Trump promised to put American workers first. He lied

Proposed cuts to federal agency budgets and changes to employment law benefit only the US president and his cronies

  • Michael Paarlberg is an assistant professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University

‘It’s hard to imagine a more anti-worker agenda from any president, much less one claiming the mantle of champion of the American worker.’ Donald Trump in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in June, where he spoke about renegotiating Nafta. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

As Donald Trump celebrates Labor Day by proposing to slash taxes for CEOs such as himself, it may come as a shock that a president who was previously best known for firing people on TV might not have been completely sincere in his promise to put “American workers first”.

And like most things he says, it’s hard to tell what that’s supposed to mean. This is the same man who, as a candidate, said US workers’ salaries were “too high”, something even the most reactionary politician knows not to say out loud.

So when he proclaims that “lower taxes on American business means higher wages for American workers”, the fact that this statement is demonstrably false is beside the point: as a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies shows, the job growth rate for corporations that paid the least amount in taxes over the past eight years was negative 1%, compared to 6% for the private sector as a whole; businesses for the most part spent tax breaks not on job creation but on stock buybacks and executive pay.

It’s also beside the point whether Trump actually believes corporate tax cuts benefit workers. They benefit him, and the people he goes golfing with, and that’s all that matters. This is a president who embodies rent-seeking at its purest.

Consider the Department of Labor, an otherwise low-profile department targeted in Trump’s budget proposal for a 21% funding cut, the largest of any federal agency after the Environmental Protection Agency and State Department.

The Department of Labor is known mostly for enforcing overtime and minimum wage rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and probably wouldn’t be on Trump’s radar were it not for the fact that it has hit his businesses with 24 violations for failing to pay workers.

Trump’s original pick to run the department, Carl’s Jr CEO Andy Puzder, shared with Trump a long list of FLSA violations; his fast food business is one of the worst offenders in an industry well known for ripping off workers.

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