As the impeachment of Donald Trump marches forward, it’s important to keep in mind that Trump is neither an anomaly, nor an accident when it comes to the forces that landed him in the White House. Corporate power made a Trump presidency possible, and Trump’s entire presidency has been about enriching and protecting corporations and the handful of wealthy, predominantly white men behind them. While impeachment might lead to Trump’s ouster from the White House, and the 2020 elections will be another key moment to alter the landscape, the change we need is deeper and more structural than a new president.
Trump’s incessant attacks on immigrants, communities of color, women, the LGBT community, the environment and more created the conditions that are now being reflected in the polls: a majority of voters in key battleground states and beyond support his impeachment. But even as Congress and the movement for impeachment seek to hold Trump accountable, we must also be cognizant of the corporate agenda that is driving so many of Trump’s horrific policies, which are devastating people’s lives, terrifying many communities, and fueling the climate crisis globally. In the wake of these policy assaults, there is a long trail of corporations growing richer and more powerful.
On immigration, for example, the web of corporations profiting from Trump’s immigration policies has been well documented. In 2017, private prison corporations GEO Group and CoreCivic brought in $541 million and $444 million respectively in ICE-related revenue dollars. The following year, the stock prices of both corporations rose following Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy announcement. As people continue to be imprisoned in cramped and filthy conditions, as children continue to be taken from their parents’ arms and neglected and abused in emergency shelters, we can only imagine the numbers for 2018 and 2109 will be even higher. And as these corporations’ profits rise, so too will the fortunes of CEOs George Zoley (GEO Group) and Damon Hininger (CoreCivic), both of whom have lavished big bucks on political contributions and lobbying efforts.
Then there are the environmental rollbacks by this administration—85, according to The New York Times. This slashing of protections is making the planet and oceans hotter, poisoning our air and water, endangering our health, and threatening wildlife survival. A recent study by New York University’s School of Law predicts that these rollbacks will result in hundreds of thousands more deaths each year—primarily in communities living below the poverty line. Meanwhile Shell CEO Ben van Beurden enjoyed a doubling of his pay in 2018, and Ryan Lance, CEO of ConocoPhillips, raked in almost $25 million in 2018.
These are just two examples on a very long and disturbing list of Trump’s policies designed to maximize corporate power at great expense to people’s lives and well-being.
But while Trump has been extremely overt in his orchestration of the wholesale corporate takeover of the government, the groundwork was being laid for decades globally to dismantle government and concentrate power in the private sector. Many have traced the rise of this trend back to Ronald Reagan’s push for deregulation (and Margaret Thatcher’s parallel policies in the U.K.). And David Koch and other billionaires’ engineering of this political moment along these lines has been exposed by numerous scholars in recent years. Around the world, we’re seeing a rise in leaders with a predilection for dismantling democracy in favor of corporate power, such as Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Narendra Modi in India.
But even as these authoritarian-leaning men attempt to hold tight to power, movements for democracy and people-first policies around the world are being galvanized in powerful and new ways. From the youth-led Climate Strikes of last month, to the intersectional movement to expose the corporations profiting from the prisons and camps at the border, to the call to hold the corporations benefiting from the destruction of the Amazon accountable, billions of people are organizing to demand change.
And this is where we must continue to put our energies and resources.
We must shift the balance of power back to people. We can do this with policies that curb the influence corporations have on democratic institutions and elections. Protections against conflicts of interest in all levels of policymaking are a start, as well as holding corporations—and the people behind them—legally and financially liable for their abuses. We also need campaign finance reform, stronger anti-trust laws, and an end to the revolving door between high level positions in the public and private sectors.
Historically, people power has been the only thing that has ever held corporations accountable, and that’s not likely to change. Today, we must direct public outrage and mobilization not just at Trump, but also to where it will make the most lasting impact: to rein in corporate power and hold corporations and the leaders advancing their interests accountable.
Patti Lynn is the Executive Director of Corporate Accountability.