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Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross talks with reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, in New York.Evan Vucci/The Associated Press

It's perhaps unsurprising that Donald Trump – No. 156 on the Forbes list of the world's richest – would populate his administration with people just like himself.

But with the U.S. president-elect now roughly halfway through the process of filling top cabinet posts, it's apparent something historic is afoot. Mr. Trump has already picked three fellow billionaires and several multimillionaires. They will make the Trump administration the richest in modern U.S. history, if not ever.

The makeup of his team is in stark contrast to the heart of Mr. Trump's populist economic rhetoric – a pledge to "drain the swamp" and break down the power structures that he complained have "robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations."

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So far, the chosen ones to get the job done are distinctly more Richie Rich than Joe the Plumber – the Ohio workingman who came to symbolize grass-roots voter frustration over the past decade. Mr. Trump's ultrarich picks so far include corporate takeover specialist Wilbur Ross, who has a net worth of $2.5-billion (U.S.), as commerce secretary, Amway heiress Betsy DeVos ($5.1-billion) as education secretary, Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts ($1-billion) as deputy commerce secretary and hedge fund manager and Hollywood financier Steven Mnuchin ($46-million) as Treasury secretary.

"This is an extraordinarily rich group," said Nicholas Carnes, an assistant professor of public policy and political science at Duke University in Durham, N.C. "Their combined wealth might be historically unprecedented."

Mr. Ross alone is worth 10 times the combined wealth of George W. Bush's entire 2001 administration, adjusted for inflation. Add in Mr. Trump, whose net worth is estimated at $3.7-billion, and his administration is sitting on $11-billion of personal wealth, almost four times the net worth of President Barack Obama's cabinet.

Two other candidates for jobs are also comfortably in the 0.01-per-cent club: oil and gas company executive Harold Hamm ($16.9-billion), who is being considered for energy secretary, and Mitt Romney ($250-million), one of four vying for secretary of state.

Americans who voted for Mr. Trump may get a rude shock when they see the kinds of policies that come out of the Trump White House over the next four years, according to Mr. Carnes, who studies the link between the dearth of working-class Americans in politics and the proliferation of policies tilted toward companies and the wealthy.

"It doesn't bode well for middle- and working-class Americans," argued Mr. Carnes, author of White-Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policy Making.

With rare exceptions, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, "politicians who are better off are more sympathetic to affluent Americans, and their policies" – from taxes to regulations and spending – tend to be "less pro-labour, more pro-business and pro-rich," he argued.

Trump supporters are apparently unfazed that the people on his team don't look, or live, the way they do. To some, the makeup of the cabinet is an affirmation of the vision of the country laid out by the real-estate developer and reality-TV star.

Lynette Villano, a 70-year-old grandmother and Trump supporter from West Pittston, Pa., insisted Mr. Trump is bringing in people "who have created jobs and businesses" and who will execute the president's plan. And like Mr. Trump, who she said has "given up everything" to be president, they are individuals who could do anything they want outside government.

"He's bringing people on board who could go off and live the life of luxury," said Ms. Villano, who works in the office of a regional waste water management authority. "Instead, they are giving up their time to serve."

The Trump team is already dropping hints of what their economic plans will look like. Mr. Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner, is talking about sweeping tax reform that will sharply reduce the corporate tax rate and provide tax relief to the middle class – but won't touch the wealthy. He's promising to do it by squeezing tax deductions, such as the ability of homeowners to deduct mortgage costs. But getting the tax relief through Congress could prove much easier than trying to pay for it with offsetting cuts to spending or deductions.

Meanwhile, Tom Price (net worth: $13-million), Mr. Trump's nominee for health and human services secretary, has the job of repealing and replacing the 2010 Affordable Care Act – a.k.a., Obamacare. But the cost of an expansion of care to millions of uninsured Americans could force him to curb the costs of two expensive, but much-loved, programs for seniors and the poor – Medicare and Medicaid.

Far from being misled or duped, the United States is getting exactly the government and administration that Trump voters want, argued Lawrence Samuel, a Miami-based cultural historian, consultant and author of numerous books, including The American Dream: A Cultural History. And he said it's not about doling out more benefits to workers or the poor.

"Wealth is the scorecard of what matters in this country," Mr. Samuel explained. "Seeing these people in power is proof that you can get wealthy. It gives people hope that the American dream is real and that it still exists."

That may explain why U.S. presidents have typically been rich, most of them millionaires by today's standards. George Washington was a real-estate tycoon, with vast land holdings from New York and the Ohio Valley to northern Virginia, where his Mount Vernon estate had 300 slaves and almost 8,000 acres of prime farmland. In today's dollars, the first U.S. president would be worth roughly half a billion dollars.

Not many, however, have lived Mr. Trump's gilded lifestyle of luxury, mansions and helicopters.

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