Wednesday, December 14, 2016

An American Disgrace IV: Trump Continues to Fortify the Corporate State

The Trump Presidency came further into focus in the past week with a rash of cabinet choices (at least they gave me the hives) that reinforce the notion that his promise of helping the working class, like his attacks on Clinton, were little more than campaign rhetoric along the path to his upset victory (Our Future) . Alongside the corporate lackeys that will now be at the epicenter of American power, we again saw the blustery and truth-impaired Trump many hoped would abate as he stood on the cusp of the highest office in the land. Instead, he showed the same petulance, the same penchant for lying and the same recklessness that has really defined his life from his early adult years.

The lowlights since my last post include the selection of the Exxon-Mobil CEO as the next Secretary of State, Rick Perry as the head of an office he couldn’t even remember in his last run for president (and one he thinks should be eliminated - Guardian), confirmation of a head of HUD who questioned his own credentials for government service ( and Trump questioning the American intelligence agencies for pointing out the help Russian hackers gave him on the road to the White House (TNY). In fact, his selection of Rex Tillerson appears to be a further sign that not only did Russia get the man they wanted but that he is going to repay them in spades with one of the biggest allies to their economic interests in all of America. 

So let’s look at the week in Trump in more detail:

1. The Post-Truth Era Accelerates: Presidents in the past have certainly had issues with the intelligence community, particularly when they release inconvenient facts like the foundation for the Iraq War being fake or that the Bush administration was warned of impending attack months before they occurred. Yet the extent of Trump’s attack on the CIA findings of Russian efforts to help get him elected might well be unprecedented. His penchant for lying and misinformation stands in clear repose here and is a clarion call to the mainstream media that they will have to hold all of his statements under a microscope, if they are to salvage their fading role as the fourth estate of government.

This call to arms will be made even more challenging as Trump appears to be intent on attacking the media on any instance that they don’t give him the positive PR he believes he deserves as a birthright (Salon; TNR). And, of course, the very press that might warn Americans of the fortifying Corporate State is a bigger and bigger part of that Corporate State. Six huge conglomerates now control over 90% of everything we see, read and listen to and their profit motives seem to override any concerns about the future of our democracy, playing right into the hands of our first fully corporate President. 

2. Corporate State Bodes Poorly for Most Americans Interests: not unlike the Bush administration, but arguably substantially more so, the oil and gas industry will be well represented in the new administration, particularly with the Secretary of State and Head of the Energy Department. But beyond the ties to one of the biggest polluters on the planet, he has lined his administration with corporate interests while making no secret of his own growing conflicts of interest.

A meeting today with heads of the major tech companies (Daily Mail) exemplifies the many problems with his presidency to come. For one thing, the three children who are supposed to be running his business while he runs the country (presumably into the ground) were all present at the meeting, as many of them have been at previous meetings with heads of state and business leaders. In this case, representatives from Apple, Microsoft, Facebook (though not Zuckerberg), Amazon/Washington Post, and the like were all in attendance looking for tax reform, deregulation and more favorable trade agreements in the future. Trump attacked the industry throughout his campaign but now seems to be on the cusp of doing a 180, having promised to try to help them succeed in the future while praising himself for the recent stock market price rises for most in the room.

Beyond the meeting today, the conflicts of interest just keep piling up and one does begin to wonder if there will be repercussions once he takes office (The Guardian). The Office of Government Ethics, in fact, just today warned that his business arrangement with his children is so far afield of the normal blind trusts that all previous presidents have installed that they have serious reservations about the potential ramifications (The Guardian). The problem, of course, is that it appears Trump has little reason to heed these warnings and has openly admitted at times that he might be running his business and the country at the same time. 

The potential for conflicts in either case are profound, and there are already worries about a changing relationship with Russia (that could have profound implications for, among others, Syria and Iran), business arrangements with Taiwan, Argentina, Turkey and others that could come with perks, the very presence of a Trump Towers in DC that business and organizations are lining up to utilize in return for favors or at least a meeting with the incoming President and broader concerns about Iran, South Korea, China and large swaths of Europe.

