Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
We’re a week into the Trump administration and it’s pretty obvious what he’s up to. First, Donald Trump is running a demolition derby: He wants to demolish everything he doesn’t like, and he doesn’t like a lot, especially when it comes to government.
Like one of those demolition drivers on a speedway, he keeps ramming his vehicle against all the others, especially government policies and programs and agencies that protect people who don’t have his wealth, power or privilege. Affordable health care for working people? Smash it. Consumer protection against predatory banks and lenders? Run over it. Rules and regulations that rein in rapacious actors in the market? Knock ‘em down. Fair pay for working people? Crush it. And on and on.
Trump came to Washington to tear the government down for parts, and as far as we can tell, he doesn’t seem to have anything at all in mind to replace it except turning back the clock to when business took what it wanted and left behind desperate workers, dirty water and polluted air.
In this demolition derby, Trump seems to have the wholehearted support of the Republican Party, which loathes government as much as it worships the market as god. Remember Thomas Frank’s book, The Wrecking Crew? Published in 2008, it remains one of the best political books of the past quarter-century. Frank took the measure of an unholy alliance: the century-old business crusade against government, the conservative ideology that looks on government as evil (except when it’s enriching its allies), and the Republican Party of George W. Bush and Karl Rove — the one that had just produced eight years of crony capitalism and private plunder.
The Wrecking Crew — and what an apt title it was — showed how federal agencies were doomed to failure by the incompetence and hostility of the Bush gang appointed to run them, the same model Trump is using now. Frank tracked how wholesale deregulation — on a scale Trump already is trying to reproduce — led to devastating results for everyday people, including the mortgage meltdown and the financial crash. Reading the book is like reading today’s news, as kleptomaniacs spread across Washington to funnel billions of dollars into the pockets of lobbyists and corporations.
That may include the pockets of Donald Trump’s own family. As Jonathan Chait wrote after the election in New York magazine, “[Trump’s] children have taken roles on the transition team. Ivanka attended official discussions with heads of state of Japan and Argentina. [As president-elect, Trump himself] met with Indian business partners to discuss business and lobbied a British politician to oppose offshore wind farms because one will block the view at one of his Scottish golf courses.” Only a couple of days ago it was reported that the Trump organization would more than triple the number of Trump hotels in America. And why not? Its chief marketer works out of the Oval Office.
Jonathan Chait went on to say: “Trump’s brazen use of his office for personal enrichment signals something even more worrisome than four or more years of kleptocratic government. It reveals how willing the new administration is to obliterate governing norms and how little stands in his way.”
And oh yes, something else: David Sirota at International Business Times has just published a new report showing that the Trump administration appears to be quietly killing the federal government’s major ethics rule designed to prevent White House officials from enriching their former clients. Experts say a review of government documents shows that regulators appear to have abruptly stopped enforcing the rule, even though it remains the law of the land.
We were warned. Donald Trump himself told The New York Times, “The law is totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” Shades of Richard Nixon, who said, “When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.” And who also announced, “I am not a crook.”
Which leads us to the second design now apparent in Trump’s strategy of deliberate chaos. He may have run a populist campaign, but now it appears he aims to substitute plutocracy for democracy.
I know plutocracy is not a commonly used word in America. But it’s a word that increasingly fits what’s happening here. Plutocracy means government by the wealthy, a ruling class of the rich and their retainers. If you don’t see plutocracy spreading across America, you haven’t been paying attention. Both parties have nurtured, tolerated and bowed to it. Now we’re reaching the pinnacle, as Trump’s own Cabinet is rich (no pun intended) in millionaires and billionaires. He is stacking the agencies and boards of government with the wealthy and friends of wealth so that the whole of the federal enterprise can be directed to rewarding those with deep pockets, the ones who provide the bags and bags of money that are dumped into our political process today.
Yes, both Democrats and Republicans have been guilty of groveling to the wealthy who fund them; it’s a staggering bipartisan scandal that threatens the country and was no small part of Trump’s success last November, even as ordinary people opened their windows and shouted, “We’re as mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.” So now we have in power a man who represents the very worst of the plutocrats — one who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. I shudder to think where this nightmare will end. Even if you voted for Donald Trump for a reason that truly is from your heart, I cannot believe you voted for this.
Tell me if I’m wrong. Tell me whose side are you really on? The people of America or the cynics and predators at the very top who would climb atop the ruins of the republic for a better view of the sunset?
First published January 27, 2017 in Moyers & Company.
Demolition Derby in Fairview, Utah.