Thursday, November 24, 2016

An American Disgrace (Part 2): The Forming Corporate State

Every day it seems the circus that is the burgeoning Trump presidency has several stories that could just as easily end up on the pages of the National Enquirer as the New York Times. In my first post-election post, I looked at some of the biggest stories since the election. Going forward, at least once a week, I will be exploring the most troubling stories emerging as we move closer to the swearing in of our first billionaire Commander in Chief.

For those interested, my analysis of the election itself is available here (a three-part series).

1. Trump Attacks on the Media: while the public meeting with the New York Times has received extensive coverage (NYT), less has been written about his private meeting the day before with heads of major media outlets. According to the Daily Mail, whose stories should, of course, be taken with a grain of salt, he excoriated the media for their dishonesty and lying regarding, apparently, not simply accepting his dishonesty and lying during the campaign (DM). Given the warnings levied by Conway against Democratic Senators and the general tenor of the campaign, one wonders if this will be an even more acrimonious relationship to the media than even that experienced under the Bush presidency. The early signs are troubling, including not including the press corps during most of his visits the days after the election, using twitter posts and You Tube videos over press conferences and, other than the New York Times, largely eschewing direct interaction with the media full stop. His belief, voiced during the campaign, that we should change the libel laws only further amplifies the stakes as we head into the most unpredictable and potentially dangerous transition of power in the history of the country.

2. Fear of Corporate State Intensify: There have been countless examples of Trump seemingly using his new position to enrich he and his family already. In fact, in the aforementioned New York Times interview, Trump proclaimed that, “As far as the, you know, potential conflict of interests, though, I mean I know that from the standpoint, the law is totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest. That’s been reported very widely. Despite that, I don’t want there to be a conflict of interest anyway. And the laws, the president can’t. And I understand why the president can’t have a conflict of interest now because everything a president does in some ways is like a conflict of interest, but I have, I’ve built a very great company and it’s a big company and it’s all over the world.”

There are in fact rules about conflicts of interest regarding the president, particularly related to receiving gifts from foreign governments, but Trump apparently believes he is above these rules, and the long tradition of putting your assets into a true “blind trust,” not one run by your children. It potentially means that our president will be making deals with foreign countries based solely on the business interests of his companies. The hope, expressed by leading Democratic Senators, is that some GOP Senators might join them in demanding that Trump follow the tradition. My sense is don’t hold your breath.

Among the examples that have emerged so far: a) During his November 9th congratulatory call with Turkish President Erdogan, Donald Trump talked up his Turkish business partner who now seems primed to be a key intermediary between the two heads of state, b) he allegedly discussed building permits during a congratulatory call from the President of Argentina (QZ), c) he admitted to discussing wind farms that he has been trying to block with Nigel Farage, a member of European Parliament (Vox). Given his stance on conflicts of interest, we can imagine this is only the beginning, with even the conservative Wall Street Journal troubled by the implications (CNN).

3. Cabinet Choices Getting Worse by the Pick: Ben Carson, who has admitted that he probably doesn’t have the experience or temperament to serve in government (even as he, of course, ran for president) appears to be the choice to lead the HUD (WSJ). Beyond his own reservations, and those of others who had hoped Trump would choose cabinet members with more experience than his lack thereof, Carson has absolutely no experience with housing or urban development. Maybe Surgeon General would have been a better choice … or maybe just sticking with his old critiques comparing Carson to a pedophile.

Some have hailed his choice of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (. However, like Trump, Pence, Bannon, Kushner and Reince Priebus, none have any foreign policy experience at all. In an increasingly dangerous world and one that Trump did his best to alienate during the campaign, one hoped he might temper his temper with some seasoned veterans who could mend fences and ensure smooth diplomacy moving forward. Guess again on that one.

The third big announcement yesterday was that billionaire Betsy DeVos would become the Education Secretary under Trump (Forbes). DeVos is a strong advocate for vouchers and charter schools (Slate), like the Koch brothers a huge contributor to the GOP cause (TPM), at least tangentially connected to the Christian Reform movement (WP) and has little relevant experience to bring to the job (Detroit Free Press). While she seems substantially less radical than some of Trump’s other picks, the real fear here is that she will march us further along the path toward privatizing public schooling in America. Both her voucher and charter school work have worked to undermine public schools and put them in the hands of corporations and private institutions she believes will more efficiently educate our children. But as Diane Ravitch among many have effectively shown (see her book The Death & Life of the Great American School System), the accountability and choice movement is run by people with no background in education who treat American children like products on an assembly line, as if they all learn the same and a certain array of inputs will always lead to the best outputs. More than this, like the general tendency on the right over the past 35 years, is the belief that market forces are innately superior to public institutions, even when extensive positive externalities exist that do not relate to the bottom line of corporate profits.

4. Hamilton Attacks Last Weekend Red Herrings? Trump’s short lived attack on the cast of Hamilton, for their incantation to future VP Pence to actually consider the interests of ALL the people in the U.S., seemed to be a diversionary tactic to soften the coverage of two scandals that emerged at the same time. The first, regarding the now defunct for profit Trump University, was his decision to settle that lawsuit to the tune of $25 million (NYT) – breaking yet another of his campaign promises to fight that lawsuit all the way. The second, which emerged a few days later, was that the Trump Foundation admitted to violating ban on “self dealing,” thus making the often fallacious charges levied against Hillary Clinton more true for himself than the Clinton Foundation (WP). Both of these admissions of foul play from the past, are more than a red herring for what kind of administration we might expect in the future, as exemplified by his dualistic dealings so far.

5. Popular Vote, Schmopopular Vote: as Clinton’s lead over Trump in the popular vote vaulted above two million votes (a greater than 1.5 percent advantage), we entered territory not seen since 1876. That was the year Rutherford B. Hayes was allowed to steal the election from Tilden even as he appeared to lose both the popular and electoral vote. The reason? The Democrats in the South agreed to give the presidency to the Republican candidate if he would end Reconstruction, which he quickly did upon entering office. The margin today surpasses that of Gore over Bush and further exemplifies the gulf in this country between the urban centers and rural surroundings, between the educated and uneducated and between the two coasts and the rest of the country. 

No comments: