Krugman: The wealthy’s support of Trump isn’t just about money

They’re also not crazy about those who — like Biden — don’t pay sufficient deference to them.

By Paul Krugman / The New York Times

After Donald Trump was convicted on 34 felony counts, the Heritage Foundation — a right-wing think tank that has, among other things, produced the Project 2025 agenda, a blueprint for policy if Trump wins — flew an upside-down American flag, which has become an emblem for support of MAGA in general and election denial in particular.

This action may have shocked some old-line conservatives who still thought of Heritage as a serious institution, but Heritage is, after all, just a think tank. It’s not as if upside-down flags were being flown by people we expect to defend our constitutional order, like Supreme Court justices.

Oh, wait.

But Heritage’s embrace of what amounts to an attack on democracy is a useful symbol of one of the really troubling developments of this election as it heads into the final stretch. Heritage presents itself as a defender of freedom, but its real mission has always been to produce arguments — frequently based on shoddy research — for low taxes on rich people. And its tacit endorsement of lawlessness illustrates the way many of America’s plutocrats — both in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street — have, after flirting with the crank candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., been rallying around Trump.

Why would billionaires support Trump? It’s not as if they’ve done badly under President Biden. Stock prices — which Trump predicted would crash if he lost in 2020 — have soared. High interest rates, which are a burden on many Americans, are if anything a net positive for wealthy people with money to invest. And I doubt that the superrich are suffering much from higher prices for fast food.

Wealthy Americans, though, are surely betting they’ll pay lower taxes if Trump wins.

Biden and his team have offered fairly explicit guidance about their tax agenda, which would directly raise taxes on high-income Americans and also raise corporate taxes, which would indirectly be mainly a tax on the wealthy. These measures wouldn’t produce taxes at the top remotely comparable to what they were during the Eisenhower years, when the top marginal income tax rate was 91% and large estates could face inheritance taxes as high as 77%. Still, Biden’s plans, if carried out, would make the rich a bit less rich.

Trump has been far less explicit, but he clearly wants to retain his 2017 tax cut in full, and his allies in Congress are committed not just to tax cuts but to starving the IRS of resources, which would allow more wealthy Americans to evade the taxes they legally owe.

So billionaires aren’t wrong in thinking they’ll pay less in taxes if Trump wins. But why aren’t they more concerned about the bigger picture?

After all, even if all you care about is money, Trump’s agenda should make you very worried. His advisers’ plans to deport millions of immigrants (supposedly only those in the country illegally, but do you really believe many legal residents wouldn’t get caught up in the dragnets?) would shrink the U.S. labor force and be hugely disruptive. His protectionist proposals (which would be very different from Biden’s targeted measures) could mean an all-out global trade war. If he’s able to make good on them, his attacks on the independence of the Federal Reserve risk much more serious inflation than anything we’ve experienced in recent years.

Beyond all that, Trump will almost certainly try to weaponize the justice system to go after his perceived enemies. Only someone completely ignorant of history would imagine himself safe from that kind of weaponization; even if Trump considers you an ally now, that can change in an instant.

And if you’ve been following Trump’s rantings, you know that his rhetoric is getting less rational and more vindictive by the week. Yet his support among billionaires seems if anything to be consolidating.

So what’s going on? Here’s what I think, although it’s admittedly speculative.

First, America’s oligarchs probably believe that their wealth and influence would protect them from the arbitrary exercise of power. Trump and company might turn corrupt law enforcement and a cowed judiciary against other people, but surely not them! By the time they realized how wrong they were, it would be too late.

As I’ve written before, the superrich can be remarkably obtuse and ignorant of history.

Second, at some level I don’t really think it’s about the money. How much difference does it make to a billionaire’s quality of life if he has to settle for a slightly smaller superyacht? At the top of the pyramid, wealth is largely about status and self-importance; as Tom Wolfe wrote long ago, it’s about “seeing ’em jump.”

And when politicians don’t jump, when they don’t treat the very wealthy with the deference and admiration they consider their due, some of them become enraged. We saw this when many Wall Streeters turned on President Barack Obama — after he helped bail them out in the financial crisis — because they felt insulted by his occasional criticisms.

Biden is hardly a class warrior, but he clearly doesn’t worship the superrich. And all too many of them are turning to Trump out of sheer pettiness.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Opinion

toon
Editorial cartoons for Friday, July 12

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Vote 2024. US American presidential election 2024. Vote inscription, badge, sticker. Presidential election banner Vote 2024, poster, sign. Political election campaign symbol. Vector Illustration
Editorial: Return Peterson, Ortiz-Self to House seats

The 21st district Democrats, each seeking a sixth term, are practiced and effective lawmakers.

Schwab: Trump can disavow Project 2025, but he’ll still use it

A wish list of ultra-conservative dreams, the revolution ‘will be bloodless,’ if we just go along with it.

AI offers opportunities to aid veterans

As artificial intelligence (AI) innovation continues to evolve, new applications for this… Continue reading

Investing in Herald’s staff will return investment

We have all watched with a mix of horror and sadness the… Continue reading

Krugman: The disconnect between good economy and bad attitude

With consumer numbers and opinion generally up, narratives explain our assumptions about how things are.

Comment: Next president could shift balance of 3-3-3 high court

After an eventful term, the court’s moderate conservatives may pause its to-do list. But an election looms.

Matthew Wallace, of D&L Fence, Inc., nails in a fence support on a model home at the Overlook at Riverfront on Monday, Oct. 10, 2016 in Everett, Wa. The project by Polygon Northwest has the first 30 homes, of 425 planned along the riverfront, in various stages of construction. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Editorial: Everett request for property tax lift reasonable

The increase to $2.19 per $1,000 of assessed value brings it closer to par with other cities in the county.

Vote 2024. US American presidential election 2024. Vote inscription, badge, sticker. Presidential election banner Vote 2024, poster, sign. Political election campaign symbol. Vector Illustration
Editorial: Return Cortes to 38th district House seat

In his first term, he successfully sponsored legislation that serves his district and the state.

Vote 2024. US American presidential election 2024. Vote inscription, badge, sticker. Presidential election banner Vote 2024, poster, sign. Political election campaign symbol. Vector Illustration
Editorial: Return Davis to 32nd District House seat

The three-term Democrat leads policy on domestic violence, addiction and law enforcement issues.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Thursday, July 11

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Comment: To protect our children’s future, reject I-2109

Ending the capital gains tax for the wealthy would cut billions of dollars in funding for children’s benefit.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.