Here's exactly how Donald Trump could hurt the middle class — and how to fight back

ByJames Dennin

President-elect Donald Trump has begun setting up his transition team — and between that and his proposed policies we are starting to get some clues as to how his first term might play out.

Trump's populist rhetoric helped him get elected: He has said hedge fund managers are "getting away with murder" and called Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton a "Wall Street puppet."

But the composition of Trump's advisers and transition team — like hedge fund billionaire John Paulson, who made a killing shorting subprime mortgages ahead of the financial crisis, and David Malpass, former chief economist for Bear Stearns — suggest Trump is already singing a different tune about Wall Street now.

"Trump ran an anti-establishment campaign focused on the economy," said Alexis Goldstein, a senior policy analyst for progressive nonprofit Americans for Financial Reform. "There was a huge focus on fighting for people who were left out. It's already a betrayal of his supporters to staff up his transition team with hedge fund managers."

But what should really worry the middle class goes far beyond Trump's new team: Here's how his key policies would hurt the middle class — including the white workers who helped drive his win

Trump's tax plan gives the lion's share of benefits to the rich. 

While Trump made his appeal to the working class, he built a tax plan that lavishes benefits on the rich — while potentially raising taxes for certain lower-income people and single parents

"There was never any real backing for his argument that he was proposing populist tax reform," said Matthew Gardner, a senior fellow at nonpartisan nonprofit Institute of Policy and Taxation. "If you look at the two pretty similar tax plans he released as a candidate, they had two things in common: one is that they would each have sharply reduced tax revenues, the other is that they would give a disproportionate amount of the benefits to the top 1%."

As the tweet below, based on data from Citizens for Tax Justice, breaks down, if you look at exactly how much your tax burden is expected to change for different income groups, Trump's tax cuts pay a lot more if you're rich. The top 1% of American earners get 44% of the total money.

Conservatives argue tax cuts jump-start the economy, Gardner said, by putting cash in the hands of job creators. This line of thinking is called "supply-side" or "trickle-down" economics.

The problem? Data show that regressively giving wealthier people more money can actually slow economic growth — and progressively giving poorer people more cash increases growth.

"The single most effective way of using tax policy to induce economic behavior is to give tax cuts to low income people who spend it," Gardner said.

Trump could cut government programs that help people — like Medicaid.

Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, characterized Trump's overall tax plan as "absolutely regressive."

What's more, these plans are expensive: The center estimates Trump's plan could cost up to $6.2 trillion over the next 10 years, and it's not immediately clear how these losses of revenue are going to be paid for.

"Trump has excluded large chunks of the budget from any spending cuts," Gleckman said, pointing to Social Security and defense as two examples. That suggests "the biggest target is going to be Medicaid."

Cuts to Medicaid would be devastating to vulnerable Americans: its biggest beneficiaries are the disabled young and the elderly, Gleckman said.

Trump could scrap regulations that protect working folks, like the overtime rule.

Trump did exceptionally well with the white working class, by some counts pulling in 49% of voters in union households.

But while Trump and labor are aligned on one of his most oft-cited policies regarding trade, said Josh Bivens, research and policy director at the left-leaning nonprofit Economic Policy Institute, workers would have plenty to fear in a Trump administration.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

One concern has to do with funding for the Labor Department, Bivens said, which might be weakened — and therefore less powerful as a tool for fighting on behalf of workers.

This arm of the government is tasked with keeping your boss from ripping you off: everything from wage theft, to the new overtime rules which go into effect next month — and which one of Trump's top economic advisors said was "very harmful" to job creation.

"There's the broad concern that Trump is running on an absolutely enormous tax cut, and anytime you do that there's going to be a reduction in benefits," Bivens said. "Enforcement in the Labor Department has never been a priority among Republicans."

Trump could weaken the agency that protects you from scammers.

A big concern for consumer advocates is what will happen to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency tasked with protecting Americans from financial scams, like when Wells Fargo got customers to pay for accounts they didn't ask for

The bureau has also set up rules that make it harder for debt collectors to harass you, and cracked down on the exploitation of veterans.

Part of the reason the agency is effective, Americans for Financial Reform's Goldstein said, is the autonomy of director Richard Cordray, who one lawyer and CFPB expert told the Los Angeles Times could get the pink slip from Trump "the first week."

Trump could certainly pressure Cordray to leave — and a recent court ruling might even allow Trump to fire him without cause.

"It looks like, based on [Trump's] transition team, they're going to go after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has returned $11 billion to people scammed," Goldstein said. "The very agency that protects the people Trump said he would protect."

Trump could make it easier for financial professionals to screw over their clients.

Another protection for workers that Trump might do away with is what's called the "fiduciary rule," scheduled for 2017, which limits financial professionals to selling you only those financial and retirement products — like the holdings in your retirement account — that are in your best interest.

(That's right, such a basic protection does not already exist!)

One of Trump's top economics advisers, Anthony Scaramucci, has suggested Trump would repeal the fiduciary rule — which Scaramucci actually likened to the 1857 Dred Scott decision, which upheld slavery.

That would be a step backward, experts say.

"That's a very helpful rule, it forces the banks to look at holistic advisory services as opposed to selling product," said Brent Lipschultz, a partner at financial consultancy PWC. "I think it would bad to get rid of it."

A big caveat: Some experts say Trump would likely leave the rule alone.

That's because banks are already getting ready for the rule to go into effect in April 2017, and reversing the tide might not be worth the political capital, as one lawyer told MarketWatch.

Here's how to stop Trump from hurting the middle class.

If you are worried about Trump's economic policies and leanings outlined above, remember that you can exercise your democratic right to free speech.

You can write or call your elected officials — searchable on the website for the House of Representatives (just plug in your zip code) or on the Senate contact page — and let them know which worker protections are important to you. 

The GOP controls the Senate, but they don't have a super majority — meaning there's still the possibility of "give and take" as tax and regulatory policies are hashed out, PWC's Lipschultz said. 

You could also author or circulate a petition using a resource like, to increase awareness about the importance of a particular program or benefit.

Finally, consider donating to political candidates that advocate for worker protections: Money talks.

Trump won the presidency despite spending half as much money as his opponent — but more than 90% of Congressional races were won by the highest-spending candidate, according to FEC data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Trump's spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.