With President Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigning amidst controversy of his communication with the Russian Ambassador before the new administration took office, it seems people are really starting to more vigorously question Donald Trump’s motives, foreign ties, competence, and overall ability to function as our head of state and commander in chief. The country has entrusted him, after all, with upholding the constitution and protecting the well being of every citizen.
What has happened instead in his administration thus far, has been nothing short of chaos. Leaks from security officials and not to mention his own staff, unprecedentedly adversarial press conferences, bizarre lies about tales of phantom terrorist attacks, rocky beginnings to relationships with multiple foreign leaders, disastrous cabinet appointment hearings, and fights in multiple federal courts. To say that this is not the start that President Trump and his supporters had hoped for is quite the understatement.
Among all of this confusion that appears to be halting the White House from getting anything done, Trump is quietly getting a lot done behind the scenes. Working with CEO’s and special interest, he has already signed executive orders and pushed policy forward that demonstrates wide scale corporate corruption. These decisions threaten growing income inequality further and could lead to an increased depletion of the middle class, threaten our security, and destroy the environment for the sake of profit at the expense of the public good. Is this really new though? Sadly, this has been happening among Presidential Administrations since Reagan and has been a trend that has been threatening our democracy for decades.
Rather than represent the average citizen, presidents (republican and democrat) have long represented the big corporate influence that funds them at the expense of the middle-class taxpayer. The difference now, is just how blatant it truly is with Trump. Let’s take a look at how all this corporate corruption started, how it actually works, and how it affects Americans.
Running on a campaign of “drain the swamp” and railing against “the financial global interest” and “corrupt politicians,” President Trump’s earliest moves actually indicate a furthering of corporate influence that he so eloquently ran against. But this isn’t the beginning of this corporate influence seeping into democracy. A look into our history shows decades of big financial interest taking more and more control.
Though it is hard to pin point exactly where it all started, 1976 seems like the most tangible example as the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision on Buckley v. Valeo that it was unconstitutional for the government to limit the amount of independent expenditures in campaigns.
This decision opened the floodgates for greater campaign spending by candidates. It was aided further when the Supreme Court ruled nearly 35 years later in a 5-4 decision on Citizens United v. FEC. The decision said that it is unconstitutional for the government to restrict corporate funding of an independent political broadcast for a candidate’s campaign. Decided on the grounds of free speech, it essentially made money the equivalent to speech. And if money is the equivalent to speech, then those corporations, unions, and various special interests with more money appear to have vastly more speech/influence on our elected officials.
How influential is this money? Well, an exhaustive 20 plus year study conducted by researchers Martin Gilen and Benjamin I. Page at Princeton tracked 1,800 policy initiatives in coordination with public opinion. The study concluded that “well-connected” corporate interest steers policy decisions, essentially making our governmental system an oligarchy in which the wealthy elite control policy, as opposed to a democracy in which the will of the public does.
Think about it like this: when you make decisions at your job, you most likely make them based on what will be most advantageous to keeping your job and continuing to make money. You probably do what your boss says—within reason. What makes your boss, well, your boss? The fact that they pay you puts them in charge. If the corporate class pays these politicians, who is their boss and who do they work for?
This structure has led to years of presidential nominees campaigning on popular causes and using well-polled rhetoric, but then as a White House administration doing the bidding of their donors and the wealthy elite. Take vaunted Ronald Reagan for example. Signing the Social Security Amendments of 1983, he promoted these policies as a plan to save social security in the long term. This included a payroll tax hike that generated $2.7 trillion in Social Security surplus that was supposed to go toward investing in U.S. treasury bonds and held in a trust fund until the “baby-boomers” began to retire in the late 2000’s. This didn’t happen.
Largely pushed by one of Reagan’s economic advisors, Alan Greenspan, all of the money instead went to general government operations and continued like that under his successor, President George H.W. Bush, and then President Bill Clinton after him.
Essentially, starting under Reagan, three separate administrations both democrat and republican, raised taxes on the working class to fund various wars, tax cuts for the rich, and government projects that lead to big deficits for the most part. It was wide scale embezzlement, and even looting by our elected leaders. And what did Greenspan get out of all this? A spot as Chairman of the Federal Reserve for almost 20 years and a gig as head of his own economic consulting firm.
Take George W. Bush’s administration for example. His Vice President, Dick Cheney, left oil-field service company Halliburton of which he was chairman, to run for VP. In his role, in coordination with President Bush, he helped to start two wars in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, which were largely unpopular.
During these wars, Halliburton’s contracts with the military sky rocketed from the 22nd-largest military contractor in 2000, to the seventh largest in 2003, essentially enriching the company. The whole time, Cheney had an insurance policy which he bought in 2001 that guaranteed a fixed amount of payments for five years from Halliburton. A nonpartisan Congressional investigation later said that this could amount to a “continuing financial interest” in the company.
Or take charismatic President Barack Obama, who ran in 2008 on a campaign of “Hope and Change” and talked about the wealthy finally paying their “fair share.” He arguably benefited more than anyone from growing corporate influence in campaigns.
When reviewing his campaign contributions, he deferred the public campaign funding option that his opponent Senator John McCain took, and instead set a record in 2008 by receiving $17.3 million from Wall Street donations. Then tasked with what to do about Wall Street executives after the 2008 financial crisis that led to the crash of our economy, which was caused by, as Obama himself put it, “recklessness on Wall Street,” he decided to reward Wall Street with $700 billion in tax cuts. Wall Street largely used these tax cuts to give bonuses to those same executives who caused the crash in the first place.
As for criminal prosecutions of illegal activity by these CEO’s? His Attorney General, whom he nominated and who once worked for Covington & Burling, which is a law firm known for its corporate backings, didn’t prosecute one top Wall Street Executive. In 2015 after his stint was over as Attorney General, he returned to Covington & Burling, right back to representing Wall Street. The pattern continues.
So today, we have a President who sits in the oval office signing an executive order that allows for the Dakota Access Pipeline to be built on Native American land, breaking past treaties with natives and poisoning our water. President Obama previously blocked this by calling for an environmental impact statement. Trump, not so coincidentally, owns a stake in the Dakota Access Pipeline. He is personally enriching himself with decisions he’s making as an elected public official. We now have a President who appointed the former CEO of Exxon Mobile, Rex Tillerson, to Secretary of State, the leading diplomat in the country, with no experience in diplomacy whatsoever.
Tillerson and Exxon Mobile have billions of dollars in oil deals that are held up by the sanction of Russia laid down by former President Obama on the basis of their tampering with the general election. Tillerson now has the opportunity to help end those sanctions and enrich the company with which he still has pension plans and holds company stock.
We now have a president who has hired Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education, who has no history in public education other than promoting defunding it in favor of corporations in the form of failing private schools, and donating around $900,000 to Senators who voted for her confirmation. The list goes on and on. And on.
It would appear that this administration is nothing short of a wealthy coup, a corporate take-over of our democracy, and that assessment wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. But it is important to understand the context, and the truth is that this corporate takeover has truly been underway for at least 40 years; it is just now that we are seeing the result of it.
So every time mainstream media outlets, which are largely owned by only a few wealthy corporations themselves, talk about what Trump said or what juicy scandal has popped up next, it is important to realize what this administration really represents: the continuation of a corrupt political system that has enriched the few at the top at the expense of the average citizen for decades and decades.