is that all along he intended to abuse Presidential powers to enrich himself and others of the elite classes in the United States.
This fact is clear because now that he has the power of the veto to insist on removing the carried interest tax loophole, he chooses not to exert the powers of his office.
In this case, Trump seems to have chosen to talk loudly and brandish little to no stick whatsoever.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.