If Donald Trump is a populist, he's doing it all wrong

Donald Trump’s rise to power has been branded as populist, and in many ways it was as he campaigned on issues like immigration, trade and workers left behind by the economic recovery.

However, Trump’s early actions as president suggest that, if populism is what he was aiming for, he’s going about it all wrong. After all, what kind of populist makes tax hikes (the border tax) and stripping millions of their healthcare coverage as their opening policy action?

That seems to be just what Donald Trump did this week, as he called members of the House of Representatives down to the White House for a photo-op to celebrate a bill whose predecessor had been predicted by the Congressional Budget Office to push over 20 million off the insurance rolls in coming years, and whose chances of getting through the Senate intact are nil.

Democrats said the bill’s passage highlighted just how blatantly pro-rich the Republican agenda has become under Trump, and warned this would cost them votes in 2018. There’s now a photographic record of a group of rich, largely white men smiling as they take away poor and old people’s health insurance. This comes on the heels of Trump releasing a one-page outline of what he plans to do with taxes, which is unspecific about cuts for families but quite clear in its intent to slash tax rates on corporations, hedge fund managers, and multi-million dollar estates.

Trump could learn some lessons from the so-called developing world, where populists tend to deliver plenty of bread and circus — in the form of more accommodating social policy and investments in public services — before they begin the eventual, crisis-led austerity.

The US president wants to get right to the cutting part. The angry town halls many of his colleagues experienced after Republicans tried and failed to jam the original version of the legislation through should have been a cautionary tale. For those posing in the photo, clearly it is a lesson not learned.

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