President Trump’s Corporate Government
We’re 100 days into Corporate Government.
While giant corporations have for decades and on a bipartisan basis exerted far too much influence over government decision-making, we’ve never seen anything like the Trump administration.
The key officials in the federal government, starting with the president himself, come from Big Business; the administration openly seeks guidance and direction from giant corporations and corporate CEOs on policymaking; and the Trump administration is rushing to deliver subsidies, tax breaks and deregulatory gifts to the giant corporations to which the administration apparently owes its primary allegiance.
A day-by-day review of the administration’s first 100 days in office shows that virtually every day there has been a new, extraordinary grant of power to corporate interests and/or another development in Donald Trump’s get-rich-quick-scheme known as the American presidency.
America has never seen anything like this.
The corporate capture began at the same moment as the Trump presidency. Corporations that have pending business before the president — AT&T, Bank of America, Boeing, Chevron, Deloitte, JPMorgan Chase and United Parcel Service – were among the top funders of the inauguration and surrounding festivities. Giant companies and billionaires heaped more than $100 million on the festivities.
New President Trump immediately signaled his intent to deliver on the corporate wish list by signing two executive orders, one designed to start the process of destroying the Affordable Care Act and another freezing all regulatory activity for 90 days.
It’s been downhill since then.
President Trump has assembled what is probably the least qualified and certainly most corporate cabinet of all time. By way of reminder, this list includes: the former CEO of Exxon Mobil (Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State); a slew of former Goldman Sachs executives, so much so that the factions fighting for control of the administration each hail from Goldman Sachs (chief strategist Steve Bannon and top economic advisor Gary Cohn); a banker known as the Foreclosure King to run the Department of Treasury (Steven Mnuchin), an Amway heiress and Republican megadonor (Betsy DeVos); and a former state attorney general who allowed the fossil fuel industry to draft letters on attorney general letterhead on multiple occasions (Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency).
Having a corporate cabinet has apparently not satisfied Trump’s yen to hang out with the corporate elite. Trump started his first full weekday in office with a breakfast meeting with CEOs of a dozen corporations, and the meetings continue at a staggering pace. Trump is meeting with more than two CEOS every day, on average. These extraordinary gatherings, which have the explicit purpose of providing a way for Big Business to shape the administration’s policies, are supplemented by the president’s more casual interactions with corporate leaders at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., where the membership fee is now $200,000.
Many of the gatherings reflect the administration’s interest in giving special consideration to the views of specific corporate sectors, such as airlines, health insurance corporations, pharmaceutical corporations, and the automotive industry. One of every five of the corporate executives who met with the Trump administration within the first 100 days represented the banking or financial sector.
It’s not just meetings and personnel. The Trump administration is off to a roaring start on delivering the goodies to Big Business.
It has taken care of its Dirty Energy friends. By executive order, Trump overturned Obama measures to block the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines. A few days later, the Army Corps of Engineers granted Energy Transfer Partners the final permit it needs to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline. It has also put in place measures to speed approval of other pipelines and fossil fuel projects, and is expected in the coming days to announce measures to upend the Environmental Protection Agency.
In March, Trump announced a review – plainly aimed to be a roll back – of auto fuel efficiency standards. Just a few years ago, a U.S. government bailout saved the Big Three automakers from utter collapse. The modest reciprocity the government demanded was industry agreement to higher fuel efficiency standards – its most important move to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses. Now the auto industry and the Trump administration are colluding to abrogate the deal. Consumers will be swindled in the process; the fuel economy rules that Trump is reversing were projected to save Americans up to $5,700 for every car they purchase, and $8,200 for every truck.
Trump has issued an executive order aimed at undoing President Obama’s Clean Power Plan – his signature effort to reduce climate pollution from coal powered plants; the administration is debating pulling the United States out of the Paris climate agreement; and administration officials have banned the use of the term “climate change.” EPA Chief Scott Pruitt and his minions are delivering a host of other gifts to polluters, such as inaugural $1 million donor Dow, notably including a refusal to ban a brain-damaging pesticide.
The administration is taking care of its Wall Street friends (meaning those who remain outside the administration). Trump has signed executive orders aimed at unraveling the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law (“We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank,” the president told JPMorgan Chase’s CEO Jamie Dimon and other CEOs in January) and repealing an Obama administration Labor Department rule requiring financial advisors to give advice based on their customers’ best interests. The Labor Department rule, if adopted, will save consumers $17 billion a year in rip-off fees and bad advice. Contemplated changes in Dodd-Frank rules, the Wall Street Journal reports, will enable the six biggest banks to return $100 billion of reserves to shareholders. A staggering gift to the shareholders – at the cost of making the financial system far, far more unstable, insecure and prone to another 2008-style meltdown.
Although its prospects are dim, Trump proposed a cruel, sadistic and military-industrial-complex-fawning budget, featuring $54 billion in increased spending on weapons and war, with gouging cuts to spending on everything from environmental protection to Meals on Wheels.