In a broader sense, it is becoming clear that the interests of Corporate America – whether it’s the health industry, gas and oil, fast food companies, for profit educational companies or the tech industry – will trump those of the average American on a whole host of matters from wages, job security and inequality to the environment, education, healthcare and globalization. The promises Trump made to middle America, particularly the Rust Belt, to rejuvenate the economy seem secondary to the business interests of his vast empire (TNY) and of the many corporations that increasingly define domestic and foreign policy in the U.S. Even on his welcome plan to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure of America appears to simply be a gift to contractors that may siphon billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the pockets of already bloated corporate profits. 

3. Russia Quietly Celebrates the Victory they Helped Secure: Russia could benefit greatly from the election of Donald Trump and he increasingly showing a proclivity to serve those interest (AGM). The most obvious case is his pick for Secretary of State, a man who once brokered one of the biggest deals in history between Russian and American economic interests, though the Crimean attacks scuppered that deal. That same deal could be back on the table in the future, with the CEO of Exxon Mobil actually benefitting his own company through his foreign policy actions. Trump’s stance on Syria and the Middle East could also benefit Russia as could a softer touch on their human rights abuses and potential plans to reengage in the Ukraine. 

The fact that the mainstream media has largely taken a pass on the deeper implications of this story is rather startling, as the ramifications of the hacking scandal could indicate a pay to play scandal never seen in the history of major political and economic competitors in history. That Trump has so blithely rejected the issue at hand seems like a good predictor of how future scandals will be treated and there is every reason to believe, at least for the next two years, that a Republican Congress with the unique power to push through radical policy initiatives like killing Obamacare, undermining Medicare, privatizing Social Security, deregulating industry, ignoring climate change and radical tax cuts, might simply ignore any of his many offenses against the national interest.

4. Foreign Affairs Already in Tatters: one of the biggest concerns surrounding Trump in the run-up to the election is that his demeanor was poorly matched to the needs of international diplomacy (Washington Times). Some believed that his ability to “make a deal” and take a hardline stance might, in the end, override concerns about his lack of tact and experience. That seems like a stretch if early indicators are to be believed. He has already offended China, radically transformed our rocky relationship with Russia and spent a considerable amount of time attacking leaders across the globe. With the opportunity to send a positive message regarding his foreign diplomacy team, he instead picked a woman with no international experience to the UN and now a corporate titan to lead our foreign affairs team. As with the general tenor of his transition, it appears allies and payback have played a much larger role in administration picks than experience or ideological reasonableness. Trump ran as an alt-right hero, but many believed that he would temper those positions upon taking office. There is little to indicate that that is, in fact, the case, and much to support the exact opposite position. With a world in flux and danger around every corner, Trump has every opportunity to do irrevocable damage to the interests of not only Americans but billions around the world.

5. Environment Gasps Final Breaths of Fresh Air: across the board, there have been selections that seem to undermine the rather mediocre attempts of the Obama administration to address climate change. At the top of the list is the new head of the EPA, Pruitt (Salon), who is a global warming doubter and friend to the oil and gas industry. With the Energy secretary, Rick Perry, we have another friend to the biggest polluters in the world and someone who doesn’t even believe the department should exist. And, of course, a man at the helm of the one of the biggest companies in the world that has consistently attempted to stop any attempts to address climate change will now have a huge role in dictating our foreign policy. If his role at Exxon-Mobil is any indicator, dictators are considered preferable to democratic regimes, poverty abatement and education secondary to corporate interests and the bottom line to even the interests of the United States. The entire country will most likely suffer under Trump -- excluding the Top 1 percent -- but it is the environment that could take the biggest blow.

In fact, that pretty much sums up Trump to date ...

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