Shortly after Trump’s election, the political scientist Mark Blyth argued that the outcome was not an idiosyncratic event, but rather the culmination of a long-brewing revolt against an anti-inflationary regime that had been built up over 30 years by parties of the center-right and center-left. If the inflation of the 1970s made that era a debtor’s paradise, the years since have for the most part been a creditor’s paradise, to the detriment of the debt-plagued working and middle classes of the developed countries. After the 2008 crisis, however, what had been a period of stable inflation and stable politics came unglued, and debtors started to embrace a succession of political outsiders who promised to shake things up.
As one of the chief beneficiaries of this development, it would have been natural for Trump to push an inflationary agenda, to start easing debt burdens. Trump’s decades-long experience as a real-estate speculator made him far less debt-averse, and thus less inflation-averse, than your typical billionaire, who is more likely to see inflation as a hideously unjust vehicle for wealth destruction. Throughout his career, he made a habit of taking on massive amounts of debt and then renegotiating the terms when things went south. At one point, Trump went so far as to dub himself “the king of debt,” boasting that he could work similar magic as the chief executive of U.S.A., Inc. Needless to say, presiding over the federal government is not quite the same as running a highly leveraged real-estate business, as countless critics pointed out at the time. But one thing was clear: There was no mistaking candidate Trump for a green-eyeshade, deficit-hawk Republican.