At a meeting of the Vassar Democrats, it was suggested that Donald Trump is a “pro-business conservative.” While it is laughable to describe Trump as a conservative, it is astronomically impossible for him to truly be “pro-business.” The Vassar Democrats are not alone in this notion: it has been suggested by various liberal politicians that Trump falls into the same category as the other corporate Republicans. It is this type of generalization that national Democrats must cast off if they wish to best adapt to the political environment, oppose the government and win over the electorate.
First off, let’s hastily draw the distinction between the business community and Trump’s businesses. It would take someone better than the likes of Kellyanne Conway to convince people that Trump isn’t in the business of boosting his own assets or those of his family. He literally plugged his daughter’s products on Twitter and had Conway go onto cable news to endorse them. However, wanting to help the Trump brand is not the same as wanting to benefit the business community at large. If anything, with the wide range of markets in which Trump has invested and the many competitors that has given him, Trump’s desire to benefit his own businesses may serve as a reason for him to hinder other businesses.
Once we have cleared that roadblock, we must then look at Trump’s policies and policy proposals and how they might affect businesses and the business community as a whole. According to CNN, “Donald Trump doesn’t sound like a friend of big business, much less Wall Street,” because he “antagonizes long-time trading partners. His anti-immigration rhetoric also puts him at odds with many in the C-suite” (CNN Money, “Is Donald Trump Anti-Business?” 05.10.2016). That’s just the summation; what about the specifics?
I organized Trump’s policies into three different classifications. First, there are risky policies, which have the potential to help businesses but also potential to crush businesses and/or the economy. The second type are deceptive, which appear to help businesses but will likely hurt them instead. The third are hazardous, which would very directly hurt businesses and/or the economy.
One example of a risky policy Trump has proposed is tax cuts. Trump’s policy on tax cuts is probably the only obviously business friendly one he has proposed. However, this policy is offset by the massive damage it would do to the overall US economy when his large scale spending plans on things like a border wall and increased military size, as well as his very few proposed spending cuts, are considered. Based on this and other factors, the Wall Street Journal suggests “Trump’s fiscal plans would sharply boost deficits and the debt over the next decade” (“Donald Trump Would Boost Debt More Than Hillary Clinton,” 09.26.2016). This would hurt the US economy by driving up interest rates and impeding business activity. He has also committed to “closing unspecified tax loopholes,” (CNN Money 10.08.15) which is one of the primary ways in which the rich avoid paying high tax rates, something that tax cuts would not offset. So, while this policy could be described as merely risky, it is really a disguised hazardous policy.
Let’s talk about a deceptive proposal of Trump’s: scaling back economic regulations. Ignoring the fact that this could help facilitate a 2008-like recession and definitely hurt many voters in the populist wave that swept him into office, this plan would actually be bad for banks and funds as well. It must come as a surprise that deregulation, particularly the scaling back of Dodd-Frank (a bill that banks fiercely opposed when it was first passed) is opposed by banks, but there’s a good reason for this opposition–it will actually cost banks more money. The reason is that big changes in laws and regulation, such as the repeal of Dodd Frank, can be even worse for banks than the laws and regulations themselves because the changes create uncertainty and can cost billions to implement. According to Business Insider, “[t]o comply with… Dodd-Frank… U.S. banks hired tens of thousands of staffers, built new technology systems, hived off businesses, simplified corporate structures and doubled the amount of capital they hold” (Business Insider, “Bankers are worried that Trump will scrap Wall Street regulation,” 11.28.2016). Now bankers say “any big rollback in rulemaking could take several years to implement and may introduce more costs” (Business Insider). Essentially, they changed their entire structure to comply with Dodd Frank and are now at a comfortable place where they are adapted to the current regulatory system. The possible gains banks would get from deregulation (not considering the damage a sharp recession might do to all, including banks), might easily pale in comparison to the costs required to adapt to deregulated market. While bankers and economists have differing opinions over whether or not Dodd Frank should be scaled back, many agree that it would cause a burden. So here, liberals and the banks actually agree on something.
Then there is the third classification, hazardous. These policies would, directly or indirectly, blatantly damage US business interests or the economy. Ironically, the majority of Trump’s economic policies, and even some of his social policies, fall into this category. Trump’s whole attitude towards international trade is seriously detrimental to US business interests. Trump “seems genuinely to believe that trade impoverishes us, which is odd for a businessman, because ‘trade’ is really just another word for business” (Real Clear Politics, “The Anti-Business Businessman,” 01.19.2017). Indeed, this attitude seeps into his policies on free trade and immigration. Trump has argued for putting tariffs (taxes) on goods imported from other countries. He has argued that we should scrap proposed trade deals and coalitions and pull out of others including North American Free Trade Agreement. He has said that we need to coerce American businesses into only hiring and manufacturing in America by imposing harsh penalties on those that choose to take business elsewhere. His stern policy on immigration, favoring deportation and a wall to keep out illegal immigrants, would also hurt businesses, many of whom rely on cheap immigrant labor. Note here the many farms around the country suffering labor shortages due to immigration obstacles.
Thus, a large part of Trump’s policies that pertain in some way to businesses or the economy would hurt US business interests. Some may argue that Trump’s cabinet, with an unprecedented number of bankers, specifically Goldman Sachs bankers, CEOs and assorted billionaires is a sign that the administration plans to make every action as business and bank friendly as possible. While this is possible, it does not seem the case for now. The evidence is, at best, mixed on whether or not cabinet members act in the interest of their previous employers. Furthermore, Trump has proven that, even while his administration has been in chaos, he is inclined to keep as many of his campaign promises as possible. His posturing about Wall Street has been mostly negative, accusing Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton of corruption for their connections to Goldman Sachs and stirring anti-corporation sentiments amongst his supporters by accusing business owners of selfishly moving jobs abroad.
Some may complain that this article reads as though we should all feel sympathetic towards businesses who may feel the sting under Trump. My arguments are not motivated by sympathy or sentiment. What I am simply arguing is that while Trump poses dangers for people of color, women, LGBT individuals and the poor, as well as others, this is not necessarily to the benefit of businesses either. They too may well be hurt and aggrieved. While it may feel right for liberals to rail against corporate Democrats and moderate Republicans in their anti-Trump crusade, they must remember it takes a broad coalition to defeat a President–even if that means working with folks you wouldn’t normally work with. Now is not the time to pick fights among those opposing Trump, thus benefiting our common enemy. Now is not the time for division amongst the opposition. Remember the Democratic slogan touted by Clinton, Sanders and Warren alike–stronger together!