Wall Street Is Making Peace With the Idea of a Second Trump Presidency
Wall Street is making its peace with the idea of a second Trump administration. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in January, Jamie Dimon, the chair and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, spoke warmly of the former president who tried to overthrow American democracy after losing an election.
“Take a step back, be honest. He was kind of right about NATO, kind of right on immigration. He grew the economy quite well,” Dimon, an occasional Democratic donor, said. “Trade tax reform worked. He was right about some of China.”
Dimon’s sentiments are apparently widespread among the American financial elite. “Many Wall Street executives have made a calculated decision not to speak out against him,” CNBC reported, “and in some cases they will consider supporting the Republican former president over Democratic President Joe Biden.”
If you’ve been marinating in right-wing grumbling about “woke capital,” Wall Street being amenable to an aspiring strongman returning to the presidency might be surprising. Right-wing outlets like Fox News and The Daily Caller greeted Dimon’s remarks with incredulous headlines like “Dimon Shocks Davos Elites” and “Shocker! Conservative Views at Davos.” The tedious false populism of these reactions obscures the fact that there is nothing surprising at all about the American business elite signing on to the traditional Republican economic agenda, which is mostly what Trump is offering.
Companies like to sell things, and highly educated liberal voters have disposable income to buy them. Firms wanting to profit by selling products to well-off liberals is not the same thing as sharing liberal policy priorities; this is why “woke capital” is a myth, a shallow analysis that mistakes advertising and brand management for ideology. When it comes to what corporations really want, the answer is the same as it’s always been: tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation, and a labor market more favorable to employers than to workers.
That last item is an important one. Although the Biden administration has overseen a growing economy and a thriving stock market that has benefited corporate America, the tight labor market, combined with a worker-friendly National Labor Relations Board, has contributed to a resurgence in labor organizing. Amazon warehouse employees and Starbucks workers have started unionizing, and as the pro-labor Economic Policy Institute has documented, sanitation workers, auto workers, actors, television writers, nurses, and graduate students have successfully gone on strike. Successful strikes do not aid only union workers—after the United Auto Workers won wage increases, nonunion auto plants raised their wages as well.
When workers have more leverage, they can negotiate a bigger share of the economic pie—a state of affairs that Big Business typically wants to avoid. Private sector union membership remains at a historic low, but it has recently begun to increase. That trend is more likely to continue under a Biden administration than a Trump administration, and would mean not only better wages and benefits for workers but more political power for unions. And that’s one big reason why Wall Street is warm to the idea of a second Trump term.
The first Trump administration was happy to intervene in fights between employees and management on behalf of corporations rather than workers, whether related to unionizing, worker protections, wages, or retirement. It made forming unions and bargaining collectively more difficult. It reduced the number of workers eligible for overtime pay and even approved a since-overturned rule allowing employers to steal service workers’ tips.
The centerpiece of the Trump administration’s economic agenda was a tax-cut plan that mostly benefited wealthy families and corporations. The centerpiece of the economic plan for a second Trump administration is … doing that again, according to The Washington Post, except possibly financing that tax cut with a tariff, the burden of which would fall on everyone else. In September, the writer Matt Yglesias concluded that this would mean “raising taxes on the poor and the middle class in order to finance a tax cut for rich people. It’s cartoonishly evil.” If Trump ever gets tired of “Make America great again,” he could always run with “It’s cartoonishly evil.” I don’t really think it would lose him many votes, especially not from the kind of people angry about workers taking home a little more money.
“The 1930s ought to have buried the idea that business is a bulwark against autocracy,” the journalist Edward Luce wrote in the Financial Times. “Today’s America offers a reminder.”
Wall Street would prefer a strong economy without a resurgent labor movement, and that’s exactly what Trump is offering. Relying on capital to defend democracy rather than their own prerogatives and interests is always a mistake.