Trump strongly backed the American Health Care Act (Obamacare repeal), and is now angling for it to be revived with slight modifications – which would make it still worse. To pay for a $350 billion tax cut for the super rich and large corporations, the bill would deny health care coverage to 24 million people by 2026. In addition to mass financial hardship, that denial of coverage would have meant that every year millions would suffer needlessly from treatable ailments and tens of thousands would die from preventable illness. Cutting off Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood would have denied provision of care to millions of low-income women. And the bill’s financing structure would have weakened Medicare’s finances, imperiling still more Americans. Happily, bombast aside, odds appear slim of successfully bringing this proposal back from the dead.
Perhaps most consequentially, the administration has commenced its full-fledged assault on health, safety, environmental, worker, consumer, financial security, civil rights and other regulatory protections.
Deregulatory measures may well be Trump’s signature achievement – both of the first 100 days and the entire presidency. What does it mean to deregulate? It means lifting restraints on corporate misconduct, and signaling to big companies that in pursuit of profit they are free to rip off, price gouge, poison and endanger Americans and our planet.
In February, Trump signed a deregulatory executive order that directs federal agencies to repeal two federal regulations for every new rule they issue, and requires that any cost to industry of new rules be offset by savings from repealed rules. In this crazy scheme, regulators are not permitted to consider the benefits of rules. No one thinking sensibly about how to set rules for health, safety, the environment and the economy would ever adopt this approach, unless their only goal was to confer enormous benefits on Big Business. That is indeed the goal here.
(With the Natural Resources Defense Council and Communication Workers of America, Public Citizen has sued President Trump and the administration to have this executive order overturned.)
Trump has eagerly signed into law a series of deregulatory measures to undo Obama administration achievements, using an obscure legislative vehicle known as the Congressional Review Act. Industries that have collectively spent more than $1 billion on lobbying and campaign contributions have seen their investments pay off many times over. Trump has gleefully signed measures making it easier for coal companies to pollute streams and rivers; authorizing Big Oil to hide payments to developing country governments; erasing obligations for government contractors to ensure the safety and health of their employees; and making it possible for cable and Internet providers to collect and sell our most personal information. It’s hard to imagine there’s anyone in the United States, not connected to Comcast, Verizon or another telecom company, who favors giving the telecoms the right to traffic in our personal data.
Leaving aside confirmations, these Congressional Review Act regulatory repeals are, by far, the most significant legislative action during Trump’s term.
The corporate cronies heading or nominated to lead key regulatory agencies guarantee that deregulation will be a consistent and overriding theme of the administration. Trump’s pick for Securities and Exchange Commission, Jay Clayton, if confirmed will assume office with unprecedented conflicts and zero demonstrated commitment to protecting investors. Scott Gottlieb, the nominee for Food and Drug Administration commissioner, has deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry and aims to roll back drug and device safety standards. President Trump and his new Federal Communication Commission Chair Ajit Pai are intent on repealing the agency’s Net Neutrality rule, which is designed to protect a free and open Internet by preventing broadband providers from favoring their own or discriminating against others’ content. The rule protects consumers from excessive tolls that could significantly impact their pocketbook, a diminished Internet that would degrade their user experience and, most importantly, from broadband provider censorship or undue influence over what they can see and access.
Meanwhile, Trump’s top regulatory advisor, the financial mogul Carl Icahn, is leveraging his role to push for very specific regulatory changes that would advantage his companies. The value of his oil refining companies has jumped by more than half a billion dollars in anticipation that Trump will deliver a revision to ethanol rules that Icahn is seeking.
Icahn’s conflicts are jaw-dropping, but it all comes from the top.
President Trump has resisted calls to divest himself of his business empire, giving him unprecedented conflicts of interest and ensuring that this administration will go down as the most corrupt in history. Foreign policy conflicts are already manifest: Does Trump congratulate Turkish President Erdogan on his consolidation of authoritarian power because of Trump’s business interests in Turkey? Does Rex Tillerson’s refusal to condemn human rights violations in the Philippines follow from Trump’s real estate ventures in that country? What’s the correlation between warming relations with China and China’s approval of trademark requests from Trump and Ivanka Trump? So too are domestic priorities distorted: Trump has ordered a repeal of an important Clean Water Rule opposed by golf courses. Policies at the Labor Department and National Labor Relations Board will directly impact his companies. The Chamber of Commerce is clamoring for legislation to destroy class actions – the kind of lawsuits filed by the ripped off students at Trump University.
And, as we look forward past the first hundred days, the dominant legislative debate will focus on tax policy. Donald Trump is an admitted exploiter of tax loopholes; and although he refused to make his tax returns public, he has bragged that he pays the lowest rate possible. What are the chances that he is going to support tax reform measures that would hurt his personal business empire?
What are the chances this administration’s conflicts will be resolved?
What are the chances that policy making will be advanced in the interest of Americans rather than giant corporations?
None, none and none – unless We the People mobilize in sufficient numbers to force a change.