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Trump is failing the little guy. The Dems should milk this

I LOVE the poorly educated" - so declared Donald Trump back in February 2016, after a decisive win in the Nevada primary.

And the poorly educated love him back: Whites without a college degree are pretty much the only group among whom he has more than 50 per cent approval.

But in that case, why has Mr Trump been unwilling to do anything - and I mean anything - to help the people who installed him in the White House?

News media often describe him as a "populist" and lump him in with politicians in other countries, like Hungary's Viktor Orban, who also gained power by exploiting white resentment against immigrants and global elites. And there are indeed strong, scary parallels: Mr Orban has effectively turned Hungary into an authoritarian state, retaining the forms of democracy but rigging the system in a way that gives his party a permanent lock on power.

It's alarmingly easy to envision the US going the same way, and very soon: If Mr Trump is re-elected next year, it could mark the end of America's democratic experiment.

But Mr Orban's success has depended in part on throwing his base at least a few bones. Hungary has instituted a public jobs programme for rural areas, offered debt relief, free schoolbooks and lunches and so on; all this was paid for in part by a significant rise in taxes.

True, those public jobs pay very low wages, and Mr Orban has also practiced crony capitalism on a grand scale, enriching a new class of oligarchs. But there's at least a bit of actual populism - that is, policies that actually do offer some benefits to the little guy - in the mix.

In 2016, on the campaign trail, Mr Trump sounded as if he might be a European-style populist, blending racism with support for social programmes that benefit white people; he even promised to raise taxes on the rich, himself included.

Since taking office, however, he has relentlessly favoured the wealthy over members of the working class, whatever their skin colour. His only major legislative success, the 2017 tax cut, was a huge break for corporations and business owners; the handful of crumbs thrown at ordinary families was so small that most people believe they got nothing at all.

At the same time, he keeps trying to destroy key provisions of Obamacare - protection for pre-existing conditions, premium subsidies and the expansion of Medicaid - even though these provisions are highly popular and have been of enormous benefit to people in the states like Kentucky and West Virginia, who favoured him by huge margins.

As if to symbolise who he's really working for, Mr Trump was on Wednesday due to present a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Art Laffer, best known for insisting that tax cuts for the wealthy pay for themselves. This is a classic zombie idea - one that has been repeatedly killed by evidence, but keeps shambling along, eating our brains, basically because it's in plutocrats' interest to keep the idea in circulation.


And here's the thing: White working-class voters seem to have noticed that the President isn't working for them. A new Fox News poll finds that only 5 per cent of whites without a college degree believe that his economic policies benefit "people like me", compared with 45 per cent who believe that the benefits go to "people with more money".

Mr Trump may believe that he can make up for his pro-plutocrat tax and health policies with tariffs, his one significant deviation from GOP orthodoxy. But despite his insistence that foreigners will pay the tariffs, an overwhelming majority of non-college whites believe that they will end up paying more for the things they buy.

Oh, and remember his promises to bring back coal? His own Energy Department projects that coal production next year will be 17 per cent lower than in 2017.

Now, this doesn't mean that there will necessarily be large-scale defections on the part of his beloved "poorly educated".

On the other hand, health care - where his betrayal of past promises was especially obvious - seems to have played a big role in Democrats' mid-term victory. And he is certainly more vulnerable than he would be if he engaged in even a smidgen of actual populism.

Why won't he?

Part of the answer may be personal: His whole career has showed him to be the sort who, if anything, revels in taking advantage of people who trusted him.

Beyond that, however, for all the talk about how "it's Trump's party now", he still needs the support of the GOP's big-money interests. For now, the party establishment is happy to provide cover for the administration's corruption, closeness to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and all that.

But that could change. If Mr Trump ever did anything that might hurt the rich or help the poor, many Republicans might suddenly discover that self-dealing and accepting help from hostile foreign powers are actually bad.

Whatever the reasons, the simple fact is that he isn't a populist, unless we redefine populism as nothing but a synonym for racism. At least some in the white working class seem to have realised that he's not on their side.

The Democrats would be foolish not to make the most of this opening. NYTIMES