The Economic Betrayal in Trump’s False Promises

The past two years have showcased not only President Trump’s rigging of the U.S. economy, but also the unfulfilled economic promises he made to working Americans.

Supporters listen to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Ohio, October 2016. (Getty/Jeff Swensen)
Supporters listen to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Ohio, October 2016. (Getty/Jeff Swensen)

Routine dishonesty has been a defining characteristic of President Donald Trump’s campaign and tenure in the White House—and it should not be sugar-coated. At a staggering 8,158 false statements made over his first two years in office, Trump’s habit of lying can begin to seem mundane or even comical. But, for millions of American families living paycheck to paycheck, Trump’s unfulfilled economic promises are anything but trivial. Throughout his campaign, Trump pledged to quickly reverse sweeping economic trends that have left wages stagnant and large swaths of the country behind for decades, exploiting the understandable desire for systemic change in order to get elected. Once in office, however, he methodically executed an agenda to make those same problems worse.

Trump’s inability or unwillingness to assess the economy accurately and honestly has harmed the very people whose lives he promised to improve. A self-described advocate for “the forgotten men and women,” Trump’s economic priorities have instead heaped benefits on corporations and the wealthiest Americans, who were already reaping the vast majority of the economy’s rewards.

This was not a case of a presidential candidate with lofty aspirations meeting the reality of gridlock in Washington, particularly considering the advantage of having a Republican-controlled Congress. Trump’s core economic promises, which were the backbone of what he and others called “populism” or “economic nationalism” were—almost without fail—flat lies from the beginning.

Lie #1: “We’re going to have insurance for everybody”

Access to affordable health care is directly related to economic security, which, particularly given rising health care costs, may explain why it was a vital issue for voters in the 2018 midterm elections. Yet, despite promising “insurance for everybody,” Trump made it his first priority to pass legislation that would strip coverage from 20 million Americans and end protections for tens of millions more with pre-existing conditions. Trump has also called for work requirements—which disproportionately bar those who are working, ill, disabled, caregivers, or students from receiving health insurance—and cut tribal health care funding by hundreds of millions of dollars. Despite Trump’s campaign promise to lower drug prices, he has failed to deliver: Drug manufacturers continue to hike prices, and he backed Congress’ repeal of the individual mandate, which is estimated to increase the number of uninsured Americans by about 8 million by 2027.

Lie #2: “It’s going to cost me a fortune”

On the campaign trail in 2015, Trump claimed that his tax reforms would cost him a fortune. Once in office, however, Trump and congressional Republicans passed a tax bill, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), that gave a massive windfall to high-earners, including Trump himself, and wealthy real estate investors. The pass-through deduction loophole expanded benefits for companies—including the Trump Organization and Kushner Companies, to name a few—and a new carveout extended this break to real estate owners such as Trump.

Lie #3: “Every policy decision we make must pass a simple test: Does it create more jobs and better wages for Americans?”

In 2016, Trump outlined his economic plan, stating that every policy passed should “create more jobs and better wages for Americans.” Yet, the current economic reality paints a bleak picture for all but the wealthiest few. Wages have remained virtually stagnant for decades—increasing just $2.41 since the beginning of 2000—and have continued to follow this trend under Trump’s presidency. All the while, corporate profits have soared to unprecedented levels, with year-over-year increases of nearly 17 percent from this past quarter. The Trump administration also reversed an Obama-era rule updating overtime rules, resulting in $1.2 billion in lost wages per year. Furthermore, Trump has backed an assault on unions and left the minimum wage at a paltry $7.25, despite its purchasing power having sharply diminished in the 10 years since it was last raised.

Despite claims during his first press conference that he’d be the “greatest jobs producer that God ever created,” job growth under Trump has fallen in line with job growth of past administrations. The average number of jobs added per month has roughly mirrored that of the Obama administration. And despite the disproportionate effect that recessions have on working and low-income people, Trump has advocated for the very reckless policies that led to the 2008 crisis.

Lie #4: “Wall Street has caused tremendous problems for us. We’re going to tax Wall Street”

Despite promises to enhance the safety and stability of the financial system, since taking office, Trump and his appointed financial regulators have gutted postcrisis protections. From allowing big banks to load up on even more debt to eroding the Volcker Rule, the administration and Trump-appointed regulators have consistently advanced policies that serve the interests of Wall Street. An August report from the U.S. Senate Finance Committee estimated that Trump’s tax scam would hand a $26 billion windfall to the U.S. banking sector by the end of the year, with nearly half of the windfall going to six of the biggest U.S. banks. After Obama appointee Richard Cordray stepped down as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Trump administration quickly appointed Mick Mulvaney as acting director. Mulvaney, who had once called the very agency created to protect consumers in the financial sector a “sick, sad” joke, stripped powers from the fair-lending office, and publicly announced enforcement actions have fallen by 75 percent during his tenure. Although Trump once proclaimed his intention to break up the big banks in the interest of working Americans, the TCJA has directly—and generously—benefitted the wealthy and corporations by lowering the top individual income tax rate to 37 percent and slashing the statutory corporate tax rate.

Lie #5: “These [U.S.] companies aren’t going to be leaving any more”

On the campaign trail, Trump asserted that “these [U.S.] companies aren’t going to be leaving any more.” Yet, just this past November, General Motors Co. announced plans to close five plants in the United States and Canada, resulting in a 15 percent cut in its workforce, or 14,700 fewer jobs. This comes on the heels of hundreds of layoffs at Carrier and the Ford Motor Co. restructuring—far from the “great deal for workers” Trump once touted.

Trump made false promises in order to tap into many Americans’ genuine concerns and worries about income inequality and an economy that is tilted to benefit corporations, elites, and the wealthiest 1 percent.

Whether by paying for massive tax cuts for the rich with subsequent cuts in federal programming, or initiating a so-called trade war in which he uses thousands of American farmers as pawns to help corporations—Trump has rigged the U.S. economy for his and the wealthiest Americans’ gain. The past two years of Trump’s presidency have showcased not only his manipulation of the economy, but also the fraudulence of his economic promises to working Americans—the very promises that contributed to his electoral win.

Jesse Lee is a vice president for Communications at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Daniella Zessoules is a special assistant for Economic Policy at the Center.

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Jesse Lee

Senior Adviser

Daniella Zessoules

Research Assistant